What’s wrong with the Constitution? Everything.
Written by: Louisa L. on 11 September 2023
'Surely one of the biggest truths we need to be tell in the first place is how the Constitution came to be and why it was deliberately written to exclude us. And given this, is the answer really our inclusion, or is it coming to the table as equals, sitting down and nutting out, as sovereign peoples, treaties that could ensure a better, more inclusive, way forward?' Arrernte woman Celeste Liddle
The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) acknowledges that it is not our place to advise First Peoples how to vote in the forthcoming referendum.
The Statement from the Heart organisers worked within Constitutional Convention, guaranteeing a decision on the Voice through Constitutional change would be decided by all adult Australians in a referendum. That immediately established an obstacle to a process which should have been one for self-determination by First Peoples themselves. It empowers the divide and rule structures of the original colonies, now called states.
Other divisions were deliberately fostered by the Business Council of Australia which interfered in the process from the beginning, using its enormous resources.
First Peoples are right to be suspicious of the process that has led to the Referendum on a Voice to Parliament. The Statement from the Heart, as a first step, diverted First People’s aspirations to parliament, ahead of demands for Treaties (including unifying ones between various First Peoples’ clans) which many of those present saw as a more important first step. Some who walked out of the meeting rejected the parliamentary approach altogether, others because of attempts to silence dissent, particularly against DjabWurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe.
The Constitution thrown out and a new one written
Some First Peoples hope fundamental change will come through parliament listening to a constitutionally enshrined First Peoples Voice.
We believe that focussing on the Constitution was problematic from the start. It was unfit for purpose even before the ink of its signatories had dried. It tried to affect a compromise between the British Crown as “owner” of the Australian colonies, the local elites which had their own political and economic base in a particular colony, and that section of the capitalist class that needed a national framework for its development. The result was a weak three-way compromise in which each of these competing elements tried to grab power from the others. All, however, accepted the correctness of the colonial seizure of First Peoples’ lands and consequently refused to even acknowledge First Peoples as citizens of the newly emerging nation.
The Constitution legally recognised the nationwide character developed in industry and transport. Australia-wide working class industrial action and political struggle against plunder of the people and country by British Imperialists and their local collaborators reflected national development in the economic base. Mass maritime’, shearers,’ and miners’ strikes in the 1890s, including acts of sabotage and armed camps of strikers, forced the hands of British and local elites. Federation saw Britain legally establish the nation, but hold onto separation into states. The unity alongside division sought to secure a legal form of apparent independence while ensuring continuing real imperialist dominance.
To add to the confusion of the Constitutional referendum, at the time of its adoption in 1901, the Northern Territory was part of South Australia. In 1911, the NT was excised from South Australia; at the same time, the ACT was excised from NSW. Both remained as Territories whose laws were made by the Commonwealth. In 1978 they were granted responsible government but not Statehood. The Constitution requires a referendum to be carried by a majority of electors and by a majority of the six States. Voters in the two Territories are included in the nation-wide result, but are disenfranchised from the tally of the States. This particularly disenfranchises First Peoples in the Northern Territory and the ACT from one of the two tallies that determine the result of the Referendum. The injustice of this can be seen in that the State with the largest number of First Peoples is NSW. First Peoples in NSW make up 3.55% of the NSW population. By contrast, First Peoples in the NT comprise 30.34% of its population, but they are excluded from the decision-making process enjoyed by people in the States.
We believe that to change this Constitution to recognise First Peoples by way of a Voice to parliament is window-dressing. Yet, despite that, the desire for a Voice that they hope can't be dissolved or fragmented is supported by many First Peoples who have fought alongside their communities for land rights, for First Peoples' control of their own affairs, for justice against corporations.
We say this Constitution enshrines violence and attempted genocide, that the sovereignty of First Peoples was never ceded to the colonialists, and remains in force alongside, and as the foundation of, any true sovereignty that the Australian people aspire to.
As Lidia Thorpe so powerfully pointed out, Australian politicians swear allegiance to a foreign power.
We work for the day when united struggle of all Peoples is strong enough for the Constitution to be destroyed and a new one written, beginning with the truth-telling – already understood by all – that the Australian nation was created by the unsettlement of, and theft from, the sovereign First Peoples, whose dispossession was everywhere attempted by the force and violence, or threat of force and violence, employed by the unsettlers and their police and troopers, that every land was defended in warfare.
We struggle for just settlement that creates enduring peace between our Peoples.
From there we can begin again.
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