Politics

How News Corp Used Lidia Thorpe To Create A Fake Outrage Over “Renaming Victoria”

"This was the Herald Sun's idea, not Lidia Thorpe’s idea."

Lidia Thorpe Northcote

This week, we’ve again seen how easy it is to turn a non-story into several days worth of news headlines. All you need are some leading questions, an easy target, and some manufactured outrage.

It’s a fun little game played by people trying to discredit “the left” by claiming cancel culture has gone too far. This time, new Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe was the target.

Last Wednesday, News Corps’ The Herald Sun ran a story which implied that Lidia was pushing to change the name of the state of Victoria, due to its etymological link to Queen Victoria.

The reaction was entirely predictable — comments on the story’s Facebook link consisted of outrage from people decrying “the last semblance of common sense”, bemoaning the “breaking down of our society by the lefties” and labelling it “PC gone mad”.

But despite what the article implies, Lidia is advocating for no such thing.

After the backlash she clarified her stance on Facebook, pointing out that the News Corp journalist actually contacted her out of the blue to ask what she thought about changing the state’s name.

“He called me on Tuesday and asked what I thought of changing the name of Victoria, I said it’s up to the people to decide, I said its a conversation to be had,” she wrote.

“He then called me back 5 minutes later and asked, “what do you think about changing the name of Australia”? I said, what are you trying to do here John, why would I agree to that? I want to unite this country, not divide it.”

“This was the Herald Sun’s idea, not Lidia Thorpe’s idea.”

She also posted screenshots of a text exchange with the journalist, where she called him out after the story was published.

She received the call during the middle of a debate over whether having a bunch of statues dedicated to people who contributed to mass murder is in poor taste or not.

The conversation is one that’s currently being had around the world; a slave trader statue in the UK was torn down two weeks ago, and Confederate monuments are also being targeted in the US. In Belgium a 150-year-old statute of King Leopold III was also removed after people pointed to his brutal regime in the Congo.

Here, it could have been an opportunity to confront historical injustices, have a nuanced debate on why certain figures are commemorated, or start a discourse about why people get so triggered when we talk about Australia’s history of white supremacy.

Instead, some would prefer to be provoked by a perceived culture war over the name of Colonial Brewing beer, the Coco Pops logo, or the non-existent push to rename our states.

Manufactured outrage spirals from these kinds of stories, which serves the dual purpose of discrediting a legitimate conversation and getting rage-clicks on their website (not to mention smearing a left-wing, female, Indigenous politician).

But Lidia’a clarification hasn’t stopped politicians from piling on, or other media from jumping on the bandwagon.

Political Pile On

Last week Lidia was selected to fill the senate spot of former Greens leader Richard Di Natale, making her only the fifth Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander politician in our federal parliament. Back in 2017 she was also the first Aboriginal woman elected as a Victorian MP.

The Gunnai-Kurnai/Gunditjmara woman has a long history of environmental and social justice activism.

“Anything that’s named after someone who’s caused harm or murdered people, then I think we should take their name down,” she was quoted as saying in The Herald Sun article.

“It could even stay the same if that’s what people want, if that’s part of the negotiation outcome of a treaty where everyone gets to understand both sides.”

Despite the conversation being entirely driven by the newspaper, those comments were used to frame a story claiming the state of Victoria could be renamed under an Indigenous treaty.

The story also included quotes from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews calling it “ridiculous”, and Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien calling it a “stupid idea”.

The pile-on soon became bigger, with Senator Matt Canavan jumping in to say, “maybe they could change their name to Mexico. It would reduce confusion”.

“We are better off just ignoring these crazy Greens who want to trash our history,” he said.

Naturally, the next step was to ask Pauline Hanson for her two cents — so she was invited onto the Today Show. Rather than taking the time to clarify Lidia’s comments, she was again misrepresented by host Karl Stefanovic who referred to her “demands” and framed it as an “attempt to rewrite our history”.

“I’ve had confirmation from the Aboriginals and elders, they call her ‘Lidiot’ in Victoria. So they think she’s a bit of an idiot, and I tend to think with her statement of wanting to change the names of Victoria and Queensland she is tending to be that,” Pauline said, as Karl laughed in the background.

People were not impressed at the attempts to distract people from what is actually a pretty valid and important conversation.

Junkee has contacted Lidia Thorpe for comment and will update the story if one becomes available.