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Thousands Attend ‘Invasion Day’ Rallies Across Australia

Tens of thousands of people gathered on 26 January to attend protest rallies in cities across the nation, amid a rising political and social awareness of the country’s colonial history. 

Australia Day – 26 January – commemorates the landing of the first British fleet of convicts at Sydney Cove in 1788, the beginning of the settlement which entrenched European colonization of the Australian continent.

However, for Australia, this day signifies the loss of land and freedom for Indigenous communities within Australia. Following the country’s colonisation, violent conflict arose between Indigenous communities and British colonizers that were later termed the Frontier Wars. First Nations people sought to defend their country while Europeans carried out massacres to expand the British colony. 

But this history is not acknowledged by some defenders of Australia Day. Conservative opposition leader, Peter Dutton, argues Australia should celebrate its unique blend of Indigenous, British and multicultural histories.

“We shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed by who we are, we should be more proud of who we are,” Dutton said. “We don’t need to tear down one part of our history to build up the other.”

The date has been acknowledged since the 19th century and has grown increasingly divisive with a broadening public consciousness of the systematic dispossession of Indigenous Australians. This genocidal violence marked British settlement and the persistent disadvantage and oppression faced by Indigenous people.  

“We need to stop the lying,” they said. 

“The biggest lie, of course, is Australia Day. I think we can find an inclusive date and I think we can start to tell the truth about Australia’s history and show some respect for all the survivors of the frontier wars.”

The government has proposed an Indigenous “voice to parliament” in the constitution later this year. The voice would advise the Australian government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s social, spiritual and economic well-being.

Australia’s Prime Minster Anthony Albanese said three sentences should be added to the constitution: 

“There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice. It may communicate to parliament and the executive government on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

“The parliament shall, subject to this constitution, have the power to make laws concerning the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice.” Prime Minister Albanese said. 

But Indigenous communities say there needs to be a treaty before this voice. That a Treaty is a starting point to negotiating a just future for people and Country. The Institute for Collaborative Race Research (ICRR) stated the “voice has no power to bring change.” 

“The Voice gives the public an idea that First Nations people are being heard, without stopping the state’s violence against Indigenous communities,” the Institute said.

Gamilaraay women and organizer of the Invasion Day rally in Brisbane, Ruby Wharton, said the Australian government’s plan to implement this ‘voice’ is not new and compromises the sovereignty of Indigenous communities in the country.  

“Having a voice in Parliament just means having a body within parliament that has no power to influence legislation. It is essentially an advisory board that is tokenistic. We have had many advisory boards for decades, and they've all been either dissolved. They never worked.” 

“It's a methodology that compromises First Nation sovereignty. First Nations people need to be critical in how they think and how they support constitutional recognition.”

As Australians become increasingly uneasy about celebrating the national day, recognising Indigenous people in the constitution has become a new flashpoint. But advocates warn that implementing a voice in Parliament will not lead to long-term change or address community grievances. In this sense, the Australian Government’s voice to Parliament initiative does not give voice to Indigenous Australians. These communities face injustice and discrimination, and the voices of this community need not only to be heard, but steps need to be taken to address these challenges and create the social and political change they need. 

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Tags: #australiangovernment #invasionday #indigenousaustralians


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