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Speakers denigrate Indigenous culture at anti-Voice conference

Giovanni Torre -

The CPAC Australia conference, which was dominated by opposition to the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, was plagued by participants making racist comments, and overshadowed by the apparent "Black cladding" of the organisation's website.

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Australia conference, chaired by Warren Mundine, featured speakers including Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, former PM Tony Abbott, Advance Director Matthew Sheahan, and former Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop over the weekend.

Self-described "hoax speaker and corporate impostor" Rodney Marks, as character "Dr Chaim Tsibos", spoke for 25 minutes on Sunday, beginning by mocking the Acknowledgement of Country.

"I'd like to acknowledge the traditional rent-seekers, past, present and emerging," he said, before smearing Traditional Owners as "violent black men".

"I hope there are some real feminists in the audience who appreciate the part-truth of that joke," he said, before describing Indigenous leader Bennelong as a "woman-basher".

Also at the event, Recognise a Better Way committee member Dr Gary Johns urged assimilation of Aboriginal communities, claimed some people in Indigenous communities lived in a "stupor", and recommended they "learn English".

"If you're not trying to get those people either out of that remote community or out of the stupor in which they live, or give them the tools to allow them adapt to life in the modern world, the world we inherited, then you're doing wrong… You have to do practical things in the name of integration," he said.

"As Dave Price, Jacinta's dad, has said to me often enough: 'If you want a voice, learn English. That's your voice'."

Dr Johns has previously been criticised for remarks made in his 2022 book The Burden of Culture: How to Dismantle the Aboriginal Industry and Give Hope to its Victims, which was available for purchase at CPAC, including saying "blood will have to be measured for all benefits and jobs", and "Taking children was a necessary instrument, because saving Aboriginal society was thought at the time to be a forlorn hope".

Dr Johns also recently described colonialism as a gift and again defended the removal of the Stolen Generations.

Professor Megan Davis and Aunty Pat Anderson AO of the Uluru Dialogue issued a statement in response in which they urged the No campaign to stop the "racist jokes and misinformation".

"Sadly, this sort of abuse is not uncommon on social media, weaponised by trolls and sham accounts that the No campaign does little to nothing to discourage or condemn," the statement said.

"Our young people around the country will be seeing supposed jokes on their social media feeds portraying Indigenous Australians as 'rent-seekers', 'violent' and 'woman-bashers'.

"(It is) never funny to mock or vilify a group of people on the basis of their culture.

"When a group of people suffer a significantly lower life expectancy than others in the community and suicide at a significantly higher rate, as Indigenous Australians do, such humour must be called out as (an) abusive form of 'punching down' or 'bullying.'"

On Monday freelance researcher Chrys Stevenson pointed out that the images of four young people of colour listed on CPAC Australia's website under the banner "The Team", without names or any other information, were in fact photos taken from a stock image website.

"I thought I'd check out the CPAC Australia website and found this page featuring CPAC founder and exec director Andrew Cooper and his 'team'," she wrote.

"'Odd,' I thought, 'that none of the team members' photos have names or link to bios, but great that his 'team' includes all people of colour. I wonder who they are?'

"So, I reverse image checked each photo and found they are all Shutterstock photos. (Mr Cooper) seems to have 'acquired' images of people of colour and falsely represented them as members of his 'team'."

Ms Stevenson also expressed curiosity as to what Mr Mundine and Senator Price would think of the "CPAC Founder and Exec publicly promoting a racially diverse team who all seem to be sourced from Shutterstock".

Mobile phone screen shots of CPAC Australia's alleged "team".

The source of the stock photos.

In a comment provided to Guardian Australia, Mr Marks claimed his "jokes" were "critical of everyone" and that he was "playing a character with maximum ambiguity of character and arrogance".

It was reported that Mr Mundine initially accepted an interview with NITV, then subsequently declined, saying "no comment".

NSW Liberal MP and former state minister Matt Kean said Dr Johns was treating Mr Mundine and Senator Price with "complete disrespect".

"Deliberately making revolting statements knowing that Jacinta and Warren will have to clean up his mess. No political campaign should ever indulge that sought of cowardice," he wrote.


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