Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: October, 2014

Comment on Israeli activity, and also my Op Ed column on Ebola

Good news that Israel’s Soda Stream has pulled its production out of an illegal settlement in the Occupied West Bank. A small BDS victory, though much bigger ones are needed to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

And after some days of closing off the dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque in Occupied East Jerusalem it has re-opened them to both Muslim worshippers and the wider public, though naturally enough  Palestinian frustration remains.

In other news my Op Ed newspaper column  on Australia’s slow and weak response to Ebola was published the other day. I’m now working on next week’s piece, about Clive Palmer’s amazing deal with Captain Abbott and Co on the government’s abysmal direct action climate plan.

Here’s the text of this week’s piece:

Australia slow to act on Ebola

Last week a politically savvy friend, after commenting on the government’s failure to assist West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, and Labor’s call to help, commented that he hadn’t seen or heard anything about the Greens response. Were they silent on this very serious problem, or had the media just no bothered to cover it?

I was happy to inform him that it was very much the latter. Through several media releases the Greens had argued strongly for an Australian response, and then I was happy to fill in the gaps left by our somewhat lazy media.

For example, on Monday, Sep 29th, 2014 I read that the Greens have called on the Australian government to join the growing international response to the Ebola crisis by sending a large scale on-ground team to West Africa to undertake medical and logistical work.

“The Australian government should be part of the international team that have committed logistical and health personnel to the region,” Greens overseas aid spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon said.

“Australia has a responsibility to play its part in this massive health and social crisis by joining the teams from Britain, China, the USA and Cuba” Senator Rhiannon said.

And in relation to our own readiness at home, Australian Greens Health Spokesperson, Dr Richard Di Natale publicly questioned the Federal Government’s Chief Health Officer about what training that has been provided to Australian health personnel that could be deployed to combat Ebola in our region.

“The Federal Government’s Chief Medical Officer told Senate Estimates this morning that Australia has not provided specific training to our health workers that could be deployed.

But now it seems as though we might finally be catching up with the rest of the world, for as Paul Osborne reported (SMH 24 October) Australian medical teams could be heading into West Africa to fight Ebola after what officials say have been very positive talks on safety guarantees.

However, no mission will be launched until ‘appropriate risk mitigation procedures’ are in place” Mr Abbott said..

One is left wondering why the Australian response has been so tardy. Is it because Captain Abbott thinks we all see it as simply being ‘over there’ (i.e. West Africa) and either not a threat to us, or of our concern. Perish the thought, if that it the attitude.

Equally reprehensible is the excuse that it is not in our strategic interest, in that major sea routes such as the Suez Canal are not threatened and there are no major oil reserves, unlike the Middle East, where we have been quick to act. Again, perish the thought if our government should be so selfish.

Or was it, as has been recently reported (ABC TV and SMH), that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was busily trying to bolster the size of his portfolio by having his Operation Sovereign Borders team take charge of Australia’s response to the Ebola? Yet again, perish the thought.

Op Ed colum, and Gough Whitlam’s death

The publishing of my Op Ed column in the Daily Advertiser today about Abbott’s attempts to stifle discussion of climate change at the forthcoming G20 conference in Brisbane was overshadowed by the news of Gough Whitlam’s death. His victory in the 1972 election ushered in a much more socially just Australia, and his government’s progressive legislation was undoubtedly a key reason for my decision, as a recent ‘Ten pounds Pom’, to stay in Australia and become a citizen. Vale Gough.

Here’s the text of the Op Ed column:

Captain Abbott on the wrong side of history about climate change?

Despite much of the media being seduced by the prospect of Captain Abbott ‘shirt fronting’ Russian President Putin at the forthcoming G20 meeting in Brisbane in November the real significance of that conference is on much more profound issues than two ‘bovver boys’ with excessive testosterone having a ‘bit off a bif’.

Of course it would be wonderful if a ‘robust discussion’ between the PM and the President did produce an admission of Russian complicity over the shooting down of MH 17, but the conference will focus on much more important matters.

On one of the more profound issues to be discussed the Australian Prime Minister is more than likely to find himself on the wrong side of history, for in Brisbane he will have few international delegates agreeing with his comment that “Climate change is absolute crap” (The Australian 12 December 2009)

However, climate change will be discussed actively in Brisbane, despite Abbott’s insistence that it be listed only as “energy efficiency”. But he’ll only have the support of fellow sceptic and absentee at Obama’s fore-mentioned leaders’ summit, Canada’s Stephen Harper.

US and European leaders want it thoroughly discussed. “Mr Obama’s international adviser at the White House, Caroline Atkinson, said the G20 economies generated 80 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions and should give a political push to ‘specific steps’ to reduce global warming,” The Australian Financial Review reported last week.

To date the Government has justified its stance by defending a paltry commitment to a 5 per cent cut by 2020 on year 2000 levels. This is already way out of date, for on top of whatever emerges from the G20, the international community will meet in Lima in December to discuss progress towards post 2020 emissions reductions targets.

The big players, the US, EU, and China, are preparing to set those targets in the first quarter of 2015 as they move towards the major climate change summit in Paris in December, reports Mark Kenny (Sydney Morning Herald, 17 October.

For Australia to meet its share of that based on our size, that means emitting no more than 8 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050 – the trouble is, on present emissions, we get to that by 2030. It is just more evidence of the parallel reality in which Australia is living.

Abbott began last week talking about coal as “essential for the prosperity of Australia and … the prosperity of the world … for many decades to come”.

Perhaps, but he may end his first term talking about much stronger action on climate change whether he likes it or not after Brisbane, Lima, and Paris.

At least let’s hope he does.

A weekend of principled activity

Elected to the Greens Parliamentary Liaison Committee at the Greens NSW State Delegates meeting this weekend.

l also facilitated our Senator Lee Rhiannon on Saturday evening launching her Palestine booklet. I found it very fulfilling.

So a very good weekend of principled actions.

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Letter to the Editor misreads my Op Ed column

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Op Ed column about Australia’s Foreign Aid budget being cut to pay for Captain Abbott’s boys’ own adventure in Iraq published

My Op Ed column in the Daily Advertiser about Australia’s Foreign Aid budget being cut to pay for Captain Abbott’s boys’ own adventure in Iraq published yesterday.

Here’s the full text:

Aid budget slashed to pay for Iraq war

As Captain Abbott’s team bickers over paying for its boys’ own adventure in Iraq, it has been revealed that the Abbott government’s has in fact abused money allocated for overseas aid programs to pay for military operations in Iraq.

Greens overseas aid spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon said “Diverting aid money to pay for the war in Iraq will have fatal consequences”.

To my mind it is strange that one of the few tools we have to secure long term and sustainable stability and therefore peace in any troubled region is being not only ignored, but actively diminished by our government, which persists instead to assert that short term military action is the answer.

Such action that only addresses the symptoms, but not the causes of the instability in the Middle East. Alternatively, well targeted foreign aid that gives a hand up rather than a hand out is the way to ‘win friends and influence people.

Overseas aid is in fact a form of soft diplomacy, and therefore in our interests, though Captain Abbott and company seem oblivious of the ‘bleeding obvious’.

As Senator Rhiannon explained, “Funding humanitarian programs including health, education and sanitation are critical for peace, security and bringing stability to this region.

“Earlier this year the government ended all overseas aid funding to Iraq. Five years ago AusAID provided more than $360 million to Iraq.

“Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has shown that she is a poor advocate for the overseas aid component of her portfolio.

“Once again Australia’s aid budget is being abused and treated like an ATM by the government that is thrashing around for funds for another ill-fated program” conclude Senator Rhiannon.

I had planned to conclude my column this week by going into some detail about Prime Minister Tony Abbott being urged to “correct” his Treasurer Joe Hockey, who has said the Labor opposition should pass stalled budget measures if it is “honest” about supporting the Iraq mission and its associated costs.

Mr Shorten said he was “extremely disappointed” Mr Hockey had “chosen to make the Iraq intervention a source of political point-scoring”.


“I would ask the Prime Minister to correct the Treasurer, because the Treasurer has made a dreadful statement today,” he said in Melbourne.

But instead of concluding on such a down note of political point scoring I’ll finish with the welcome news that Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban two years ago for advocating girls’ right to education, and Indian children’s right advocate Kailash Satyarthi won the 2014 Nobel peace prize on Friday for their advocacy of education rights for children.!

Way to go, Nobel Peace Prize Committee!

Positive reaction from people in the street

A very short post today – I just thought it worth noting the great reaction from people in the street over the past week to my TV appearance on SBS re being gay in regional Australia, and my Op Ed columns in the Daily Advertiser during the last week. It is gratifying to have such positive feedback, given the, thankfully, occasional negative reaction. The Ban the Burqa people have written Letters to the Editor that are, frankly, quite racist and xenophobic, but the reaction in the street has been terrific.

Op Ed column about corporate tax avoidance and relegating niqab wearers to glassed in visitors’ gallery

My Op Ed piece on corporate tax avoidance published in the Daily Advertiser  yesterday. It  also included condemnation of Bronwyn Bishop’s attempt to relegate niqab wearing visitors to the glassed in gallery of the House of Reps normally reserved for naughty school kinds. Captain Abbott has spoken against this so-called interim measure, but will he manage to overturn it, or is he just covering his arse because of the racist muck he has whipped up in his vote grabbing terror/war hysteria?.

Here’s the full piece:

Strange Bedfellows

Credit where credit is due, so today I wish to acknowledge being pleasantly surprised by two statements by the Coalition in the past week.

Firstly, Captain Abbott asked the Speaker of the Senate to reverse the discriminatory plan to make women wearing the burqa sit in a glassed in gallery when visiting federal parliament, an area usually reserved for noisy school children.

As I have previously spoken out against discriminatory attempts to ban the burqa, I thank the PM for his sense of social justice on this occasion.

Now, if only he will apply the same thinking to the socially unjust parts of the government’s budget. Dream on, Ray.

I should point out that the word; ‘burqa’ is being incorrectly used by all our politicians. What they are referring to is actually a ‘niqab’. The burqa is a head to toe light blue covering with a mesh for the eyes, and only worn (by a few) in Afghanistan (Waleed Aly, SMH, 3 October).

It should also be noted that police and security guards already have the power to ask anyone with a face covering of any sort to remove it for identification purposes.

And in case anyone wants to argue that weapons can be hidden under burqas or niqabs, bombs can be hidden in shoes, and suicides vest are usually hidden under an ordinary shirt.

The second incident was when I found myself in agreement with Senator Bill Heffernan last week, which came as an unexpected, though not unpleasant, surprise.

Given that Senator Heffernan’s favourite epithet for me seems to be “Troublemaker”, after his strangely prescient pipe bomb smuggling episode into Parliament House it was a title I took pleasure in returning

The cause of our agreement was the news that almost a third of Australia’s largest companies are paying less than 10¢ in the dollar in corporate tax, according to a report that exposes a gaping hole in government revenues over the past decade

A senior member of the Coalition, Senator Heffernan has warned that corporate tax avoidance and the repatriation of profits overseas is “the greatest financial challenge” facing Australia.

It is passing strange that given the concerns of Senator Heffernan, and similar bleatings from Labor that it took the Greens to move for a Senate inquiry into corporate tax evasion. “If the Abbott government wants to raise revenue for its phoney budget emergency they need to crack down on corporate tax evasion” Senator Milne said. Fortunately, the Greens motion for a Senate inquiry to expose the real options available for raising revenue from those who can afford to pay did successfully passed the Senate, with the support of Labor and PUP, but guess what? The Liberal and the Nationals, opposed it.

So much for Senator Heffernan’s concern.

Gowing up gay in a rural/regional environment, plus another Op Ed piece

Saw Billy Elliot live from London today. Reminded me a lot of growing up gay in northern England in the 60s, and that I’m being interviewed on SBS 2 tomorrow on The Feed at 7.30 about growing up gay in rural Australia. there are parallels with my youth, though I had the advantage of being able to come out in Sydney in the 70s, ad of coming to Wagga to lecture at the university, and in theatre too, so I was luckily in a very welcoming environment.

And here’s another of my Daily Advertiser Op Ed pieces, this one from last July, when Ian Thorpe came out:

A rare example of synchronicity

At the same time as Ian Thorpe came out about his sexuality support for marriage equality is an all-time high, according to a new opinion poll. The Crosby Texter poll, commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality, has revealed that support for marriage equality is at its highest level ever.

This is a rare example of synchronicity in public affairs.

It is not my intention to comment on Mr Thorpe’s decision to come out on a paid interview (commercial television’s Channel 10), as that is a personal matter for him alone. The timing, however, is of public interest, for it concerns the power wielded over our sportspeople by commercial interests, particularly sponsorship, and in this case with appalling consequences.

However, before commenting further I’d like to acknowledge Mr Thorpe’s courage in coming out, and to wish him every happiness now that he has been brave enough to do so.

”I’m ashamed I didn’t come out earlier because I didn’t have the courage to do it,” Thorpe told British interviewer Michael Parkinson on Sunday night. ”I wanted to make my nation proud of me. I didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay. I am telling the world I am,” he said.

We were told that Ian Thorpe contemplated coming out as gay prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but decided against it because of the detrimental financial consequences suffered by a Canadian swimming star, Mark Tewksbury.

Tewksbury said that he had come out in 1998 because mere rumours that he was gay caused him to lose a ”six-figure speaking contract”.

On the local level ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr says Brian Taylor’s recent homophobic slur while covering an AFL game highlights why it is so tough for athletes like Ian Thorpe to come out.

Barr said Taylor’s comments had hurt the progress the AFL had made in becoming more inclusive.

The AFL, along with the other major football codes, announced measures to combat homophobia in sport in April, a campaign greatly helped by openly gay VFL footballer Jason Ball.

However, Taylor’s comments are a clear setback.

On the marriage equality front I agree with Greens Senator Hanson-Young, who said “Public support for marriage equality is at an all-time high and now it’s time for parliamentarians to act.” The new poll shows that overwhelmingly the majority of Australians want to see equality before the law. If Australia is to have marriage equality we must put our political affiliations aside and work together to deliver this important legislation. The first opportunity that will present itself to do this for the Abbott government will be the Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill. This is a small step that will send a positive message to young gay and lesbian Australians. It is time for Tony Abbott to join the majority of Australians and allow his members a conscious vote.

Comment on burqa ruling in Federal Parliament, and my first Op Ed piece for the Daily Advertiser

Good that Captain Abbott is asking for a reversal of the plan to make women in burqas sit in a glassed in gallery when visiting parliament, but let’s hope that the Speaker and President of the Senate do the right thing and reverse their discriminatory ruling.

As promised in my previous post, here is the first of my weekly Op Ed pieces for the (Wagga) Daily Advertiser, which began on my return from the Palestinian Freedom Ride, after the Editor asked me to write a weekly column in the interests od “diversity”. The first piece was a report and commentary on the Freedom Ride trip in April.

Home Thoughts from Abroad

I never expected to begin my first Opinion Piece for the DA with foreign policy issues, but reflecting on recent developments in Australian policy as I lived amongst Palestinians displaced by Israel during the 2014 Freedom Bus ride I had cause to reflect on what I as hearing from home, and of course, inevitably I couldn’t help but compare Australia with the country I was visiting. So apologies to English poet Robert Browning for borrowing his title, though my thoughts were far from his sentimental and rather one-eyed patriotism.

Indeed, I was disappointed to read as I travelled around Palestinian villages destroyed by Israeli colonials to make way for new ‘settlements’ I was dismayed to read that our Foreign minister Julie Bishop was trying to argue that no courts had determined that such settlements were illegal. Try the International Court of Justice, Ms Bishop, which has repeatedly found them to be illegal.

On my travels I also heard that Prime Minister Abbott had invited Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Australia. This is the same Mr Netanyahu who is currently scuttling the peace talks by suddenly inserting a new clause that not only must Palestine recognise the state of Israel (which it did decades ago), but that it be recognised as a ‘Jewish’ state. I wonder how the large Christian and Moslem Arab populations feel about that.

One piece of welcome news, which I read about at Dubai International Airport on the way home, was Bob Carr’s account of his successful effort to persuade the Ms Gillard and her cabinet thsat Australia should abstain on last year’s Palestine UN vote. Pity he couldn’t have secured a ‘yes’ vote, but an abstention is at least better than a no.

However, rather than reacting to these snippets of news from home my main thoughts were about points of recognition between Israel and Australia, which were uncomfortable to say the least. In the big picture some were relatively trivial, that is, if you can regard pollution as trivial, for, just like Wagga Wagga has poor air quality because its pollution is trapped in a basin-like environment, so too the Jordan Valley traps polluted air within the beautiful Judean and Jordanian hills, beautiful that is, if you can actually make them out.

The Jordan Valley brings of course to mind its eponymous river, but ‘river’ is something of a misnomer, because Israel has extracted so much water from it that it has been reduced, at best, to a muddy little trickle. No wonder the Dead Sea really is dying. But we are better off because at least we have an agreement to reserve some environmental flow for the Murray-Darling Basin, and we still manage a healthy irrigated agriculture.

Entering across the Jordan into Israel, which one has to do in order to enter Palestinian territory, is a tortuous and nerve-racking process as the Israeli military put me through three separate interrogations, but as least I eventually got my entry visa. Not so lucky are the Palestinians who try to enter for work, education, medical or family reasons, and of course totally excluded are the hundreds of thousands of refugees forced from their homes in 1948 and 1967. Brings to mind our treatment of refugees, doesn’t it?

But the biggest parallel is even more dispiriting, for it is the realization that Israel and Australia are both colonial settler societies, based on expropriating the land of the country’s indigenous people. In the early days of white Australian settlement it was a policy of genocide that cleared the land of its indigenous population, and both before and especially after 1948 it was ethnic cleansing that got those inconveniently located Palestinian Arabs out of the way. But, to end on a note of hope, for us here at any rate, we have at least seen the error of our ways, and though we have a long, long way to go to make up for past sins, we now no longer try to remove the first peoples of our country, but unfortunately, as I witnessed, Israel is still hell-bent on a policy of ethnic cleansing. Food for thought.

Ban the Burqa? No thanks.

Today’s news about burqa wearers being banished to glassed in galleries in Parliament House reminds me of a Letter to the Editor in response to my recent Op Ed piece in the Daily Advertiser in which I argued that we should not ban the burqa. The letter writer claimed that we should ban them because weapons could be hidden under them. What nonsense he was writing, as suicide vests can easily be hidden under shirts, and bombs successfully concealed in shoes. Go figure.

Blogging this entry reminds me that I haven’t been posting my op Ed pieces in the (Wagga) Daily Advertiser in my blog, so I’ll start with my burqa piece of 16 September, and then post all the pieces every day or so since my Op Ed writing started.

Ban the Burqu a political stunt?

Temping though it was to comment on Captain Abbott’s latest attempts to inspire “fear and loathing” in Team Australia by ramping up real and imagined terrorist threats in order to build electoral support, this past week my attention was taken by a smaller story that essentially did the same thing.

For once again we find Christian Democratic Party leader Fred Nile putting sectarian politics above the Christian charity he makes so much a fuss about by his latest attempt to ban the burqa across NSW, which has been has been branded anti-Islamic and a political stunt.

Mr Nile’s private member’s bill, introduced in state parliament on Thursday, would prohibit the wearing of the burqa and other face coverings in public.
Under Mr Nile’s plan, a person who covers their face in public would face a $550 fine and a person who forces someone else to cover their face would be hit with a $1100 penalty.

It follows similar bans in Belgium and France, and comes after his failed attempt at blacklisting face coverings in 2010.

He says the measures come at an “opportune” time after Wednesday’s arrest in Queensland of two men allegedly linked to terrorist groups in Syria (Daily Advertiser and Sydney Morning Herald 11 September).

Indeed, “Opportune” is the operative word.

“We also face the new Islamic State (IS) terrorist threat, whose black uniforms for both men and women include face coverings to prevent identification,” he told the upper house.

Labor MP Amanda Fazio said the measures were “anti-Islamic” and had more to do with Mr Nile’s bid for re-election at the forthcoming state election in March.

“These measures are the opposite of everything we’re trying to achieve in Australia in terms of being inclusive and having a harmonious society where we respect difference,” she told AAP.

Silma Ihram, from Australian Muslim Women’s Association, branded the move as “unfortunate”.
“(This) is only going to further traumatise members of the (Muslim) community who are absolutely innocent and have every right to wear the fashion of their choice,” she said.

Greens NSW MP and spokesperson for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women Dr Mehreen Faruqi has condemned the Reverend Fred Nile introducing this proposed legislation.

“Whether it’s the right to abortion or wearing clothing of their choice, Reverend Nile seems obsessed with what women do with their bodies,” Dr Faruqi said in a media release.

“We live in a society where people have the right to wear what they want. “Muslim women have the right to freedom of choice, just like every other Australian”.

Indeed they do –or should have.