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Divide and conquer, the oldest trick in the book

Written by: Louisa L. on 28 August 2023


As the Voice referendum approaches, First Peoples have never been more divided. Competing factions within the capitalist ruling class have caused those divisions. The factions agree on fundamentals – that First Peoples’ lands and waters will continue to be exploited for oil, mineral and gas, for real estate profits, for corporate farming, for waste dumps or military bases. 


They disagree on tactics. One side prefers soft tactics with some concessions to the struggles led by First Peoples, the other wants to completely crush resistance. In the ruling class-controlled parliament they are represented by their respective servants, Albanese and Dutton.

Over years both factions gutted land rights and replaced them with native title which excluded the vast majority of First Peoples. They pitted traditional custodians against lands councils from which custodians are often excluded. They condoned world-leading incarceration rates, demonised and tortured children as young as ten, and stole others from families, hounded families on Centrelink. They evicted them from public housing. They sat on their hands as children suicided. They still do.

Witness the labelling of traumatised Aboriginal children at the Banksia Park detention centre as “terrorists” by the WA Labor Premier.

They prepared the Northern Territory for deeper exploitation through 15 years of the brutal Intervention: $100 million spent on police centres; forcing the young out of communities and off Country into towns; humiliating elders with allegations and the rest with basics cards; banishing language instruction in schools till late afternoons; dumping community run councils, businesses and employment programs. 

And so much more. How has it come to this?

How has it come to this?

In 1988, First Peoples struck a tremendous and united blow against 200 years of colonialism and imperialism. They said to the ruling class, you have thrown every weapon you possess against us but we have survived! It was an extraordinary moment of growing First Peoples’ unity, power and defiance, built upon two centuries of resistance. It struck fear into the heartless, inhuman, profit-driven core of the ruling class. 

The Business Council of Australia, set up to unify the largest corporations in the country, knew its outright suppression of First Peoples had failed. It began planning. By the year 2000, it set its vast economic, human, political, legal and cultural resources into an offensive on a wide range of fronts to systematically drive disunity into First People’s communities. It promoted the identity of corporate and First People’s aspirations, although in reality these are diametrically opposed. 

In 2017, our comrade Lindy Nolan first documented the process in Driving Disunity: The Business Council Against Aboriginal Community. 

One focus was constitutional recognition. 

Without grassroots processes of development, what became the well-funded Uluru process was outlined by Noel Pearson at Garma Festival 2016 on a platform shared with the BCA’s Michael Rose. Noel Pearson’s proposal incorporated and praised ‘Australia’s British Institutions’. Garma was full of Business Council of Australia members, 21 from Westpac alone. CEO Jennifer Westacott co-chaired another key forum of three BCA speakers. 

Corporations like Rio Tinto and other US-controlled mining giants support the Voice, but it’s nothing more than self-interest. They want to blackwash their image. Whether the referendum is won or lost, it’s nothing to them. Driving division was their true aim. 

Peter Dutton calls the Voice divisive. But it’s precisely what the ruling class intended. 

The far right organises

The commanding heights of the Australian economy are in US hands. Despite Australian faces in parliament, the USA holds state power. The biggest, most powerful US corporations organised as the ruling class have again and again shown their willingness to overthrow governments that no longer serve their needs, and institute open dictatorships. This happened in South Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, across Central and South America, in the Middle East, in Africa. 

Because Labor and Coalition unswervingly support US imperialism, there is no current danger of a coup. 

The particular danger which has to be more widely understood, opposed and eventually prepared for is the gradual removal of swathes of hard-won democratic rights, the personal attacks on opponents of US domination, brutal isolation and suppression of individuals who expose injustice to discipline the rest. 

First Peoples will not be the beneficiaries of what we loosely term fascism, but which really means the open and direct rule of the capitalist class, in Australia’s case, US imperialism. 

Marx pointed out parliamentary “democracy” is the ruling classes’ preferred option. It builds the far right, holding it in reserve for the time when so-called democracy no longer serves its purposes. More and more people see through Australia’s so-called democracy. Most politicians are rightly disrespected, because again and again the big end of town is the beneficiary of their decisions. But the majority still see no alternative to parliament.

With massive one-sided publicity that ignored the progressive First Peoples’ No sentiments and the undemocratic way it was set up, the 2017 Statement from the Heart won overwhelming support from non-Indigenous people. Yet it demanded more than some far right corporations wanted. Successive Coalition politicians stomped on change, delaying it while they organised. As proposals were watered down and negotiations dragged on, bit by bit they became more aggressive.

Now far right voices are roaring. Its leadership is mainstreamed under Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott. It’s no longer a few crazies targeting Muslims with roast pig festivals and burka banning. 

For decades they systematically created fear and division among everyday people over ‘Islamic terrorism’, abortion, voluntary assisted dying, Covid lockdowns and vaccines, with one section of the population after another drawn into their influence and organisation. This included some militant workers, First Peoples and left activists rightly suspicious of Big Pharma and discriminatory applications of lockdowns. Now, alongside attacking easy targets, like “woke” media personalities and trans sportspeople, they use ignorance to discredit the Voice. They don’t want even an advisory body to mitigate their total control when elected, even though as Michael Mansell points out, they could simply stop funding it. The Constitution’s Section 101 states, “There shall be an Interstate Commission.” It hasn’t existed since 1950.

The key for the far right is building a mass organisational base.

So, it lies and distorts. Even the official, publicly funded and distributed referendum material about the No “information” is full of lies. 

Compelled to lie

Racism is a tool of the ruling class to create division, often internalised and passed on generationally. Its Vote No campaign is motivated by centuries of the most vicious embedded racism. Although a “gentlemanly agreement” was proposed by PM Albanese under which the Voice debate would not see opponents labelled as “racists”, racism is at the heart of Dutton’s No campaign. 

Racism is a festering sore. Just look at social media support for cops who have killed First Peoples, the hounding of Indigenous sports people by racist trolls, the hounding of Wiradjuri man and media personality Stan Grant by the same racists, and the everyday lived experiences of so many First Peoples.

The far right have to lie and distort because Australians have never been more supportive of justice for First Peoples. They know if they told the truth – that they want to completely and utterly crush First Peoples’ lives and hopes – it would not be tens of thousands on the streets. It would be millions. 

This faction moans about the Voice causing division, of giving First Peoples privileges and power, so powerfully ridiculed decades back in Paul Kelly’s Special Treatment. Alongside this they cry about the terrible conditions facing First Peoples, despite their own role in generations of ongoing attacks and deliberate neglect. 

But they have more cynical and dangerous ploys. Guardian Australia’s Josh Butler and Nick Evershed documented Tony Abbott-led Advance Australia’s use of multiple social media platforms aimed specific groups, with different messages aimed at women and older people. For young people influenced by the left No campaign, Advance Australia’s ‘Not Enough’ Facebook page says people should vote No because the Voice won’t have enough power. They try to draw people into their organisational tentacles. 

Peter Dutton even abuses its factional rival Westpac for funding the Yes campaign. What a hypocrite! Where was this ex-Queensland copper when the last government tried to stop the royal commission into corruption by banks like Westpac? Dutton, Morrison and Co created the shortest royal commission in history in the lead up to Christmas, so it would fade in holiday celebrations.

Where was he when Westpac created a template empowering NSW lands councils to claim and sell swathes of “Crown” lands, while excluding traditional custodians? 

Their leaders are happy to shift their targets to increase their reach. For example, many Muslims were against vaccines and lockdowns. Now, like other religious groups, they are being mobilised against so-called threats to children – safety programs supporting transgender and non-binary young people in schools.

But their true target has always been the conscious and organised left which increasingly understands Australia capitalism as a wing of US imperialism and organises against it. 

In its march to war, in Garramilla Darwin and Mparntwe Alice Springs, First Peoples are on the front line yet again. Both parliamentary ruling class factions are complicit in this. 

We need to know our enemies, not just broadly, but in detail. If the No vote wins, as seems likely, Dutton’s group will claim responsibility. Sky’s wealthy Indigenous mouthpiece will be louder. The Coalition’s spokeswoman will continue to promote the cause of Northern Territory style interventions. 
Yes supporters will be deeply wounded.

Progressive No supporters must be organised and ready. They must be stronger. They must be armed with the knowledge that it is the masses who make history.

When the time is right, they must respectfully and gently reach out to Yes supporters to show all is not lost.

Together, we have a world to win. 


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