Politics

Morrison and Albanese Desperately Want You to Know They Are Not Woke

This might just be the worst election campaign in years.
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Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images

As fuel prices surpass $2 a litre, and Australia finds itself in the thick of a climate emergency that only three weeks ago displaced thousands of people in a flood disaster, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese desperately want you to know one thing: They are not “woke”.

Adorning the front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, Albanese was pictured alongside large sans serif text screaming “I AM NOT WOKE”, suggesting the Labor leader has vowed to “swerve away from the left”, as though he hasn’t already been vying for centre-right Liberal votes for the better part of the last 12 months, or that he was in the vicinity of the left to begin with.

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Morrison was quick to make assurances of his own when he appeared on Nine’s Today show later on Wednesday morning. He, too, guaranteed the network’s morning viewership that he was not woke. Perhaps, even vehemently anti-woke. More not-woke than Albanese. He isn’t, has never been, and possibly could not ever be woke, he pleaded on national television. 

“I don’t have to do interviews running around telling people I am not woke, people know that is not the case and leopards don’t change their spots,” Morrison said.

But neither of Australia’s prime ministerial candidates are woke, and they never really have been – at least not by definition. The origins of the word “woke” are broadly traced back to African American vernacular usage in the 1960s, when it was commonly used among Black communities to “literally mean becoming woken up or sensitised to issues of justice”, according to linguist and lexicographer Tony Thorne.

Others have argued that the word can only really be used by people who actively suffer at the hands of systemic oppression. Today, the Oxford dictionary defines the word as an adjective used as an “alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism,” which Thorne says has slowly been “co-opted” and “toxicised” by the alt-right and conservative speakers, often used as an insult.  

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So the lengths to which both Morrison and Albanese have gone to render themselves not-woke – or anti-woke, even – on their Wednesday morning media rounds arrive with a twist of irony, when their track records on societal injustices, their treatment of disenfranchised communities and matters of race more broadly are given serious consideration. 

For Morrison, you only need to cast your mind back to February 14 of this year, when the Prime Minister marked the anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s 2007 apology to stolen generations with postulations on how “sorry is not the hardest word to say.” 

Rather, “the hardest is ‘I forgive you’.”

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe described the quip as “outright disrespect”, suggesting it was an outrageous ask that comes at a time when the Coalition continues to oversee the perpetration of “racist policies and systems that continue to steal our babies.”

A recent report from the Healing Foundation found that Stolen Generations survivors continue to live worse off under Morrison’s Coalition government. They are less likely to own property and they’re more likely to suffer financial hardship, experience violence, live with a disability and have a criminal record. 

Rates of First Nations child removal continue to climb in Australia, too. Over the last decade, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have been reported to be 10 times more likely to be removed from their families. In December last year, it was reported that more than 21,000 First Nations children were in out-of-home care. That figure is expected to rise some 54 percent by 2031. 

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Beyond calls to enshrine an Indigenous voice in Australia’s constitution, Albanese has fumbled his way through matters of race (read: colonisation) with a familiar gracelessness. 

Some critics fear that – if his track record on Israel’s occupation of Palestine is anything to go by – Albanese’s hands would only grow heavier should he win at the federal election in May. 

The Opposition leader has a longstanding track record of mounting relentless attacks in the face of calls for boycotts of Israel. In July last year, for better or for worse, he slammed a Labor motion shilled by former NSW premier Bob Carr calling for a boycott of Israel over the violence it thrust upon Palestinians.  

And he made a similar play in 2011, soon after Sydney’s Marrickville council announced that it would move ahead with boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel in the face of ongoing Zionist colonisation, later described by Amnesty International as apartheid, in the West Bank. Even back then he dismissed the move as “unfortunate and misguided”.

Heading into the final stretch of the federal election campaign, Albanese and Morrison have become indistinguishable, like two teens fighting for the attention of absent parents.

They want the same voter: the quiet Australian who still reads the Daily Telegraph – and might even pay for it. The quiet Australian who is terrified of the global economy they deny is on their doorstep, the global workforce that accompanies it, and the climate emergency that is poised to destroy it. They want the voter who is at once terrified of change and somehow desperate for new leadership.

Dining out on a terminal case of middling centrism, serving up bludgeoning takes on “wokeness” and “cancel culture”, seems to be the way they plan to get it.

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