As the countdown to the referendum continues, concerning scenes have been playing out at Yes rallies across the country.
Red flags bearing the Communist Party’s hammer and sickle were seen flying among crowds of people at a Yes rally in Melbourne earlier this month.
“Why are ‘Yes’ supporters flying the Communist flag?,” lawyer Katherine Deves wrote on X alongside a picture of the September 17 rally, which has been shared widely on social media.
Members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) have also been seen out and about demonstrating in Perth, Sydney and the Sunshine Coast as the nation prepares to head to the polls in under three weeks.
Their involvement comes as the CPA has publicly vocalised their support for the Voice and called on members to “work hard in the months ahead for the Yes Vote”. “Go out and do your utmost to ensure those who currently support the NO vote or sit on the fence change their minds and support Indigenous Australians to have a voice that can’t be taken away,” a call to action on the party’s website reads. “The CPA will continue to struggle alongside Indigenous Australians for Land Rights and self-determination in the united struggle for working class power as part of the broader struggle for a just and fair Australian republic, a socialist Australia.”
It comes as the fringe party vocalised support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament and called on members to “work hard in the months ahead for the Yes vote”.
“Go out and do your utmost to ensure those who currently support the NO vote or sit on the fence change their minds and support Indigenous Australians to have a Voice that can’t be taken away,” a call to action on the party’s website reads.
In a video shared by Pauline Hanson on Twitter on Tuesday, CPA’s general secretary, Andrew Irvin, further called on all Australians to support the Voice, saying it will “unite and empower all people and communities”.
“Our party recognises the importance of the invitation in the Uluru Statement of the Heart as a positive offer to walk together and build a movement for Voice, Treaty and Truth,” he said.
But while the CPA is pushing for a Yes vote, the smaller Australian Communist Party has called on its members to vote No in the referendum.
“The Voice has repeatedly been highlighted to be devoid of substance and chock full of symbolism,” the fringe party wrote in a post on social media.
As the CPA continues to campaign for a Yes vote, Sky News host Caleb Bond said the dark history of the hammer and sickle is going “totally unnoticed”.
“The hammer and sickle of course is a symbol under which six million people were deliberately killed by Starlin in the Soviet Union,” he said on the program last week.
“We rightly revile the swastika for what was done in the Holocaust – [where] a similar number of people, six million jews, [was] killed by the Nazi regime [and] you had six million people killed under the hammer and sickle. But that goes totally unnoticed, that’s totally fine.
Bond added fringe groups, such as the CPA, involving themselves in the cause “turns people off”.
“[Australians] don’t want to vote for something they see as extreme or popular with extreme people, Australians simply want to do what they think is best for Indigenous people and when they see stuff like that they go ‘I’m not sure’.”
A long history of support
Phillip Deery, Emeritus Professor of History at Victoria University said it’s “not surprising” the CPA – whose core beliefs include advancing the interests of workers and replacing the capitalist system with a socialist one – would publicly support the Yes campaign.
“This is consistent with its advocacy for the rights of all groups believed to be exploited or oppressed,” he told news.com.au.
Professor Deery said there has been a long history of Australia’s Communist community supporting Indigenous causes, including at times when the causes attracted very little support.
Since the 1930s, the former CPA, which dissolved in 1991, had “long been active in supporting decent wages and conditions for Aboriginal workers” he explained.
“A notable post-war example was the seven-year Wave Hill walk-off (also known as the Gurindji strike) by Aboriginal stockmen and domestic workers in 1966 … [They] also promoted Aboriginal activists, such as Dexter Daniels, in campaigning for land rights.”
Just recently, Thomas Mayo has found himself at the centre of conspiracy theories and having to reject claims he was a Communist, after he spoke on a forum of Search Foundation, an organisation which was once linked to the former CPA.
Speaking to The Betoota Advocate Podcast earlier this month, Mayo set the record saying “I’ve never been a member of the Communist Party”
‘You can mash up all these videos and make people look scary,” he said in response to conspiracy theories.
Labor Senator and Yawuru man Pat Dodson has also rejected claims of Indigenous collusion with communists.
“The Communist Party doesn’t have influence at all,” Mr Dodson told the ABC.
“In fact, we’ve been quite vigilant about resisting any kind of overtures from the Communist Party to either allow them to participate in our meetings to present their ideological platforms, as we’ve been in regards to every other party.”
When asked about the Communist Party of Australia’s involvement in Yes rallies, Yes23 pointed to controversial fringe groups who have joined calls for a No vote.
“Australians should be aware that neo-Nazi’s, pro-Russian activists and sovereign citizen conspiracy theorists supported the No Campaign rallies on the weekend,” a spokesperson said in a statement to news.com.au.
On Saturday, members of the extremist neo-Nazi political group National Socialist Network, including leader Thomas Sewell, gathered on the steps to Parliament House in Melbourne holding a sign that read: “Voice = Anti White”.
The group gatecrashed the event wearing black masks to cover their faces and were heckled by members of the public and, on one occasion, pepper-sprayed by police.
Elsewhere around the country rallies were purportedly organised by pro-Russian activist Simeon Boikov, who posts anti-vaccine and pro-Vladimir Putin content online, over the weekend.
The official No campaign has distanced itself from Boikov and federal opposition leader Peter Dutton earlier urged those who oppose the Voice not to attend the rallies.
“Anybody who’s pro-Putin has significant issues and they should seek help for those issues,” he said.
“I would encourage people to go to peaceful, lawful rallies, conducted by ‘no’ campaigners and listen to the very serious concerns and hesitations that those people have.”
In a statement to news.com.au, a Fair Australia spokesman confirmed “these particular events were not supported, endorsed or funded by the official No campaign in any way”.
“We expect there will be many grassroots events and organisations springing up in communities across the country in opposition to the divisive Voice and that is understandable.
“But these events had nothing to do with us whatsoever.”