Thursday, November 6, 2014

Back to the Barricades …

.. or, The Hidden Dangers Of Nostalgia ..

Sometimes it's not a revolution.
Sometimes it's just trying to protect what you have.
There is, in Brisbane, a feisty, articulate, well-read, witty and passionate young Union Organiser. She works for the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, (MEAA) - the union formed from the amalgamation of the old AJA (Australian Journalists Association) and Actors Equity. She is an outspoken feminist, principled leftist and budding word-smith. Indeed "the force is strong in this one". She will be the primary union official on the latest 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie due to be filmed in Queensland next year. She is also my youngest daughter.

The reason I mention her is that I've just watched Gough Whitlam's state funeral, and was reminded that without Gough this young lady would not exist. That's not to say that he had any personal connection with her conception. Only that until Gough abolished conscription in '72 my family would not have immigrated to Australia. As my father bluntly put it, "I'm not raising sons to be cannon-fodder in someone else's war." And without me, no she.

Flight Lieutenant Edward Gough Whitlam served as a navigator
with No. 13 Squadron RAAF, flying in Lockheed Ventura bombers.
Still she's Gough's creation in many ways. The daughter of two immigrants, one English, one German; both families economic migrants from post war Europe. Both families refugees from economic stagnation, ancient tribal enmities, entrenched privilege and ugly, rigid class-systems; from boom and bust economies that serve capital over people and from a continent that's been either a battleground or a breeding ground for war for century after century. 

She's the daughter of hope, optimistic endeavour and reformist politics. And, like her sisters, she was raised in full knowledge of her rights and freedoms in our liberal social democracy, and takes it at as read that they come with the responsibility to champion those same rights and freedoms rights for everyone without discrimination.

Gough prepares for a hectic parliamentary session.
I'm pointedly aware of this because it reminds me of an interview with Gough I did for an obscure magazine on public policy in 1994, a highlight of my brief journalistic career, and one in which we agreed to disagree on a fairly fundamental issue. I remember it very clearly, in part because, sadly, after all these years it appears that I was right and Gough was wrong.

The topic was a Bill of Rights for Australia, something I believed was needed to entrench basic rights to free speech, freedom of conscience, rights to self-determination and personal habeas corpus, and freedom of assembly and association. Gough was quite clear this was both unnecessary, and politically unlikely to be achievable. Instead he championed our international obligations to the UN's Declaration of Human Rights and all the charters and agreements that flow from it. That was our protection, he said. That's what guarantees our rights and limits the behaviour of governments both state and federal. 

How could he know that the current government would stoop so low as to excise from the Migration Act all references to the UN Refugees Convention replacing them with a uniquely Australian set of interpretations that ask, for example: 

"Could this 'illegal/refugee/foreigner' modify his behaviour a bit, you know, and be less irritating, and therefore not be tortured by people when we send him back to, you know, who cares where?" 

I kid you not. 

The dangers of nostalgia…

Edward Gough Whitlam 1916 ~ 2014

Australia's greatest Prime Minister
In his contribution today to Gough's eulogy the brilliant Graham Freudenberg said: 

"You would go to the barricades with such a man." 

Which was and is true. But this is not the time for nostalgia about the heroic age of the Labor Party, or the Whitlam era of social advancement, a nineteen-seventies that was Australia's decade late (as usual) contribution tho the nineteen-sixties of Selma, Alabama, Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" and the Prague Spring and Paris revolts of '68.

Those barricades are still there, and the swing to the right in Australian politics in the last two years means every issue which Gough fought for, and the changes he instigated, are all under threat from the Abbott Government and the passive, flaccid, tacit agreement of the right wing of the ALP which dominates the party federally.

Current labor Leader Bill Shorten rises to the call to arms.
It's in this kind of environment that people write idiotic articles suggesting that unspecified 'problems' with democracy can be solved by taking the messy 'people actually voting' out of the equation.  

These are the times in which we live.

This is the übermenschlich 'Devil take the hindmost' zeitgeist that we face.

A example of this, currently being taken up by MEAA, is the threat of 10 years jail for any journalist falling foul of the new security laws being thrust through parliament by the ever-reasonable, and ever-sensible-to-nuance Attorney-General George Brandis. Senator AG-GB has stated categorically that no "journalist would ever be prosecuted for doing their job". But as the ABC's Media Watch reported, experienced journalists and lawyers do not agree. The Foreign Fighters Bill carries such blanket wording relating to journalists responsibility and culpability that you could drive a News Ltd truck, or Police paddy wagon through it. 

And who really believes that this government, so keen on secrecy, autocracy and belligerent, parochial nationalism would eschew the opportunity to trample on free speech, free reportage, peaceful protest or anyone unwise enough to cross them, by say, leaking unhelpful details to asylum seekers? How on earth, given the last Abbott election campaign and its denouement of bland, shoulder-shrugging brass neck?

Tony Abbott ~ What can you say?
"We lied, what can I say? You were silly enough to believe us. You should've known we were lying. So it's your own fault. And anyway it's too late now. Oh, and, just remember to believe our next campaign, whenever that is. 'Cos that will be true. All of it. Trust me. After all, would I lie about something like that? Again, that is? Doesn't make sense does it? So, just bugger off for now, OK? I'll dog-whistle when I want you."

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