Controversial and highly prolific News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt is taking a step back from his blog, he told readers on Tuesday, as he works on “a project for the ABC, of all things, over the next couple of weeks”.

What on earth could he be doing? Well, Crikey understands it’s an hour-long documentary on the indigenous recognition campaign, to air on ABC TV in 2017. The synopsis:

“As Australia heads to a referendum on Indigenous recognition, two fiercely opposed advocates travel the nation to see if they can change each other’s mind.”

The advocate for the other side is NSW deputy opposition leader and indigenous politician Linda Burney, who has been in NSW Parliament since 2003. Burney has long been an advocate for constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, having campaigned on indigenous issues for more than 30 years and previously served as an executive member of the National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

“One of the foundation planks of reconciliation is the capacity for the nation to own its truth; is the capacity for a nation to tell the truth,” she said in May. “And we are limited in our country by our Constitution because it does not tell the truth.”

Producer Simon Nasht says the two participants will “bring different perspectives to the complex matter of indigenous recognition.”

The documentary is being produced by Smith & Nasht, which is the same TV production house that did I Can Change Your Mind About Climate in 2012, during which Howard government minister Nick Minchin travelled around the world with Australian Youth Climate Coalition founder Anna Rose and each tried to convince the other about climate change. The production house was also behind the Howard on Menzies series, a production based on John Howard’s recently book on the topic, airing on the ABC in 2016.

Writing the documentary, which for now has the working title I Can Change Your Mind About Recognition, is Nasht, who is also producing the series with Ruth Cross. The director is Kay Pavlou. The project received Screen Australia funding in November last year. 

Bolt has been one of News Corp’s fiercest critics of recognising indigenous people in the constitution, even happy to get into fights with outlets like The Australian over the issue. Bolt believes the recognition of indiginous Australians and their unique place in Australia in the constitution amounts to “racist division”. He wrote in April:

“This may be meant well, but it’s still apartheid. It is wrong to use the law to insist some of us are First Australians with extra rights because of their ‘race’ and the rest are second Australians.”

News that he was appearing on the ABC yesterday prompted a social media backlash, with many ABC viewers and some ABC journalists saying Bolt already had plenty of avenues (his widely read column, blog, radio show, TV show …) in which to have his views heard. Bolt’s history no doubt played into the backlash. In 2011, Bolt was found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act in columns he wrote questioning the level of welfare and societal advantage that supposedly comes from identifying as Aboriginal. The columns singled out several prominent Aboriginal Australians, who successfully sued Bolt in the Federal Court.

On Bolt’s blog announcing his work for the ABC, robust discussions have occurred between those who think Bolt is wrong to appear on the ABC after criticising it for so long, and others applauding him for helping bring some “balance” to the public broadcaster.

Correction: When this piece was first published yesterday afternoon, Crikey originally said the documentary would air in 2016. But readers will have to wait a bit longer to see it — it’s actually scheduled for 2017. This piece has also been updated to include Linda Burney’s involvement. 

Peter Fray

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