Constitutional amendment would create body for Indigenous people to make independent representations to government
By Vinnie Molina
On June 19, Australia’s Parliament passed a bill for a referendum to recognize Indigenous Australians in the Constitution and to give them a Voice to Parliament [called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice]. The bill sets the question for a referendum to be held October 14.
Labor, the Greens, some Liberals, Senator David Pocock and the Jacqui Lambie Network party supported the bill.
“We’ve had 122 years of decisions being made about Aboriginal people, without Aboriginal people,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said. “With the best of intentions, we have presided over an expensive, well-intentioned failure.
“One hundred and twenty-two years of doing things for Indigenous Australians – this is our chance to do things with Indigenous Australians.”
Opposition leader Peter Dutton and his anti-Voice colleagues have set out to make the debate as divisive and misleading as possible, while Dutton argues that to go ahead with the referendum would be “divisive.”
He described the Voice as an “overcorrection” for disadvantage and a “reckless roll of the dice.”
Adding salt to the wound, Dutton argued, “Changing our constitution to enshrine a voice will take our country backwards, not forwards.” He then went on to say a successful Voice would have an effect where “All Australians are equal, but some Australians are more equal than others.”
Does he mean that is not the case now?
It also begs the question: How many mining corporations that take the land and destroy Aboriginal heritage have a voice in the ears of politicians!
To give Indigenous Australians a Voice over matters that affect them does not usurp parliamentary powers.
A Voice on its own will not deliver land rights, protect Indigenous culture and heritage, or overcome poverty and the many other injustices faced by Indigenous Australians. Nor will systemic racism in state structures and society at large be eradicated by a Voice alone.
The struggle for a Voice to Parliament, Treaty and Truth Telling has unfortunately been wedged between those who see Voice to Parliament as a vehicle and those who see it as the end. This has also been an opportunity for a minority to express their racist sentiments. Some opponents to the Voice are misinformed, confused or alienated from the process. Others seek Treaty first and stronger reforms.
In the debate we have also heard those who, forgetting Australia is a capitalist state, expect the state will just give the land back and pay reparations for all the injustices committed against Indigenous Australians by an action of a Parliament. The current Australian state doesn’t represent the interests of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous working-class people.
But the Voice has the potential to right some past wrongs if it is listened to and acted on.
Closing the Gap [the government’s framework for reducing disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia], the achievement of land rights and justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples require strong organization at the grass roots level in unity with the working class and other progressive forces.
The invasion of the Australian continent and the dispossession of the land is the main cause of the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This has inflicted ongoing pain and harm to generations of Indigenous people, and that can’t be fixed overnight.
Closing the Gap efforts haven’t been enough. Deaths in custody continue, despite Royal Commissions and inquiries. Land continues to be taken, and cultural sites and heritage destroyed. This is a direct result of the colonization process and the capitalist pursuit of profits.
The dispossession of Indigenous Australians of land, their main means of production, more than 200 years ago, will only be resolved with the political will of a new type of government in Australia which will give the land back to its original owners and Close the Gap.
The longest living culture in the world has survived despite attempts at genocide, assimilation and the dispossession itself. It is time to take the first step towards rectifying those wrongs by giving the First Peoples a Voice.
The referendum of 1967 saw unity and bipartisan support which returned as a result the most successful referendum outcome in our recent history. It is regrettable that this is not the case in relation to the Voice.
The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) believes that the struggle for a reform such as a Voice to Parliament for Indigenous Australians is part of the broader class struggle and the struggle to Close the Gap.
If the Voice is defeated it would be a huge demoralizing setback for Indigenous Australians and their supporters.
The Communist Party of Australia has always fought alongside Indigenous Australians and pledges to continue to do so.
To achieve the restoration of land and other rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples requires strong organization in unity with working-class people. The struggle for Land Rights should be seen as part of the struggle for a new type of society, a fairer and more democratic one, a socialist society.
The CPA sees winning this reform as a very important step along the path of the long struggle for justice, Treaty, Truth Telling and eventually Land Rights.
It is only with unity of the people that this can be achieved. It is unfortunate that there is not bipartisan support for the referendum. In this case the class position of the Liberal-National Coalition benefits those who dispossessed Indigenous people of land rights over 200 years ago.
Supporting the No vote is to stand on the wrong side of history. It doesn’t matter from what perspective or arguments anyone stands there; the result will be exactly the same if the referendum isn’t successful.
Convincing everyone of the just nature of the Yes vote in the referendum is a class position we want all party members and supporters to campaign for. We say stand for Indigenous rights, Vote Yes.
The CPA calls on all Party members and supporters to work hard for the YES vote. To go out and do your utmost to ensure those who currently support the NO vote or sit on the fence change their minds and support Indigenous Australians to have a voice that can’t be taken away.
Once the Voice is achieved, the struggle will continue for Treaty and Truth Telling. The CPA will continue to struggle alongside Indigenous Australians for Land Rights and self-determination in the united struggle for working-class power as part of the broader struggle for a just and fair Australian republic, a socialist Australia.
Vinnie Molina is National President of the Communist Party of Australia
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