Change the Name! Change the Date!

26-01-16 – As we surge deeper into the 21st Century, the Australian political establishment has not yet dealt with its 18th Century history – the founding of white Australia by the invading British colonialists and the resulting genocidal war against the Aboriginal people. This war lasted 150 years and formed the basis of “Australia” as we know it today. The exact numbers of Aboriginal people who perished in this war as well as from the deadly impacts of colonisation are not known, but some estimates are as high as one million. January 26, 1788, and the landing of the first colonialists in what is now New South Wales, was essentially the first shot fired in a horrific slaughter which scarcely speaks its name. Yet January 26 is the day which the Australian capitalist class marks as “Australia Day”. Australia is one of the only countries in the world to have its national day marking a hostile invasion. Zionist Israel is another.

It is miraculous that some Aboriginal people survived, and continued to survive to this day. From children stolen by government forces, to being expelled from ancestral lands, to being herded into missions, to being unjustly incarcerated, to deaths in custody, the abuses from Australia’s rulers have continued, almost unabated. The theft and removal of Aboriginal children from their families was government policy for 60 years.[1] Between 1990 and 2008, an average of 14 Aboriginal people died in custody each year.[2] Despite every injustice imaginable being perpetrated against the oldest living culture on earth, the Australian rulers insist that the day which marked the start of all of the injustices be marked, even celebrated, as the national day. This grotesque practice cannot be anymore insulting to the Aboriginal people, and to all those with a shred of humanity. Working people should join with Aboriginal people in placing the simple demand that, at the very least, “Australia Day” must be moved to another day – any of the other 364 days of the year would suffice.

In 2008, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an “apology” to the stolen generations. At the time it united many indigenous people and their supporters. Now, many have turned against it, as it became obvious that in essence it was lip service with nothing material behind it. In fact, Rudd went on immediately to continue the former Howard government’s military intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, rule out any form of compensation, and refuse to countenance moving Australia’s national day from January 26. In a similar way, the “Recognise” campaign – a move to recognise Aboriginal people within Australia’s national constitution – appears to be another attempt to forever sideline the movement for basic rights to somehow offset the oppression of Australia’s traditional owners. The Recognise campaign has been tasked to Reconciliation Australia – a body with an even handed sounding name, but with sinister backers. Its website proudly announces that its “supporters” include: the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (!), and corporate vandals such as BHP Biliton, Lend Lease, QANTAS, Rio Tinto, Woodside and the Commonwealth Bank.[3] With backers such as these, a who’s who of the capitalist elite, Reconciliation Australia is hardly going to break any establishment norms. With the appalling disparity in life outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous people in this country, be it in health, education or employment, “Constitutional Recognition” will do little but justify continued inaction on an intolerable situation. As renowned Aboriginal rights advocate Chris Graham wrote: “Constitutional Recognition is a poor man’s treaty. It is another national apology, without compensation.”[4]

Ironically, perhaps the only way to properly “recognise” Aboriginal people as the original inhabitants and custodians of the land is with the concluding of a national treaty, or a series of treaties. The act of concluding such treaties places the current Australian government, the modern day representative of the colonial power which established it, in the position of acknowledging that what we now know as Australia could not have been founded without the violent dispossession of the original owners. It is not automatic, but it would establish a precedent which would go far beyond the Mabo and Wik High Court decisions.

The Aboriginal people themselves, despite their often heroic political resistance which is demonstrated around the country, will be hard pressed to win such a demand on their own. The indigenous people must be joined by the organised Australian working class, the body which, if sufficiently organised and politically led, has the power to lend significant weight to all battles against the millionaire class. The Trade Unions have the resources, and the interest, to assist the Aboriginal people win their liberation as part of the struggle in leading workers against the onslaught of capital. On occasion in the past, some Unions have assisted the Aboriginal struggle. For example, it was marching Unionists in August 1996 which came to the aid of Aboriginal fellow demonstrators marching on the Federal Parliament. It was the MUA which primarily came to the defence of Palm Island hero Lex Wotton, who was charged with “riot” for justifiably rising up against yet another black death in custody. Yet these instances have been few and far between, not least due to the conservative and self-serving Union officials which preside over almost all Unions today.

While workers should give scant regard to the constitution of a capitalist state with regard to indigenous peoples (e.g. Australia), it is another story entirely when it comes to the constitution of socialist state. Indeed, socialist states in our region accord equal status and even special support for the maintenance and development of the culture of indigenous peoples, regardless of how small their numbers may be. For example, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam recognises 53 indigenous peoples within Vietnam, and its constitution states that all indigenous peoples (referred to as “ethnicities”) have the right to speak and write in their language, and to promote their culture.[5] The People’s Republic of China unites 55 indigenous peoples outside the majority Han people. Under its constitution, all minority nationalities are entitled to appropriate representation on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the highest organ of state power in the world’s most populous nation.[6] The recognition and promotion of indigenous peoples and cultures in these cases has only been possible out of the waging of a successful workers’ revolution which has established a socialist republic. A socialist republic – the collective rule of the working class – has no material interest in the suppression of indigenous peoples. In fact, they are needed as equal partners. Not so for Australian capitalism, which has been built and maintained via the continual denial of their prior custodianship of the land. The oppression of the indigenous peoples can thus be finally ended by the overthrow of capitalist rule and the establishment of indigenous/non-indigenous workers’ power.


Workers League




[1] (09-01-22016)


[3] (13-01-2016)

[4] (13-01-2016)

[5] (16-01-2016)

[6] (16-01-2016)

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