People are often shocked when they find out that I’m a member of the Liberal Party. It’s not because I have a nose ring and swear by Floral Shirts paired with Doc Martins as my choice of everyday fashion, nor is it because I listen to some alternative music and enjoy drinking herbal tea (don’t worry, I’m also addicted to coffee). The reason why people are shocked is because I am a proud young Indigenous Australian, from the Gumbayngirr Nation.
Being Aboriginal and Liberal usually comes with this question from people: ‘How could you be a Liberal? You’re Aboriginal!’ Contrary to popular belief among family and friends, I actually don’t mind when people ask me that question, because it gives me the opportunity to explain why I am a Liberal. I joined the Liberal Party because I believe in smaller government, lower taxes and economic liberalism. I believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom from tyranny. I also have faith in the Westminster style of government with its checks and balances and separation of powers. Most importantly, I believe in equality before the law and the equality of opportunity. As John Howard put it, the Liberal Party is a broad church. It is broad because there is a rich diversity of opinion. I may disagree on certain issues with others within the party, but at the end of the day we can still tolerate each other and remain friends. Even in the broader centre-right movement, there is a lot of disagreement. I’m sure that I would have disagreements with readers and writers on the Sydney Tory, for instance – but we respect diversity of thought and opinion, acknowledging that our modern society has been built on the battle of ideas.
I find it concerning, however, that some people have a preconceived idea as to what political beliefs an Indigenous person such as myself should hold, and which political parties I should support. Apparently the only ‘acceptable’ party for Indigenous people to vote for is a party with a left-wing agenda. According to the proponents of identity politics, you’re not a ‘real’ Aboriginal Person if you don’t support such an agenda. Individuals such as Jacinta Price, Anthony Dillon and Warren Mundine are often ridiculed by the left because they have the ‘wrong’ ideas and political positions for an Aboriginal person. Sometimes I even face criticism from members of my own family and friends for my political opinions. Not surprisingly, my former high school teachers and current academic staff at university have been the most vocal to me about their annoyance at me being a Liberal. It has felt as though I was branded the ‘Crazy Conservative Kid.’
Despite this, I don’t believe criticism is a bad thing. For example, a former teacher of mine at high school (note: I attended a public high school) pointed out my political beliefs in almost every class. This particular teacher was an excellent educator, however. She actually helped me to grow my opinions and cut my teeth in political discourse at an early stage, making me realise from the outset that my views were not ‘protected’. I believe this has shaped my worldview by encouraging me to become a critical thinker; able to actually handle different views by assessing and debating the merits of ideas. The notion that your skin colour and background must predetermine your opinions is morally wrong and dangerous. Each person is unique and entitled to their own views, and to try to enforce groupthink on people only leads to a loss of individual creativity and independent thinking.
Sir Neville Bonner once said, ‘We as Aboriginal people still have to fight to prove that we are straight out plain human beings, the same as everyone else.’ To me, this quote speaks to the fact that Aboriginal people are like everyone else – we have disagreements, we have our own thoughts and ideas – and the left have to accept that there are Aboriginal people who disagree with their message.
I am proud to be Aboriginal. I celebrate my culture every day and try to contribute to my community. But I’m also proud to be a Member of the Liberal Party – the party that gave Indigenous Australians the right to vote on a national scale; the party that introduced and saw through the historic 1967 referendum; who recently passed legislation through the NSW Parliament, acknowledging the value and importance of the languages and cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples. In fact, some of the greatest Indigenous politicians have been Liberal Party members, such as the great Sir Neville Bonner, Hyacinth Tungutalum, Bess Price, Adam Giles, Johanna Lindgren and Ken Wyatt.
The left would probably ask the question, ‘what happened to you?’ Well, I have had the opportunity to have many inspiring and influential people in my life, the majority of whom don’t necessarily share the same views as me, but have allowed me to formulate my own personal opinions, values and beliefs. These people have taught me about respect, equality, and the importance of hard work and receiving the best education I can. These people have helped to shape me into the person I am today: someone with the ability to form his own opinions. So, I apologise to the proponents of left-wing identity politics for not bowing down to your groupthink. Individual freedom and diversity of thought is something I truly believe in, because I dare to be different.
Boston Edwards is an Arts/Law student at the University of Wollongong.