Kim Beazley has enjoyed a fairly sedate, relatively speaking, lifestyle since leaving the hurly-burly of Federal Parliament in 2007.
Sedate in that he spent about six years as Australia’s ambassador to the United States and then another four years as governor of Western Australia. While no one doubts the seriousness and importance of both these roles, I’m not sure Beazley would have had to endure the sleepless nights he possibly had while serving in the House of Representatives.
He probably thought those days of cut-and-thrust politics were well behind him. He probably still thought that when he agreed to take on the role of Chairman of the Australian War Memorial Council. He was inducted into his new role last week.
Now Beazley finds himself once again in the political mix.
The AWM is tying itself in knots over how to recognise the Frontier Wars between Indigenous Australians and British colonists.
Adding to the heat in that debate, Australians are now grappling with the Voice. In an interview this week, Beazley said the two issues are linked and will go a long way towards shaping how the rest of the world views our country.
Beazley said recognition of the Frontier Wars won’t be part of the Australian War Memorial’s exhibitions until 2028. When it does materialise, it will very much focus on the resistance Indigenous Australians gave to the British when they arrived.
The concern, Beazley rightly identified, is how Australia will emerge from this year’s debate over the Voice. The two-time opposition leader said he was confident the Voice would pass but was not sure the debate would serve us well.
“I am worried we will do something that will seriously damage us,” Beazley said. “We are good people. We don’t deserve to emerge from this with a tarnished reputation. We are the poster child [globally] for many things, and at the moment, we are the poster child for democracy.
“We can’t afford to lose this. It would look as though we don’t care about Aboriginal people.”
As I’ve mentioned previously, there are already signs this debate has run off the rails. As Beazley correctly observed, people are overstating what the Voice actually means.
“They’re not asking for power, they’re asking for visibility,” he said. “This is a simple matter of courtesy.”
Politicians have an important role to play here. No one is doubting there needs to be a community discussion about how best to proceed. But rather than stoking the fires of racial tension, let’s not lose focus of what is actually being called for.
The media also has an important role to play. And so far, they have failed dismally, on both sides of the debate. For example, reporting from last week’s community crisis meeting in Alice Springs fell well short of acceptable journalistic standards.
Certain media outlets and columnists are seriously overstating what the Voice actually is. Beazley has every right to be worried.
Some have said Kim Beazley was the best Prime Minister we never had.
He is long overdue for a political win.