The February edition of The Monthly is out, including Robert Manne’s eagerly-awaited ‘Comment’ on Windschuttle.
Windschuttle attacked Manne in January’s Quadrant, saying that he should stand down from his position at La Trobe, then on Monday went on ABC radio’s Counterpoint to summarise the general case against the stolen generations ‘myth’ that forms the thesis of his Volume III. The debate is a bit hard to follow, because Manne has responded to Windschuttle’s print arguments on radio, and to his radio arguments in print. That is, Manne replied to Windschuttle’s personal attack on Late Night Live, and, contrary to Phillip Adams’ advice, it turns out that the piece in The Monthly adds nothing to that — it’s just a general critique of Windschuttle’s book.
Windschuttle accepts that most of the personal accounts in Bringing Them Home were genuine, and that many children were forcibly removed. His contention is that the children were taken from incompetent and alcoholic parents, from the same motives that applied to neglected white children in the same era. The notion that there was a policy to break down aboriginal culture or ‘breed out the colour’ is a fabrication, with no basis in the archival evidence. And while there were a couple of officials who wanted to contain the indigenous gene pool — Cecil Cook in the NT and in AO Neville in WA — their schemes had to do with marriages rather than the removal of children.
Windschuttle argues that the ‘myth of the Stolen Generations’ has been pernicious in fostering an attitude of victimhood amongst indigenous people, which in turn has brought unnecessary resentment into the dealings of activists with governments, and distracted then from the real fundamental problems.
The specific charge against Manne is that, in a pamphlet he wrote in 2001, he claimed falsely that the Lyons Government endorsed Cook’s policy in the NT, and that this demonstrates that forced removals were part of a general policy to breed out the colour. Manne accomplished this, Windschuttle maintains, by (1) misrepresenting the status of a Commonwealth departmental officer who favoured the approach, (2) suppressing the fact that the federal minister rejected Cook’s advice anyway, and (3) failing to remind readers that the issue didn’t relate to removing children in any case.
Manne responds (in the radio interview) by saying that Windschuttle has completely misunderstood the documents. The only thing that the Minister objected was Cook’s idea of forcing ‘half-caste’ girls to marry white men, which was never on the table anywhere. On the other hand, it was policy to encourage such marriages, and any official policy applying in the Territory was in any case by definition a Commonwealth policy. Manne further accuses Windschuttle of simply failing to comprehend that removing mixed race girls from the communities was an essential prerequisite to making them marriageable to white men.
Let’s see if Windschuttle allows Manne to reply in writing in Quadrant. My guess is that a great deal may hinge on where ‘encouragement’ ends and ‘force’ begins. In any case I doubt that Windschuttle will convince more than a few of his diehard fans that Manne’s scholarship was seriously deficient, let alone that the whole thesis supporting The Apology was a concoction.
Even if Windschuttle has been right to caution against exaggeration, his polarising antics are not conducive to the lay public’s getting a balanced sense of where the truth lies. No, it probably isn’t helpful to speak of genocide, but a sense of indignation over that particular accusation shouldn’t be a license to forgo empathy for a people who saw their culture uprooted in the space of three generations.