The Guardian • Issue #2062


Voice and action

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2062

The Closing the Gap strategy was set up in 2008, as part of Kevin Rudd’s Apology to Indigenous Australians. The fact that Closing the Gap was set up at all gives the lie to the dishonest arguments that Australia is a race-blind utopia threatened by the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. There are serious gaps in life expectancy, child mortality, education and employment.

Closing the Gap was set up 15 years ago. New targets were added in 2019. Of the 19 Closing the Gap targets, four are on track and improving, four are in decline. School attendance is improving, as is the health of babies, and educational outcomes. The bad news is that there are more children in “out-of-home” care. More adults are in prison. There has been a rise in Indigenous suicides.

Linda Burney, the minister for Indigenous Australians said that when the government listens to communities things get better. She’s right, but it can’t stop there.

The Australian government has spent all of its existence treating Indigenous Australians as a separate and lesser category of person. Imperialism, class oppression and racism have combined to bring Indigenous Australians to the point they are at now, vastly over-represented in suicide and incarceration statistics, hugely behind in employment and education.

A lot of the reason that the important measures in Closing the Gap haven’t improved – in parts of life that upper and middle-class Australians take for granted – is the paternalism implied in “listens to communities.” We need an Australia in which the communities are the government, not an Australia where the communities are always something separate, to be listened to as Burney promises, ignored as Malcolm Turnbull did with the Uluru Statement from the Heart, or condescendingly dropped in on as Tony Abbott did, spending a week living in a tent near an Aboriginal community before returning to Canberra and describing the very existence of remote Aboriginal communities as a “lifestyle choice.”

A Voice to Parliament is a step towards real democracy in the form of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people controlling how resources are spent and controlling their land.

The CPA has long stood with Aboriginal people in the fight to be able to control Aboriginal people’s land and lives. Communism is about real democracy. Not what Lenin called “bourgeois parliamentarianism,” whereby the mass of people get to decide every now and then who will cheat and repress them, but democracy in which the majority of us, the proletariat, control society.

There has been more than enough top-down management with NGOs and government agencies flying in, making decisions, and flying out again. The promise of the Voice is that there will be a permanent Aboriginal voice which will be heard on what is happening in Aboriginal people’s own affairs.

CPA President Vinnie Molina has said, after the Voice is instituted, there will be more struggle. This is of interest to all Australians because it’s part of the struggle “for a new type of society, a fairer and more democratic one, a socialist society.”

When the Voice is set up Australia will continue to be a settler-colonial society. Changes will have to be fought for. Even the shape of the Voice will have to be fought for when the Yes campaign has won. That fight will have the wind in its sails.

Let’s get the Voice established and listened to. Let’s get that gap closed.

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More