2643

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Submission Number
2643
Participant
SEARCH Foundation
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

Social Education Action and Research Concerning
Humanity Foundation
ABN 63 050 096 976
ACN 050 096 976
Suite 8 Level 5, 377-383 Sussex St
SYDNEY NSW 2000, Australia
Phone: (02) 9698 4918
Email: admin@search.org.au
www.search.org.au

SEARCH Foundation Submission to Interim Voice Report
April 2021

The SEARCH Foundation was established by members of the Communist
Party of Australia (CPA) prior to its final Congress in 1991, to continue the
work of building a progressive socialist movement in Australia. Our six
hundred members stand on the shoulders of several generations of
communists and socialists who built and maintained the CPA for seventy
years, from 1920 to 1991.

In the last thirty years we have sought to build a broad political coalition in
support of democratic ecological socialism. Today, the Foundation’s
actions in solidarity with First Nations Peoples continue to be inspired and
informed by the experiences of the CPA activists who throughout the
twentieth century played significant roles building popular support for the
recognition of the rights of First Nations Peoples in the working class and
progressive social movements, in Australia and internationally.

Because this history has lessons for today, we begin by recalling some
key moments. In 1931, the CPA became the first political party in Australia
to adopt a program for Aboriginal rights.

Tom Wright, a party leader, then worked with William Ferguson to get the
NSW Labour Council to adopt the first statement in support of those rights
by a working class organisation in 1938. That same year, the CPA
assisted with the printing and national distribution of the Day of Mourning
Manifesto.

By 1944, CPA members were advocating through trade unions and
women’s organisations for constitutional change to allow the
Commonwealth to legislate for Aboriginal advancement.

At the end of WW2, CPA member Don McLeod helped pastoral workers of
the Pilbara in W.A. organise their historic strike, and CPA members and
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the unions in which they had leadership roles mobilised in solidarity to
secure their victory.

Shirley Andrews, a CPA member, was instrumental in establishing the
Victorian Council for Aboriginal Rights in 1951, and the Federal Council for
the Advancement of Aborigines (FCAA) in 1958.

Christian Jollie-Smith, a socialist-feminist lawyer and founding member of
the CPA, helped draft the first petition for a change to the Constitution in
1957, and CPA members including several leading Aboriginal activists
played key roles in the 10-year campaign which followed, ultimately
resulting in the Yes vote in the 1967 Referendum.

Student communists were on the Freedom Ride buses which campaigned
across NSW in 1965. Communists Frank Hardy and Brian Manning
actively supported the Gurindji struggle in the NT in the late 1960s,
mobilising members in unions and progressive organisations around the
country to do likewise.

In 1972, CPA members in Sydney and Canberra helped the young
activists of the emerging militant black power movement travel to
Canberra to establish the Tent Embassy.

In Sydney, CPA-influenced unions actively supported Tranby College, the
base from which the NSW Land Rights movement and the campaign
against Black Deaths in Custody was coordinated. Party members also
helped establish the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP)
Movement, through which Indigenous issues gained a new regional
prominence.

Elliott Johnston, the eminent lawyer and retired judge was one of the five
Commissioners responsible for the Final Report of the Royal Commission
into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and was for most of his life an active
member of the party in South Australia1.

The lessons we take from this history which remain relevant today are:

1. Non-Indigenous Australians and their organisations have fought
alongside Indigenous people for more than one hundred years;
2. These struggles teach us that institutional reform of the Australian
capitalist state only occurs through the mobilisation of strong and
active support from working class organisations and other
progressive social movements;

1
These and other events are recounted in Comrades! Lives of Australian Communists published by the SEARCH
Foundation in 2020 in association with the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History.
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3. No matter how strong the movement, the reform process is always
in danger of being captured and taken over, and the original aims
diverted or watered down by governments so as not to threaten the
interests of the rich and powerful;
4. Ongoing mass action, mobilising the widest possible popular
support, is crucial to sustaining the reform process;
5. Through a long and difficult history of movement building over one
hundred years, the majority of Australia’s citizens are finally realising
the truth about the violent and racist foundations on which Australian
society is built;
6. The time has arrived to move to the next stage, to decide that we, as
a people, will no longer be party to the continuation of settler
colonialist structures and attitudes that deny the fundamental rights
of First Peoples.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart forms the most recent in a long line of
statements of First Nations aspirations, going back to the 1938 Day of
Morning Manifesto, and continuing through the first FCAA Program, the
1963 Yirrkala Bark Petition, the several petitions for the 1967 Referendum,
the demands of the Tent Embassy in 1972, the 1988 Barunga Statement,
the 1993 Eva Valley Statement, the 1998 Kalkaringi Statement and the
2008 Yirrkala Statement.

At each point in this history, the political demands and the mass
mobilisation and action around them were the key factors in moving the
formal institutions of the Australian state slowly and inexorably towards
greater recognition of the pre-existing rights of First Nations Peoples,
rights which have never been surrendered or ceded, but which still are
denied.

The Foundation’s response to the Interim Voice Report is based on this
history of action and engagement. We welcome the fact that so much
time, energy and hard work of institutional design has gone into the
Report, but we cannot avoid naming a fundamental problem. The report is
the product of a technical process, led not by an elected representative
body of First Nations Peoples but by a series of government-appointed
committees and their Commonwealth public service advisers. Moreover, in
initiating and resourcing this process, the Minister for Indigenous
Australians specifically excluded his appointees and public servants from
considering the most fundamental point in the Uluru Statement from the
Heart, the demand for a First Nations Voice to Parliament to be enshrined
in the Australian Constitution.

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The politics of this deserve to be exposed. The Minister and those he
appointed are operating in an environment in which the Liberal National
Coalition government is deeply divided on the question of the Voice.

Reactionary elements within the Coalition parties want to stop the
movement for Constitutional reform from gaining further momentum, and
the government has tried to manage the Co-design process in a way
which concedes to those forces.

A glaring example of the politics underlying the process is the total
absence within the various co-design committees of any representation
from the workers’ movement. Indeed, there is not one reference in the 239
pages of the Interim Report to trade unions.

While we applaud the proposal for gender balance, and for adequate
representation from young people and people with disabilities, the vast
majority of First Nations people are in the ranks of workers and the
unemployed, and have always relied on trade unions and workers’
organisations to defend their interests. Historically, we know, trade unions
have been crucial to the success of First Nations struggles. The only
reason they have been excluded from consideration in the co-design
process is the ideological opposition of the Coalition parties.

We do not reject or dismiss the work that has gone into the co-design
process. We acknowledge that the Interim Report canvassed many of the
important issues which need to be addressed in the future. But enough is
enough. The process must now be taken out of the hands of the few, and
given back to the popular movements for change.

SEARCH members oppose any attempt to legislate a weakened Voice to
government and parliament, in the place of a Constitutionally-enshrined
Voice to Parliament. We demand that all political parties in the current
parliament come together now, and legislate for a referendum to be held
in the next parliamentary term.

The movement in support of First Nations Peoples’ rights, of which we are
proud to be a part, will campaign for a Yes vote in a referendum to change
the Constitution, and we will win. And once this has happened, the final
work can begin on the design of the Voice, in the full knowledge that the
majority of Australians support it, and that those who still seek to oppose it
have been defeated. Moreover, once a Constitutionally-enshrined Voice
has been legislated, and the first group of representatives elected, it
should have the legitimacy, independence and the resources needed to
consult and take advice from whomever it chooses to, rather than the
process remaining in the control of the government and its employees and
appointees.
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The Voice to Parliament, enshrined in the Constitution, will for the first
time in Australia’s history, signal that we, the people, are ready to change
the settler colonial nature of the Australian state, and to begin a new
period in our history in which First Nations Peoples will over time re-gain
the rights which have been illegally and brutally taken from them over the
last 233 years.

In conclusion, we re-iterate our key demands. We call on the Australian
government to:

1. honour its election commitment to a referendum once the model for the
Voice has been settled;

2. pass enabling legislation for the Voice after a referendum has been held
in the next term of Parliament; and

3. support a membership model for the National Voice which ensures that
previously unheard Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the
same chance of being elected as established leadership figures.

SEARCH Foundation
April 2021

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