March for justice this Invasion Day

Protest against Black deaths in custody in Sydney on December 7. Photo: Zebedee Parkes
Protest against Black deaths in custody in Sydney on December 7. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened the year with the pitiful announcement that he was changing one word in the national anthem.

We are “one and free” he proclaimed and this “must” be the story of every Australian.

In theory this was meant to be a recognition of First Nations peoples — the oldest living culture on the planet — that were definitely not included in the previous “young and free” version.

The anthem was put together on the back of the colonial White Australia policy and First Nations peoples were left out.

The colonisers did not want to acknowledge our presence as people.

Morrison’s argument was all about lauding “honours” on the colonial “foundations” upon which he claims “our nation has been built”. In any case, any platitudes he utters about including Aboriginal people are empty words.

The reality is that Morrison’s government — as with every recent Australian government — is actively undermining the struggle for Aboriginal rights.

The federal government has taken no meaningful action to “close the gap”. It has committed with words — tokenism — while doing the exact opposite.

Grassroots organisations have been stripped of funding, and the money has been given to mainstream First Nations organisations that do not properly consult.

These big organisations lack cultural awareness and knowledge stemming from the invasion. They don’t know how to work with Aboriginal people with compassion or due diligence.

The government has taken no real action to end Black deaths in custody, stop children from being stolen, or to reduce the incarceration rates of First Nations peoples.

Yet, all these are the essential first steps, without which meaningful justice is impossible.

If the country wants to move forward, we need a Sovereign Treaty agreement and land rights.

We need a truth-telling process to admit the wrongs of the past.

We need to promote the voices of genuine grassroots people including Aboriginal activists who are critical of the tokenism of Statement From the Heart. Those supporting the statement are not culturally mandated to speak for our people.

It is a simple truth that there can be no comprehensive justice for anyone on this continent until there is genuine justice for the First Nations.

We all have an interest in taking a stand when First Nations peoples’ rights are on the line.

Morrison’s approach is different. His anthem plan is a calculated distraction: it is a meaningless symbolic change that bolsters nationalism at the same time.

He wants more people to accept racist colonialism, even celebrate it, and he thinks a token change to the anthem will help achieve that.

Dispossession and genocide are not artefacts of a previous era: they are a continuing reality.

We encourage everyone to join in the Invasion Day marches and protests. This is a practical way to take a stand for justice today.

In some places, authorities have tried to use COVID-19 restrictions as an excuse to discourage people from joining in the protests. But, as Sydney rally organiser Elizabeth Jarrett said: “Unlike COVID-19, the virus of colonial racism that came to these lands in 1788 cannot be defeated by self-isolation or quarantine. We need to come together and fight back.”

It is true that the pandemic is a public health risk, but so too is white supremacy.

We cannot rely on governments to implement the kinds of changes that are needed. We need to march to have our voices heard.

[Marianne Mackay is a Yoorgabilya woman from the Whadjuk Noongar Nation. She is the Socialist Alliance candidate for the South Metropolitan region in the Western Australian election on March 13. Alex Bainbridge is a national co-convenor of Socialist Alliance.]