Mark Latham's Indigenous DNA Testing Slammed As 'Racist Dog Whistling'
One Nation is said to be gunning for the racist vote to catapult Mark Latham back into parliament -- and it's a strategy almost certain to work.
Two weeks out from the NSW state election, the former Labor leader turned One Nation candidate announced a deeply divisive new policy: to force Aboriginal people on government payments to undergo DNA testing.
The premise, he declared, was to stop "people with blonde hair and blue eyes declaring themselves to be Indigenous" to qualify for welfare benefits.
"The system of Indigenous self-identification (declaring Aboriginality without any bloodline or DNA proof) has been open to widespread abuse. It is being used as a fraudulent way of cashing in on welfare benefit," he declared.
"We will tighten the eligibility rules for Aboriginal identity to require DNA evidence of at least 25 percent Indigenous (the equivalent of one fully Aboriginal grandparent). Self-identification will be abolished."
The policy received widespread media coverage, appearing on Monday and Tuesday in many major outlets.
On social media, it was a different story. Former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam called it "a heartbeat away from normalising the politics of eugenics", while University of Queensland academic and Darumbal woman Amy McQuire cut down Latham's definition of Aboriginality completely.
Shooters Fishers and Farmers MP Robert Borsak said "the only person who needed DNA testing was Mark Latham himself, because we don't know which one we'll get from one day to the other."
The policy is little more than a "racist dog whistle", IndigenousX's Luke Pearson told 10 daily.
"The idea that One Nation keeps pushing out -- that anyone can just claim to be Aboriginal and then suddenly receive all of these imagined benefits for doing so is complete fabrication," Pearson said.
Aboriginality has been defined by the government since the 1980s by a three-part definition, according to the Parliamentary Library: being of Aboriginal descent, identifying as Aboriginal, and being accepted by the community.
It's not a perfect system, Pearson said, but it is an Aboriginal-led definition which renders Latham's proposition as impractical as it is disingenuous.
"Simply put, it doesn't matter if someone like Mark Latham wants all Aboriginal people to look a certain way, it has no relevance and carries no weight to how Aboriginal people feel about their own identity," he said.
Dr Liz Allen of the Australian National University claimed One Nation's policy harks back to the Stolen Generation era, where Aboriginal children who appeared "white enough for assimilation" were forcibly removed from their families.
"This announcement [reignites] old and outdated ideas of race and superiority," Allen told 10 daily.
"Latham and One Nation appear to be taking political notes right out of a centuries’ old colonist playbook."
She added that there is real concern about fairness in Australia, but claimed the policy -- rather than addressing structural problems -- simply entrenches an 'us against them' mentality.
"It creates a problem which does not exist, and frames First Nations Australians as cheats, fraudsters and criminals," Allen said.
Unfortunately, Latham's strategy could work. He's all but assured to win a seat in the NSW upper house, said Monash University's Dr Zareh Ghazarian.
Making outlandish statements for noise is typical of the minor parties fighting tight elections, the political scientist added.
"He really needs to remind voters he exists," Ghazarian told 10 daily.
"Latham has a track record in saying outrageous things throughout his political career, [but now] he's shifted his approach in recent times from attacking the powerful to attacking the vulnerable."
Latham needs just 4.55 percent of the state-wide vote to win a seat in NSW's upper house. To put that into context, he'd need about 14 percent to be elected into the Australian Senate.
And once he's there, Latham could hold the balance of power, Ghazarian said.
The latest polling put the Liberal-National coalition neck-and-neck with Labor, meaning whichever party forms government will have to negotiate with the minor parties and Independents.
There is talk of a Labor minority government, in a strange alliance with the Greens and the Shooters party, but Latham's injection into the political arena could truly shake up the environment.
"He could be a very powerful player in NSW politics," Ghazarian said.
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