Shedding colonial ties can take time,but the TikTok clock is ticking

Columnist and senior journalist

Male necks have been liberated – vive la revolution! Last week newly elected Greens MPMax Chandler-Mather rose to ask a question in question time. Spying him,Nationals MP Pat Conaghan called a point of order,objecting to what he said was the “state of undress” of the member for Griffith.

Chandler-Mather was not wearing a tie. A dangerous triangle of skin was visible where his Windsor knot should have been. The Speaker directed Conaghan to sit down – but the member for Cowper later issued a stern statement.

Greens member for Griffith Max Chandler-Mather was criticised for not wearing a tie in question time.

Greens member for Griffith Max Chandler-Mather was criticised for not wearing a tie in question time.James Brickwood

“This is not a barbecue. This is question time in the Australian parliament. What next,board shorts and thongs? Maybe a onesie in winter.” Conaghan said this was not a “minor matter”. It indicated there is “little respect for the tradition and history of our parliament”.

Reverse-sexists might have been cheered by this scrutiny – for once,it was men’s attire that was being criticised. We look forward to the day when male MPs are told by passing strangers to “smile,love,it might never happen!” Only then will true gender equality be assured.

The New Zealand parliament has already dealt with necktie iconoclasm. In February 2021,Rawiri Waititi,the co-leader of the Maori Party,was kicked out of the chamber for showing up wearing a hei-tiki (the traditional pendant of his people) around his neck,instead of a tie.

After a heated exchange about dress standards with Speaker Trevor Mallard,Waititi left the room,telling Mallard,“It’s not about ties - it’s about cultural identity,mate.” The Maori MP called the necktie “a colonial noose”.

“I took off the colonial tie as a sign that it continued to colonise,to choke and to suppress our Maori rights,” he said after the incident.

Speaking of colonising,let’s hope Pat Conaghan was looking the other way when Greens senatorLidia Thorpe was sworn in last week. When Thorpe took her oath she raised a fist of defiance,and pledged to “bear true allegiance to the colonising her majesty Queen Elizabeth II”.

Labor’s Senate President Sue Lines (who last week said we should ditch the Lord’s Prayer at the opening of each day’s sitting) directed Thorpe to say the oath properly. Thorpe did so,but in a tone of such naked sarcasm that no one could mistake her contempt.

It was a stunt,sure. But it is pretty wild that Australian parliamentarians are made to declare allegiance to the Queen.

And while Liz may never have donned a pith helmet herself,it’s undeniable she is the figurehead of an ex-colonial power which has a great deal of blood on its hands. The confrontation of this history means even royal tours these days are fraught.

William and Kate’s tour of the Caribbean was called “tone deaf”.

William and Kate’s tour of the Caribbean was called “tone deaf”.Getty

Once,royals could rely on polite silence when visiting the Commonwealth outposts their forebears exploited. No more – in March,when Prince William and his wife Kate,our future queen,took an eight-day tour of Belize,Bahamas and Jamaica,it wasn’t all flag-waving children and military parades.

In Belize,they faced protests. In Jamaica,the prime minister told the Cambridges his country would be “moving on” to become a republic (just as Barbados did in 2021),and in the Bahamas a government committee urged the royals to make a “full and formal apology for their crimes against humanity”. Yikes.

We are living through an exciting period when history is being re-examined,and there is a heightened awareness of the damage wrought by colonialism.

In 2021,Scott Morrison’s government announced that the words “young and free” would be swapped for “one and free” in thenational anthem (interestingly,the change was made by proclamation of the governor-general,the Crown’s representative).

It now seems astonishing how easily Aboriginal history was erased when the anthem was proclaimed in 1984 (again,by the governor-general).

Living royals are not the only ones feeling insecure – historical figures are also falling victim to this spirit of reappraisal,a trend that has picked up speed following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

Winston Churchill is still venerated by many politicians,and seen,by older generations at least,as a symbol of anti-fascist defiance and patriotic heroism.

Illustration by Reg Lynch

Illustration by Reg LynchSydney Morning Herald

New biographies change the lens – a 2021 book onChurchill by Geoffrey Wheatcroft portrays Churchill as “not just a racist but a hypocrite,a dissembler,a narcissist,an opportunist,an imperialist,a drunk,a strategic bungler,a tax dodger,a neglectful father,a credit-hogging author,a terrible judge of character and,most of all,a masterful mythmaker”,in the words of theNew York Times. Oof.

Another recent biography byTariq Ali argues that the post-war veneration of Churchill represents a nostalgia for empire.

Churchill led the fight against Nazi Germany,and saved the world from fascism.

But there is no doubt he was racist – he used the n-word and he called Chinese people “pigtails”.

Ali points out that in 1937 the great man said indigenous people in North America and Australia had been colonised by a “stronger race,a higher-grade race”.

The BBC coverage of the current Commonwealth Games has been tinged with scepticism,with one studio presenter asking her sports panel:“What does the Commonwealth mean in modern society?”

The diversity of the new parliament has been much commented upon.

Lidia Thorpe and Chandler-Mather areGreens politicians,and Thorpe is Indigenous,but perhaps the real “diversity” they represent is their relative youth. Thorpe is 48,a member of Generation X,and Chandler-Mather is just 30,a Millennial with a more relaxed concept of masculinity.

After he was chastised for his nude neck,he posted a TikTok video highlighting the fact that his question,once he was allowed to ask it,had been about public housing.

Likewise,thenew teal independents are largely Gen X women.

They look young compared to the older male politicians who have traditionally dominated our politics,in their suits.

And their ties,of course.

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Jacqueline Maley is a columnist.

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