‘Fuck Australia, I hope it fucking burns to the ground.’ Sarah Maddison opens this book by quoting Tarneen Onus-Williams, the young Indigenous activist who sparked a brief controversy when her inflammatory comments about Australia were reported around 26 January 2018. For Maddison, a Professor of Politics at the University of Melbourne, Onus-Williams’s Australia Day comments (and subsequent clarification) convey a profound insight into ‘the system’. She writes:
The current system – the settler colonial system – is not working ... Yet despite incontrovertible evidence of this failure, the nation persists in governing the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in ways that are damaging and harmful, firm in its belief that with the right policy approach … Indigenous lives will somehow improve. This is the colonial fantasy.
Indeed, Maddison dismisses both ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’ approaches to Indigenous policy as not just failing but actually covertly desiring the ‘elimination’ of Indigenous peoples. Her message for readers is that ‘[w]hite Australia can’t solve black problems because white Australia is the problem’, and while the ‘structure’ of settler colonialism endures in the institutions of Australian society, Indigenous people will fail, and things will continue to worsen. As such, she argues for a complete rethink of policy approaches to ‘Australia’s settler problem’, one that would abandon ‘the liberal settler order’ produced by the colonial fantasy for something else, although she acknowledges that the alternative to settler colonialism ‘is uncertain’ as ‘there are no easy answers’.