Australia

The Aboriginal Peoples’ Call for Global Action: #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA

 

 

Whose land are you standing on?

 

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia have subsidised the lifestyle choices of white Australia since the colonisers arrived and stole their land, stole their resources, stole their children, forced communities into slavery, and denied their human, economic and cultural rights at every step. Benjamin Warlngundu Ellis Bayliss itemises out the costs of colonisation:

…frontier wars; loss of land; loss of culture; loss of wages; loss of languages; loss of songs; loss of identity; genocide; massacres; rape; destruction of sacred sites & land; stolen generations; Maralinga nuclear testing; stolen artefacts and the collection of ancestors remains; oppression; fear & intimidation; no treaties; influenza; poor health; life expectancy; no self-determination; no consultation; disease; exploitation; creating a culture of dependency; famine; introduction of foreign flora & fauna; culture of divide & conquer; discrimination; racism; meddling with the theory of eugenics; attempts to breed our mob out; so called dying softly in the pillow; deaths in custody; incarceration rates; denigration; invisibility & lack of positive representations; attempts of assimilation; policies of control & management, including driving people from their lands; intellectual property theft; meddling with the Racial Discrimination Act; NT Intervention; lateral violence; and trivialising our interests, concerns; upon many, many others I am sure I have missed.

The Abbott government’s recent announcement that around 150 Aboriginal communities would be forcibly closed in Western Australia, prompted a global call to action for our indigenous whanaunga. This decision was made without consultation and without the consent of Australia’s Aboriginal Peoples.

Pause.

We would not accept this in Aotearoa New Zealand. So why on earth are we so silent when it comes to the tyranny of the Australian government?

 

SOS Blak OZ

 

On Blackfulla Revolution’s Facebook is a call to those who have ignored and continue to ignore the oppression and injustice suffered by Australia’s First Nations Peoples.

 [7min 35s]

But this isn’t constrained to Australia. Abroad, descendant’s of settler generations ignore the impact colonisation has had on Indigenous Peoples within the lands they colonised. It is why Indigenous Peoples everywhere are reaching out to their whanaunga across borders  to achieve kotahitanga and bring our Peoples together in solidarity. This is not separatism. This is not an attempt to turn the tepu and oppress non-indigenous people. It is an effort to get the sleepy masses to recognise that: Indigenous Lives Matter.

This policy being pursued by Tony Abbot & his government is the continuance of that dark history of colonisation in Australia. This system imposed on Australia’s First Peoples is designed to disadvantage their communities at every social, cultural and economic opportunity. This policy is nothing less than forced urbanisation and assimilation. It is an explicit attempt to strip these communities of their connection to their traditional lands.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, many Māori have taken up the plight to stand with our First Nations whanaunga in Australia. MP Marama Fox, Māori Party, sought to table a motion that the House of Representatives condemn the the forced closure of these Aboriginal Communities and to call on the Australian government to honour its commitments to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Although tabling the motion was blocked by government Minister Gerry Brownlee, National Party, it has since been tabled and will be voted on in 3 weeks when Parliament resumes.

The kumara vine indicates that the Māori Party, Greens, Labour, United Future and ACT will all support the motion. However, NZ First and National have signaled that they are against it.

As most will know, recently the National Party lost a seat in Northland, to NZ First’s Winston Peters. The compositon of the house has changed slightly such that National now only have 59 seats. In order for the motion to pass, NZ First support is required.

Winston Peter’s spent much of his campaign talking about how successive governments have ignored the issues that matter to the Northland electorate – jobs, poverty, health and so on. In opposing Marama Fox’s motion, Peter’s words would  ring incredibly hollow given the broader context of his concerns – that governments ought not neglect small communities, and instead ought to manaaki their aspirations. If he stands by his commitment to Northland, then I see no reason why he and his party would not support the call to recognise the rights of Aboriginal Peoples in their communities that have been neglected by the Australian government,  who now deem it appropriate to forcibly close those communities without consultation or consent of the peoples. So I urge people to lobby NZ First to offer their support to add international weight to the plight of the Aboriginal Peoples.

So far three events in Aotearoa New Zealand have been organised around the country to coincide with the global action to support our Aboriginal whanaunga.

For further details see:

Tamaki-Makaurau (Auckland), 1 May 2015, 18:00, QE II Square (next to Britomart)

Hamilton, 1 May 2015, 13:00, The Pulse (27b Whatawhata Road, Dinsdale).

Wellington, 1 May 2015, 18:00, Location tbc.

So it’d be cool if everyone could, you know, be present and support the campaign to STOP! The Forced Closure of Aboriginal Communities. Our silence is complicity. Make their voices heard and show your solidarity with all First Nations Peoples of Australia.

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What about a voter credit?

The decision to vote or not vote is highly contentious and has led to some quite strong allegations against non-voters for being lazy, apathetic or offensive to democracy.

Bryce Edwards wrote an excellent piece in which he suggested that:

 ‘ if you’re bored by it all, unimpressed with the lack of meaningful electoral options, or just disgruntled with the state of your local authority and democracy, then one of the most powerful options you have is to protest by not participating’.

He further stated that:

‘in reality it’s your legitimate right not to endorse what might seem like an electoral sham’.

Some were highly critical of this view suggesting that our ancestors died for our right to vote and by not doing so, we were doing them a great disservice by disrespecting the democratic rights they fought for.

Others pointed out that not all non-voters are making rational choices to not vote. Rather, there are a significant proportion of eligible voters who are disengaged from the political process.

In a recent Listener article by Jennifer Curtin (paywalled), she argued that its time for New Zealand to at least consider compulsory voting given the impact it has had on voter turnout and voter engagement in Australia. She states that:

‘Australia’s electoral law requires all voters to attend a polling place rather than actually cast a vote, but most fulfil this obligation and so turnout rates average about 94% and are even higher if informal votes are also counted’.

Curtin suggested that:

‘voter participation in turn leads to a broader sense of political efficacy: the feeling that individual political action does, or can, have an impact on politics’.

My personal view aligns to Bryce Edwards, insofar as choosing not to vote is a legitimate right. I’m not persuaded by Curtin’s analysis of engagement in Australia, because I do not accept that voter turnout reflects engagement under a compulsory scheme. It might only suggest that people are voting to avoid the $20 fine for not turning up to the polling booth and that they might in fact just be ticking boxes without making any meaningful selections.

The general arguments for compulsory voting that I’ve seen are that:

  1. We have a civic duty to vote
  2. 22 other countries including Australia have compulsory voting with apparent positive effects
  3. Vulnerable or marginalised groups are often in the non-voting category and compulsion avoids social bias by incentivising political parties to appeal to as many voters as possible, including these groups
  4. It avoids participation bias [similar to above] because when minority groups participate it makes it difficult for parties to campaign on issues that would adversely affect those minority groups.

I think these are pretty compelling arguments, but I still don’t believe that it is democratic to force a person to vote or even turn up to a polling booth against their will. There are a number of reasons why this is unjust but the most obvious (in my view) is that the right to vote is a freedom and when compulsion is attached to that right, it is no longer a freedom, it becomes a duty.

Its been suggested that some people might view ‘voting’ as both a right and a duty. And that may be the case under the current freedoms that we have, but under a compulsory scheme, it is no longer a right we have against the state, it becomes a duty we owe to the state. It subjugates the will of the individual to the might of the state.

This is reinforced when non-compliance results in punitive consequences. In Australia, its a $20 fine for not turning up to the polling booth.

It was suggested by a Young Labour member that citizens be stripped of their passports if they didn’t turn up to the polling booth and if they were repeat offenders that they should also be fined.

Why is that many first of all think in terms of punitive consequences and stripping of rights?

Here’s my (probably very naive) view: we should advocate for a voter credit. Why? Because if we want to incentivise people to turn up to vote, then framing the experience as a positive one will surely be far more effective than threatening non-voters. In terms of how much this would cost, I don’t know. What I can say is that if we implemented a compulsory system with fines for non-compliance then it would involve costs for administration, enforcement and labour, which could be more expensive than issuing a credit. Additionally, it wouldn’t involve taking rights away from people. It secures those rights while rewarding those who choose to participate. I also think, like many others, that there should be a no confidence in any candidate or party option on electoral forms.

Arguably, this voter credit scheme might have the same problems as the compulsory scheme in that people are only voting to get the voter credit, so it might not solve the engagement issue. But in my experience, we (humans) tend to respond well to positive reinforcements and perhaps a voter credit might at least be a step in the right direction.

However, I  do worry about the perception that this is buying voters. But isn’t it better to have those voters voluntarily cast their vote through a positive incentive rather than the alternative?