The 'no' vote was a racist vote.
It is not the time to be silent. We must stand not only for each other, but our Indigenous brothers and sisters in Palestine.
On Saturday night, Australia overwhelmingly voted ‘no’ to a constitutionally entrenched Voice to Parliament. In every state and territory, except the ACT, Australians told Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders where we stand in this country. The outpouring of grief from First Nations people has been enormous; coming not from shock, but from another recognition: that this country, built on racial violence, can’t even allow for the most modest, most non-threatening proposal.
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The ‘Voice’ was proposed as a ‘gift’ by those in the Yes campaign, with the Uluru Statement to the Heart, delivered in 2017, addressed not to politicians, but to the Australian people. There was a belief from those in the Yes camp that the Australian people would recognise this ‘gift’ and would accept it, graciously. ‘Reconciliation’ would be advanced, although of course, this ‘reconciliation’ was still predicated first on the compromises made by First Nations people. But it was still an unequal playing field.
Blackfellas were told not to speak about land rights, justice, or racial violence because those were mere complications in the fight to win the hearts and minds of non-Indigenous Australians. The Yes campaign barely made a peep when the WA government reneged on its cultural heritage laws, which were intended to address the destruction of sacred sites at Juuken George in WA, legally destroyed by mining giant Rio Tinto - acts of cultural genocide. There was fear of how it would impact the vote in WA. Rio Tinto was, in turn, not fearful of the prospect of a constitutionally entrenched voice - it donated $2 million to the Yes campaign.
There have been conversations in the media about why the ‘no’ vote succeeded. Analysts and commentators talk about the active ‘no’ campaign, spearheaded by Senator Jacinta Price and former ALP National President Warren Mundine. They talk about the lack of bipartisanship and its role in the failure of referenda throughout history. Opposition Peter Dutton used the tired, racist political trope of ‘saving the children’ in his framing, with Price acting as a black rubber stamp to legitimise him. Other analysts claim that there was still a lack of detail and that many voters did not know what they were voting for. The media were targeted for airing the ‘no’ side and for spreading misinformation and disinformation (which they did) — there were conversations about the false balance at the ABC, which it still clings to, and the outright lies and conspiracy theories peddled by the Murdoch media. The mainstream media has always been a reproducer of racist violence when it comes to First Nations people. There is limited accountability for the slander they publish on the regular. Even black journalists working in the confines of MSM feel the brunt when they are forced to compromise to the limited parameters of debate set for them.
But all of these things do not fully explain a ‘no’ vote. It does not explain why voters in my own hometown - Rockhampton, and other parts of Central Queensland, voted over 80 percent ‘no’. I target this area of the country not just because it is the area I know most intimately, but because it recorded the highest no votes in the whole country. The reason the ‘no’ vote succeeded was because of racism. It is racism underlying the way they still see First Nations peoples. First Nations people are seen as ‘threats’, as ‘criminals’, and as unworthy of justice, let alone a Voice. Earlier this year, in Rockhampton, we had white vigilantes roaming the street targeting black children, trespassing in their yards, and advocating for outright violence. The media gave airtime to these white supremacists, not calling them for who they are, but rather stating they were ‘anti-crime’ advocates. During this time, blackfellas on the riverbank were threatened with guns by white vigilantes.
Queensland had the highest no vote in the entire country. This is the same state where the Queensland government has such impunity in its law and order agenda that it can bypass its own human rights act to allow for the locking up of black children in watchhouses. This is the state where over the past year, we have had THREE inquests into the disappearances of Aboriginal women — Monique Clubb, Ms Bernard and Constance May Watcho - all of whom were last seen in the presence of white men and all of whom no charges were laid. This is a state where just a month ago, in Toowoomba, two separate inquests were held into the deaths of Aboriginal men - one - Steven Nixon-McKellar was killed by a police officer in a chokehold, and another, Ashley Washington, was tasered to death. The inquests provided no answers and were set up instead to absolve the Toowoomba police for their brutality. In all these cases of racial violence, the common thread is that all victims are framed as responsible for their own deaths. The perpetrators - highly visible and at the same time, invisible, were afforded a presumption of innocence that we are never afforded.
By claiming the ‘no’ vote was NOT racist, but instead was about campaign messaging or lack of bipartisanship, the reality of racial violence, which is ingrained in every single structure and institution in this settler colony, is also denied. The conversations that blackfellas want and NEED to have are again silenced. The country is not ready to deal with its own racism, because it is a racism that sustains it. It is a racism that every single non-Indigenous voter who cast a ‘no’ vote benefits from. Australia is not ready, but we will make them ready.
This issue was not related to the progressive ‘no’ who voted because they knew this reality, and instead wanted to centre our own sovereignty and our own aspirations, but rather Australia’s comfort in a settler colony founded first on the erasure of Indigenous peoples. Instead, it gives us another lesson in strategy - a strategy not predicated on the ‘goodwill’ of Australia, but rather on the black power we still hold as First Nations peoples. As Prof Chelsea Watego said on the ABC broadcast - we must retire hope as a political strategy:
“The one hopeful thing out of this for me is that this may reinvigorate a black political movement across this country where we’re not appealing to the so-called radical centre which effectively is the far right, and actually fighting on our terms for what we want. Because the Australian people have shown us that even the most moderate concession in which they have the ultimate power over us, they still don’t think we’re deserving of.”
Australia will want to continue framing us as the ‘problem’, but we are not the problem, in the words of Aboriginal elder Aunty Rosalie Kunoth-Monks. We must re-center this ‘no’ vote on what we already know is true: the racism and white supremacy of a settler-colonial state, which even now, even as the country votes against us, refuses to acknowledge its true face.
Solidarity with our Indigenous Palestinian sisters and brothers
It is not time to be silent, not for our own people, but also for our Indigenous and brothers and sisters in Gaza, and across the world. Many genocide scholars have already stated that what is happening in Gaza is a textbook case of genocide. This is mass ethnic cleansing and genocide, and the Israeli government has already perpetrated war crimes on the people of Gaza. The mainstream media have been complicit in selling a genocide, and have been actively peddling lies about the Palestinian people, while the death toll continues to rise — many of them children. Electricity, water and fuel have been cut off to Gaza, which was already under a suffocating land, air and sea blockade. Here in Australia, the Albanese government has been spineless and have shown their horrifying complicity in their allegiance to Israel and our overlords across the Pacific - the US. The NSW government threatened protestors who were showing up in support for Palestine. Our landmarks were lit up in the colours of the Israeli flag.
Aboriginal solidarity with Palestine has never ended and in this time we must continue to stand in solidarity and amplify Palestinian voices, even in the midst of the referendum fall-out. That is because anti-colonial movements are GLOBAL. We are all connected through our resistance. This is a statement written by my colleagues at the Institute for Collaborative Race Research.
“Colonising powers aim to separate our struggles, in order to fragment our resistance and make Indigenous and racialised peoples easier to control. The similarities that we can see in this moment between the repression of Indigenous peoples’ globally are not a coincidence.
“From racist stereotypes to state surveillance, violent technologies of colonial control continue to be necessary because Indigenous peoples keep resisting colonisation: forging global networks of solidarity that actively threaten the legitimacy and power of the colonising state.
“Now, as always, we must take our lead from Aboriginal and Torres Strait activists and thinkers, and ground our global solidarities in Indigenous sovereignty here. Blackfullas have long stood in solidarity with Palestinians in their interconnected anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles. Indigenous and intersectional anti-racist solidarities are crucial to fracturing the global colonial order that chokes all occupied peoples. We know that the legitimacy of colonial regimes relies on making some of us complicit; recruiting us to justify the violence of the colony and reproduce its founding myths.
“For those of us seeking to resist our colonial complicity in order to actively support anti-racist struggle, we must begin by following the lead of Indigenous and Palestinian communities in this moment. In this moment, we come together to build the tools necessary to fight the transnational system of colonial white supremacy that deals in death, land theft and racial violence. As always, we stand behind Indigenous sovereign activists in insisting that the only pathway to a safe and just world is through connecting the struggles of oppressed peoples everywhere. In centering Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty, we learn from the people who have been fighting colonisation the longest; people who have the clearest view of its many disguises.”
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