Imagine, if you can, that you’re sitting alone on the last double seat on a packed public bus. I know, I don’t really want to picture it either, but stick with me here.

In front of you another person struggles to stand as the bus rocks and sways, their grip on the safety strap tenuous at best. What do you do?

Do you just sit there spread-legged, as though it’s your solemn duty to share what nestles between them with the entire world? Or do you shuffle across so the struggler standing can sit? You shuffle right. Of course you do.

Does that mean you’ll have to give up your seat entirely when their mate gets on at the next stop? No.

Will the bus driver suddenly detour drastically from the designated route so he can drop the struggler right at their door? And will the driver then wait while you’re forced to help this stranger inside, unpack their groceries and hand over a few of your own for good measure? Of course not.

Will you have to pay twice as much for your next journey? No.

Will the straggler put a hand out for your house keys because what was once yours in now theirs? As if.

Because you’ve offered to share your seat with another, does that person now have the right to determine your tax rate, your healthcare choices or what kind of submarines might one day, AUKUS willing, defend your territorial waters? Again, no.

All that actually happens is you’ve made a small concession to the comfort of another and in doing so you’ve helped ensure you both reach your destination together. I’m struggling to find a world in which that’s a bad thing.

I’ve known how I’d vote in the Voice referendum well before I knew I’d be asked to. I respect that others aren’t so sure.

What I can’t respect is so much of class-A bullshit deployed to swing the undecided to a negative position.

A column by Andrew Bolt last week condemned what he called “The Blak-out of whiteness,” expressing genuine concern for the identity, culture and history of non-Aboriginal Australians. And what’s at the heart of the existential threat? The fact the SkyBus from Melbourne airport to the CBD plays an acknowledgement of country, and refers to Melbourne by both its colonial name and the area’s Indigenous name.

“Isn’t it enough that the next four biggest cities in the state all have Aboriginal names … can’t we have one big Victorian city with a non-Aboriginal name to honour the British contribution too?” he bleated.

Really? Is that the best you’ve got, Andrew? If the printed word could whine, that crap would split eardrums.

Here we are with the opportunity to try to do better, to listen instead of impose, to improve the perverse situation where one of the wealthiest nations on Earth has some of the world’s most disadvantaged people, and one of Australia’s most prominent commentators opposes that because he’s worried the largest Greek city outside Greece is going to have its British name wiped from the map.

It’s nonsense. You know it. I know it. And he knows it.

It’s the nature of referendums in this country that those who oppose the suggested change can rely on the higher bar that change requires and defeat it with doubt.

Doubt is one thing. Disinformation is another. Right now the waters are muddied because some choose to pour buckets of shit in there and suggest you go swimming. This is important and the debate deserves better than that.

If those who shout “No” can’t do better, you really have to ask why.

Originally published as If the printed word could whine, that crap would split eardrums | Nick Ryan


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