There are a lot of responses you can have to the recent footage of abuse from Don Dale broadcast by Four Corners. Anger, shock, disbelief. But a sudden need to blame the victims and their families, you'd think, would rank pretty low on the list. And yet here we are. This morning, The Australian—correct, our national newspaper—published a cartoon by "satirist" Bill Leak that does just that.
Who should be held to account for the abuse taking place in juvenile detention centres? The answer, according to the cartoon—currently sitting on the front page of The Australian's website—is the parents of the children who suffer there. Not the guards who trapped young boys in a cell and tear gassed them. Not the Northern Territory government. Certainly not a hundred years of entrenched discrimination and socio-economic disadvantage.
Leak's drawing is a dog whistle for white Australians who find it easier to resort to bigotry than confront the race issues that confront the nation every day. This cartoon is why this country has a reputation not only for racism but stupidity, blindness, backwardness.
But you know all this already. If you're reading this article, you know. What you should also know is that we don't have to stand for this sort of thing. Not in our national newspaper, and not anywhere. Bill Leak represents everything we should be working to avoid in 2016, and he has to go. Let's take a look back at some of the other stuff he's published—because today's offering is by no means Leak's first foray into racist stereotypes.
Bill Leak has worked at The Australian since 2006. He's won Walkley awards, he's written a novel. He's an old white dude who probably considers himself quite the social commentator, quite the comedian. The type to shake his head about "political correctness gone mad."
Just last year, Leak drew this cartoon depicting a group of Indian people eating solar panels they've received from the UN. The nuanced message here seems to be that India is... poor? Actually India has been a much more enthusiastic adopter of solar power technology than Australia. They're ranked seventh in the world in total photovoltaic capacity. Australia is 10th.
Another controversial drawing, published in 2014, portrayed a Palestinian militant sending his son out to fight and "win the PR war for Daddy." Essentially claiming that Hamas fighters push their sons into the firing line and want them to be killed. Predictably it wasn't well received by the Greens or Australia's Palestinian community.
Leak once published an op-ed in The Australian defending himself, with the headline It's No Joke When a Cartoonist Speaks the Truth. That seems to be his go-to defence, which begs the question: What truth does today's cartoon speak?
Satire doesn't have to be funny, but it does need a point. What injustice did Bill Leak think he was skewering? The supposed ineptitude of the entire community of First Australians? Is that the injustice? Because firstly, that's an awful assumption to make and secondly—if you truly believe that to be true—how the fuck is this cartoon going to help?
It's also worth acknowledging that Leak's cartoons aren't particularly good. As popular Twitter page Bill Leak Explained illustrates so well, his work is totally one dimensional. Each transparent attempt at humour rudely slaps you in the face, every time.
But the thing is, Bill Leak is just a guy with a pencil. For better or worse he has the right to use it however he likes. But it's the choice of The Australian to hire him, to publish him, and to label a blatantly bigoted image as satire, which simply hides hatred under the guise of humour.
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