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Issue #1694      July 22, 2015

CPA policy statement

NO to paternalistic recognition

Starting in 2007 with former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, the Australian government has been pushing for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Both Labor and Liberal Parties support recognition.

In May 2015 community support, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, for a YES vote in a referendum on recognition had reached 72 percent, even though the exact proposals to go to a referendum have not yet been decided.

While the Communist Party respects the support for Indigenous rights that lies behind these community views, we ask why we should trust a recommendation from the government of a capitalist state interested not in morality, democracy and human rights but in controlling land and resources for profit making.

The US, Canada and New Zealand have recognised Indigenous people in their respective constitutions. However, this has not solved the problems of their Indigenous communities – discrimination, poverty, high levels of crime and drug taking, suicide, incarceration and more.

Many Aboriginal political activists and others are questioning the motives behind the multimillion dollar Recognise campaign. Significantly most of the criticisms come from seasoned political activists who have fought decades of broken promises, wasted funding, spin and lies.

Ray Jackson, President of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, commented that “the addition or lack of some ‘secret English’ words adds not one day to our life expectancy, our rights to our self-determination, or one footprint of our ancient lands.”

Noted Indigenous lawyer and activist Michael Mansell commented: “Effectively, the expert panel legitimises the invasion of Aboriginal lands, with whites having the right to govern and Aborigines the right to be governed. The bottom line for the panel is to promote assimilation.”

Chairman of the Centre of Indigenous Cultural Policy Bob Weatherall said that “constitutional recognition is yet another paternalistic government policy. Nothing has changed. It’s just a new Act and new provision that’s being imposed on us, keeping our people down. We’ll still have the dominant society over the top of us who make laws and policies that continue to deprive us of our basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Vote NO

Many years ago Charles Perkins called for a treaty written into the Constitution which covered issues of the prior ownership of land, sovereignty, compensation for land lost, and recognition of the customs, laws, languages and sacred sites.

The current proposals go nowhere near this. If the words used in the proposals were to assist in achieving these rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Communist Party would advocate a Yes vote. Until they do, the Communist Party will campaign for a NO vote in the referendum.

However, a NO vote is not enough. Most Aboriginal spokespeople are saying that recognition that is simply symbolic is not acceptable. The CPA will also campaign for Indigenous land rights and sovereignty to be recognised.

Land rights

The key to the recognition of the rights of the Aboriginal people remains land rights. The Communist Party insists that the special position and inherent rights of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders as dispossessed, Indigenous minorities in Australia must be recognised and that this recognition must be based above all on the return of Aboriginal and Islander lands.

The January 2012 recommendations of a 19 member Gillard government appointed “expert panel” include a new section 51A which recognises that Australia was first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There is no constitutional recognition of their prior ownership of the land.

Inclusion of the notion of occupation of the land in the constitution now will effectively mean prolonging the status quo. Correcting the constitution to reflect the real situation as colonisation (not “settlement”) and of ownership (not occupation) of the land will be extremely difficult.

This is hardly surprising. Land rights are an immediate threat to the economic interests of major corporations and also a dagger aimed at the very heart of capitalism.

Land is a major source of wealth – its use for sheep, cattle and farming, the natural resources in and on it (gold, oil, bauxite, copper, diamonds, timber and so on), as real estate and for tourism. All this and more makes land one of a country’s most valuable assets.

To return some part of this valuable asset to the people as community property sets a dangerous precedent for monopoly corporations who are intent on owning or leasing all the resources of this country in order to make the most profit possible.

Aboriginal land is owned communally, by a whole community. Private ownership for private profit would no longer be the only way things are done – there would be an alternative of collective ownership for the benefit not of an individual but of a group.


The Aboriginal demand for sovereignty is defined in different ways by different Indigenous groups. In most cases, however, it approximates to the Communist Party of Australia’s Program which gives priority to winning communal, inalienable land rights for Aborigines based upon traditional ownership, religious association, long occupancy and/or need. These are rights which must be returned; they are not gifts to be bestowed by the dominant society.

Aboriginal land title must include full rights to minerals and other natural resources as well as to all sacred sites, heritage areas and areas of traditional significance.

Another essential feature is the establishment of autonomous areas for communities on the basis of their communally owned land where they can develop their own economic, social and cultural life.

Regional Communal Autonomous Areas would be comparable to the States and have an equivalent representation in the Australian Federal Parliament.

The Aboriginal Provisional Government (APG) describes Aboriginal sovereignty as:

“ … the Aboriginal Provisional Government wants an Aboriginal state to be established, with all of the essential control being vested back into Aboriginal communities. The land involved would essentially be crown land but in addition there would be some land which would be needed by the Aboriginal community other than crown land ...

“The areas would be scattered far and wide around Australia and would be the land needed by local Aboriginal communities.

“While some have scoffed at the peculiar boundaries such a division of land would create, it is not unusual in international circles. For example, the United States is a nation yet is separated completely from its territory in Alaska. Its territory in Hawaii is halfway around the other side of the world. This has not been seen as a reason to laugh at the jurisdiction of the United States ...

“The local communities must have absolute control over their day-to-day activities and the direction in which the local Aboriginal communities are to move ...”

The way forward

The focus must be on national land rights legislation, ending the NT intervention, protecting isolated communities, Aboriginal self-determination and Aboriginal representation in Parliament.

The Communist Party of Australia works for unity in action to be built between Aboriginal, Islander and non-Indigenous Australians, stressing that:

“The working class movement must realise that part of their movement is made up of Aboriginal and Islander workers and that the national liberation and working class movements are allied. The revolutionary and anti-monopoly content of the land rights campaign is as important for the white workers as it is for the Aborigines and Islanders.” (1978 Program)

The non-Indigenous working people of Australia suffer at the hands of the same rapacious transnationals and monopolies, the same political forces which have inflicted so much injustice on the Aboriginal and Islander people. We have a common struggle. It’s not a question of “helping” or “supporting” Aborigines. It’s a matter of solidarity in the common struggle.

As Karl Marx wrote: “Labour in the white skin can never be free while labour in the black skin is in chains.”

Next article – FTAs not in workers’ interests – CPA Secretariat statement

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