Australia

Australia Day: Changing the date changes nothing

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Changing the date will not resolve anything without a Treaty, recognition of sovereignty and paying the rent, says John Passant.

EVERY YEAR, in the run-up up to Australia Day on 26 January, it is the same.

The reactionaries chant at us, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to get over it.  

Conservatives like Malcolm Turnbull tell us it is a day of unity. The small "L" liberals argue we should change the date.  

The Greens agree with the liberals. They too want to change the date. Labor Leader Bill Shorten agrees with the conservatives and argues for 26 January to stay as our day of nationalist celebration.

Changing the date does nothing to address the foundational nature of the genocide that is Australia — a genocide that lives today. Changing the date denies Australia’s genocidal history. It searches for a fake unity but does not address the fundamental grundnorm of Australian capitalism, the genocide or the irreconcilable class differences, which Australia Day attempts to paper over.

It was Patrick Wolfe who famously wrote that settler colonialism is a structure, not an event. January 26 is not an event. It is the first step on the road to establishing the structure of genocide that began on 26 January 1788 — and that is the system we live under today. Celebrating it is about celebrating the genocide then and now.

The more racist argument, one put by a failed PM – no not the current failure, but his predecessor, Tony Abbott – is that Indigenous Australians are much better off since the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia in 1788.

This ignores the genocide that killed many, many Aboriginal people. History Professor A. Dirk Moses estimates that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations numbered around 750,000 people in 1788. In the census of 1911, there were 31,000 people of Aboriginal descent listed.

And, of course, Indigenous Australians today are much poorer, with high rates of certain third world diseases. They die about ten years earlier than the rest of Australia. They are incarcerated at rates almost 15 times that of non-Aboriginal people. John Pilger’s Utopiacaptures all of this.

In response to the former Prime Minister’s remarks, Aboriginal pastor Ray Minniecon called Abbott an idiot who does not understand Aboriginal people. Just about sums him up — and, might I suggest, most white ruling class politicians too.

Speaking of failed prime ministers, John Howard denies there was a genocide. Of course, this contradicts Aboriginal people, the 'Bringing Them Home Report' and a slew of academics. What would they know compared to John Howard, the font of all knowledge?

The less racist argument goes something like this: Ah, but it all happened so long ago. Let’s all unite now in this great country.

Gallipoli happened a long time ago. The First World War happened a long time ago. Can’t you white fellas get over it?

The "get over it" approach contradicts the endless frenzied celebrations of the defeat at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. It does not tell us anything about how revolution in Germany ended World War I. Remembrance Day on 11 November conveniently does not remember that! This denial of inconvenient historical truths is because the victors write history and the victors are members of the warring ruling classes — including the Australian ruling class.

This "history" also denies or obfuscates anything that might detract from hoodwinking people from the fundamental antagonistic division between capital and labour, or anything which sheds any light on the reality of the genocide on which Australian capitalism is built.

If we are going to change the date, can I suggest 1 April? Nationalism is a joke which has and continues to destroy both Aboriginal peoples and workers on this shared island. More seriously, there can be no resolution of this issue until the genocide, past and present, is not only acknowledged but addressed.

That would require a Treaty, recognition of sovereignty and paying the rent. The conservative, and meek and mild Uluru Statement from the Heart was a step too far for this reactionary government. But, as the experience of Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. shows, treaties or settlement agreements with indigenous peoples are mirages when it comes to addressing the consequences of settler colonialism and its ongoing genocide.

What can be done? The Aboriginal peoples and others fighting for justice and a Treaty are warriors for a better world. However, as Malcolm Turnbull’s rejection of the Uluru Statement shows, in my view, Australian capitalism cannot address the invasion and its consequences unless there is a mass movement that forces them to do so.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not constitute the basis alone for such a mass movement — and neither do their supporters. The task is immense, because we are essentially challenging the rule of capital if we want to win a Treaty.

There is one class, however, that does have the power to stop capital in its tracks — the working class.

The song 'Solidarity Forever' captures this when it starts off thus:

When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run 
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun 
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one 
For the Union makes us strong

Chorus 
Solidarity forever, solidarity forever 
Solidarity forever 
For the Union makes us strong

Today’s world is one of increasing inequality. The wealthiest 42 people own as much wealth as the poorest 3.7 billion. In Australia last year, the number of billionaires grew from 25 to 33The top one per cent own more than the bottom 70 per cent. Real wages have been falling for years now.

The fight for better wages is the fight for a Treaty. The fight for a Treaty is the fight for better wages. Ultimately, to win a better world, we will have to sweep aside the system that is built on genocide, and which gives more and more wealth to the one per cent at our expense. Our common enemy is capital. Let’s unite to fight it together and win that better world, with a Treaty as its cornerstone.

Until then, every day is a day of genocide in Australia. There is nothing to celebrate until we are all free.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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