- The Guardian
- Issue #2045
Recently, CPA General Secretary, Andrew Irving, spoke with members of the NSW Hunter branch. The topic: the CPA’s support for a “yes” vote in the referendum on the Voice to Parliament. The Hunter branch had invited Andrew to speak on this topic, especially after some of us participated in an Invasion Day rally in Newcastle.
At the rally, we heard two speakers, one supporting a “yes” vote and the other a “no” vote. Soon afterwards, the CPA’s Central Committee promulgated a resolution on the Party’s position on the referendum, coming out strongly in favour of a “yes” vote. In light of these developments, the branch issued the invitation to speak with us and explain the background and reasons for the resolution.
Comrade Andrew’s presentation was a very well-informed contribution based on in-depth research. He laid out the background, history, and reasons for the Central Committee’s resolution, and stressed the breadth of issues that were considered.
He began by pointing out that it was necessary for the Central Committee to “articulate a clear position fairly early.” This came out of the experience of finding that a number of comrades had been influenced by “radicals that were arguing against the Voice.” Promoting “politics that creates confusion, and as a result division.”
This is precisely how the Liberals are challenging the referendum by “misrepresenting what the process is, and what the question means.” For these reasons, the CPA needed to address the referendum policy early, so that comrades can get a clear understanding of why and how the Party is supporting the referendum and a “yes” vote.
Further, the General Secretary stressed that the Central Committee’s resolution included references to the Party’s contribution to the current historical and political reality.
For nearly all the CPA’s long history, it has been a clear and resolute supporter of Indigenous campaigns for land rights, recognition, human rights, reconciliation, treaty, and now the Voice. The reality is that the Party had to consider the current Constitution and Laws as they exist and what is being proposed in the referendum for a Voice to Parliament. “We start from what is being proposed and how referendum campaigns have evolved in Australia.” Comrade Andrew explained the simplicity of the proposed referendum question, and the wording that would be included in the Constitution will make it easier to explain and win support, while maintaining its significance to advancing Indigenous representation.
Andrew emphasised that the intension was that the Voice be applied to all levels of governance in Australia. He observed that the wording in the question and Constitutional amendment speaks of “parliament” and “doesn’t say ‘federal’, it doesn’t say ‘state’, it says ‘parliament and executive.’ ” Pointing out later that the proposal in the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process Final Report “the structure is intended to be at all levels of government.”
It will not only be the “federal government, but all levels of government, all the way down to local councils.” Even more, “within each community they say there must be different forms … so we recognise the differences within Indigenous communities that require different ways of implementing the Voice bodies being formed.”
This process may also replace a legacy from the era of John Howard’s Liberal-National government which implemented a policy of non-representative Aboriginal corporations being established to be the prime negotiators in planning and development matters. The Voice could negate these non-representative corporations and establish a proper representative system of bodies to act for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for all types of planning and development issues.
Another significant emphasis for the presentation was a focus on a step-by-step approach. The Communist Party needs to be realistic about what can be achieved in any particular situation. In this context, “the Voice is intended as the first step.”
Comrade Andrew referred to the state of Victoria, where a treaty process has begun. In this case the first step was to establish – with careful preparation – a representative body of Indigenous peoples that could draft what should be included in and how to negotiate a treaty. If you want to engage in a treaty process, you need genuine representative bodies to negotiate from both sides.
Further, each step in a struggle provides a foundation for the next advance in the process. Comrade Andrew pointed out that “having a Voice in the Constitution gives the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders … a right to be represented and speak which can’t be taken away.” If it is in the Constitution, that “means there is a high degree of recognition for the Indigenous peoples.” It also means that the “Federal Court will apportion a lot more influence because there is a constitutional Voice.”
In other words, it could be a powerful tool. But this is only a beginning, a foundation for future stages of struggle, Treaty and Truth Telling. It “will come down to the commitment and campaigning of the Indigenous peoples and their supporters for change.” He pointed out that the “capitalists won’t give anything, even if there is wonderful legislation in place. The elite and corporations will resist if it is against their interests.” It will need work to build a united movement and campaigns to drive change, otherwise the “capitalists won’t implement anything.”
“A victory for the ‘no’ vote that is supported by the radicals and conservatives will result in a set-back to any progress for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders rights, for years.”
To conclude with a question from the general secretary: “Does the Voice represent recognition of the Indigenous population in Australia?” The answer is, in light of concrete conditions, a clear “yes.” For the “First nations, national minority of this continent will establish a constitutional Voice.” Finally!
“If we don’t do it now, when we have the momentum, then when?”