The Guardian • Issue #2065


Tricks and Treaties

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2065

Are you scared yet?

Australia’s conservative opposition wants you to be frightened. Scares are second nature to the Liberal Party. Only four years ago, they tried to scare people who like going away for the weekend with the prospect of electric cars. Before that, they tried to scare an entire state into voting Liberal because of non-existent “African gangs,” defaming thousands of Black Victorians in a doomed attempt to make the rest of the state vote for the Coalition. In the dying days of the abysmal Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Coalition governments, Scott Morrison was sending mass text messages to try to scare voters with Sri Lankan refugees.

You’ll notice that of the three examples above, two involved race. Ruling parties have long liked to use race and ethnic divisions to try to distract workers from their real enemies. Creating and then exploiting divisions between groups of the proletariat is something that Marx diagnosed, and it’s a trick that hasn’t gone out of fashion. Sometimes the scares work – fear of foreigners has been working for the Liberal Party for a long time, so long it’s become second nature.

Now they’re at it again, trying to frighten the nation’s voters with the prospect of a treaty between the Australian government and Indigenous Australians.

Peter Dutton thinks he’s on to a good thing with this. He’s trying to make the coming referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament into a referendum on a national treaty. His deputy leader Sussan Ley has chimed in, asking the Prime Minister to explain what’s happening with a national treaty, without explaining why she thinks a treaty will follow from the Voice.

What Dutton and Ley don’t say is what’s so scary about a treaty anyway. They don’t spell it out because they don’t want to say it – they’re scared of Indigenous Australians getting something. At least they hope other Australians will be scared of that possibility – so scared that they won’t notice that state treaties are being negotiated right now.

There are two good reasons why we don’t have to rise to Dutton’s bait and make the discussion about the Voice all about a possible national treaty between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

First, quite simply, there’s no evidence that the Voice will automatically lead to any kind of treaty. Dutton knows this, and he doesn’t care. He’s running a scare campaign, not a debate.

Secondly, treaties, like a Voice to Parliament, are worth having for what they could lead to. History is littered with treaties signed in bad faith, with one party not understanding the treaty, or with all the power on one side of the negotiation. Many such treaties have been broken, with no consequences for the colonialist power that broke them.

Could the Voice lead to a worthwhile national treaty that brought land and more power? The hope is that it would give momentum to the fight for land and power.

The Communist Party of Australia supports the Voice to Parliament because it can help the struggle for Indigenous self-determination and land rights, and because it can give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a more powerful say. We’re up for the struggle, not for the scare campaign.

Let’s get behind the YES vote for the Voice.

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