Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: August, 2017

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 29 August 2017

Our monuments need to reflect the unvarnished truth of our history

During the last couple of weeks or so I’ve followed the stories of the progressively minded in the United States calling for the removal of the statues of Confederate Civil War generals such as Robert E Lee, silently cheering on those cities that quite rightly tore down these monuments to racism.

I wondered how long it would take for a similar movement to take hold here? After a great deal of Twitter sphere squawking the first flesh and blood instance I came across was an ABC news story in The World Today (24 August) headlined ‘South Sea Islanders say statue of Townsville founder ‘whitewashes’ slave history’.

The statue in the northern Queensland city has appropriately raised the ire of Australian South Sea Islanders, who say it should be changed to better reflect the region’s slave history, for the monument to Robert Towns, who made his name by ‘blackbirding’ (aka people trafficking or the slave trade) South Sea Islanders in 19th century Queensland, stands in Townsville’s main street.

Like many in Australia the descendants of those who were black birded aren’t necessarily calling for the statue to be pulled down, but instead asking for the site to include a plaque and statue to pay tribute to those who were kidnapped, brought to Queensland and forced into labour on the cane fields.

This story and the US statue removing events provoked the ABC’s Indigenous Affairs reporter, Wiradjuri elder and Riverina boy Stan Grant to note that ‘America tears down its racist history, we ignore ours’.

Like Stan, I and many others have often noticed the statue of Captain James Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park. On the base of the statue is an inscription in bold letters reading: DISCOVERED THIS TERRITORY 1770

Think of those words for a minute: “Discovered this territory.” They are nonsense, of course, for Stan’s ancestors were here when Cook dropped anchor. They, and the rest of us who have been paying attention, know now that the first peoples of this continent had been here for at least 65,000 years.

Yet this statue indicates white fellas thought of this as an empty continent, of an entire civilisation’s invisibility. It says that nothing truly mattered, nothing truly counted until a white English sailor first set foot on these shores.

The statue continues to imply ‘terra nullius’ and the violent rupture of over 500 Aboriginal nations, as well as referring to a legacy of pain and suffering that still endures today.

And as a quick side-note, if we are wanting to commemorate the finding of an Australia that had been known to its Indigenous inhabitants for over 60 thousand years, let’s not forget that the Dutch beat James Cook by over 100 years!

This whole business has led many of us to ponder the questions of heritage and hate. Hopefully we can avoid the excesses of the American alt-right (Neo-Nazis etc.) here, though given the likes of Pauline Hanson and the slightly more urbane though equally appalling Cory Bernardi I have some serious doubts.

Given their ‘white’ Australia first attitude we need to quickly, squarely and fairly address the role of those who knowingly contributed to a white invasion, settlement and almost total obliteration of our indigenous people.

All of which reminds me that our own local university is very inappropriately named after an English explorer who ‘opened up’ Wiradjuri Country to white settlement, not that it was ever ‘closed’ of course.

There are many fictions in what passed for our history, which is not surprising, as history is usually written by the victors, but if we are honest we should no longer maintain them.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 22 August 2017: Parliament should decide if we go to war, not just the PM

At the time of writing it seems that both President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un have toned down their war-mongering rhetoric and so for the moment at least we are spared the threat of a nuclear Armageddon.

However, my topic this weak isn’t so much the dangers posed to the world by vainglorious, unhinged and delusional leaders, but rather the dangerous foolishness of two related local news stories. Firstly that Australian defence forces will join US-Korean war games, and secondly a very prompt announcement from PM Turnbull that Australia would honour its ANZUS treaty commitments and join the US in any military action it might embark on.

Defence Minister Marise Payne told the ABC that just over two dozen ADF members would take part in the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian war games.

Rather naively, she played down the chances of the games provoking a response from North Korea. “I think given their regularity and history, they should not be seen in any way as a provocative exercise” she said with a straight face. Really?

Next week’s planned military exercises have already sparked protests in the South Korean capital Seoul, and are again expected to draw condemnation from North Korea. Indeed, following last year’s Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the North conducted a nuclear test.

To add to the dangerous chest-beating going on, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week quickly confirmed that Australia would join the US in any conflict with North Korea if it carries out its threat to fire missiles towards the strategic American territory of Guam in the Pacific.

However, not all Australian political parties are ready to jump on the war making bandwagon. Indeed the Australian Greens called for a War Powers act so that our Prime Minister could not commit us to war without Parliamentary approval.

Richard Di Natale, joined by Greens Defence Spokesperson Sen. Peter Whish-Wilson said “Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to commit Australian troops to a possible war against North Korea puts Australia at risk and shows why Parliament needs to urgently pass a war powers act and renegotiate the alliance with the United States”.

As they pointed out, our alliance with the United States is making us less safe, not more, and this war of words with North Korea is the latest and most frightening example. Donald Trump is completely unhinged and his irresponsible rhetoric is putting the entire world in danger.

Nuclear war is a nightmare scenario that must be avoided at all costs, not a bargaining chip to be tossed around in the media by Trump, Turnbull or Tony Abbott. Any responsible leader would be seeking to calm the situation, not inflame it, and risk nuclear war.

“Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to unilaterally offer Australian military support in a war with North Korea – a position that could drag us into the middle of a nuclear war – is exactly why Parliament must urgently pass a war powers bill so that decisions of this magnitude aren’t being made by just one person,” Di Natale said.

“Australia doesn’t need a missile shield, no matter what Tony Abbott says. The best way Australia can protect itself in this situation is to distance itself from Donald Trump’s belligerent statements,” Whish-Wilson added.

Indeed, we need to be working towards a world free of nuclear weapons, not joining a nuclear arms race that risks spiralling out of control. Now is the time for all sides in this conflict, including China and Russia, to come back to the table and seek a peaceful solution to the crisis.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 15 August 2017: Marriage equality should be unifying, not divisive

As I listened to Tony Abbott take to the air waves after the federal government resolved to press ahead with its postal plebiscite I couldn’t help but notice that he could teach President Trump and his team a thing or two about ‘alternative facts’, for of the three reasons Mr Abbott advised us to vote ‘No’, only one bore any semblance to reality.

That was the one about ‘If you are against same sex marriage, vote No’. Superficially this may look fair enough, but of course what Mr Abbott doesn’t mention is that if you believe in equality and a fair go for all, supposedly Australian values, you would vote ‘Yes’.

But it was Mr Abbott’s other two reasons for voting No that turned his remarks into ‘Alternative Facts’. The first of these was “If you believe in free speech vote No’. How on earth does that make any sort of logical sense? It doesn’t of course, but what Mr Abbott is doing is engaging in ‘Dog Whistle Politics’. That means sending out a coded message that only those for whom it is intended will ‘get’. In this particular example Mr Abbott is really saying ‘If you believe in hate speech vote No’.

The third example is ‘If you are fed up with Political Correctness vote No’. This is nothing more than a cheap slur, as well of course being another example of Mr Abbott blowing his dog whistle. It is also without any foundation, as politic correctness is simply an expression used by the likes of Mr Abbott when they really have nothing substantive left to argue with.

Of course, Mr Abbott’s thought bubbles were only the beginning of a campaign that promises to be full of homophobia, hate, bigotry, and other slurs against the LGBTIQ community. The so called Australian Christian Lobby, a body with a very misleading name given that not one of the major Christina churches is a member, has already started, and will no doubt ramp up its homophobic hate-filled rhetoric in the weeks to come.

With all the above in mind it was pleasing to note that Senator Mathias Cormann, in his role as Acting Special Minister of State offered to draft a bill that would subject the campaign to the usual electoral rules, including protections against malicious publications and bribery.

All well and good, and we will be grateful for small mercies, but this could of course have been avoided if Mr Turnbull had demonstrated a bit of internal fortitude and stared down the extreme right wing of the Liberal Party.

Marriage equality can and should be a unifying moment for our country. But rather than doing their jobs and voting in Parliament, this Government has decided to delay, distract and divide Australia. They have decided to waste $122 million of taxpayers’ money on an unnecessary and unacceptable postal opinion poll.

Australian Marriage Equality is preparing to seek an injunction to stop the postal plebiscite and will launch a legal challenge once it knows the full details, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFAG) has already launched a High Court challenge, and Australian Greens LGBTIQ spokesperson Senator Janet Rice has lodged a notice of motion in the Senate requesting documents that lay out the advice the government has used to arrive at the postal plebiscite plan.

“The rights of a minority group should never be put to a public vote. John Howard didn’t go to a public vote when he changed the Marriage Act in 2004, so why does Malcolm Turnbull want to?” said Senator Rice.

My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 8 August 2017: It’s time for real reform on political donations

Labor senator Sam Dastyari, reportedly with a straight face, has called for an end to the way in which parties compete for donations, and a total ban on all future political donations (Senator calls for end to all political donations, Daily Advertiser, 1 August) in the ABC TV’s Australian Story last Monday.

On the surface, it’s a stunning about-face after his resignation from Labor’s front bench last September in the wake of a political donations scandal.

“I come at this from someone who wasn’t just part of the arms race … I was one of the weapon suppliers in this arms race … and responsible for fundraising across the party. It needs to come to an end, and the time for that is now,” Senator Dastyari somewhat disingenuously told Australian Story.

“I’m a realist on this and saying this needs to change. We must reform. We need to ban, to limit, to restrict donations in so far as it’s constitutionally possible to do so” he said, seemingly unsure exactly what he thought should be done. Ban, limit or restrict? Which? Make up your mind, Sam.

And in a very weak reaction Labor leader Bill Shorten said his party should not take money from foreign donors and has asked his party to implement that very limited standard.

“I’m happy to reiterate my invitation to Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm … we should shake hands and make it a gentleman’s agreement — No foreign money in our election process. Labor’s happy to work with the Liberals and implement a standard even in advance of the law,” he said. Pull the other one, Bill.

However, Mr Shorten fell very short of supporting Senator Dastyari’s call for a ban on all donations. “I’m not sure that the public is ready to pick up the tab for elections. “I do think it’s okay for people to make donations, for Australians and Australian organisations to contribute to the political process, but there’s no doubt that we need transparency” he said.

Greens democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon has accused Labor of using their classic tactic of different messages for different audiences on political donation reform.

“While Senator Dastyari is going for the ‘full Monty’ version calling for a total ban on political donations, Mr Shorten is pushing the minimalist version of reform that goes no further than some transparency changes to reporting and a ban on foreign donations.”

“The Dastyari donation scandal that broke last year should have jolted Mr Shorten into backing a thorough clean-up of electoral funding laws” Senator Rhiannon said.

It is ludicrous to assert that only foreign donations have an adverse impact on Australian democracy. Domestic corporate political donations can be just as dangerous in terms of buying influence.

Labor’s official position will not clean up politics or end the corrupting influence of political donations.

In fact, the opposition leader’s weak stance on reform is similar to the approach of earlier Labor leaders.

For example, when Labor was in government from 2007 to 2013 they had the opportunity to work with the Greens in parliament for an overhaul of political donations. However, they failed to act.

The Greens long held position is for a suite of complimentary measures that include caps on election expenditure, bans on donations from for-profit organisations and overseas donations, caps on donations from individuals and improved disclosure of all donations of $1000 or more in real time. That’s unequivocal straight talk, compared with the Labor and the Lib/Nat’s wishy-washy policies.

My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 1 August 2017: Water is a public resource, not a private one

In far off Palestine my news from home was dominated by a week of reactions to allegations of water theft in the Murray-Darling basin by the ABC’s Four Corners showing that taxpayer-bought water was being illegally pumped out for cotton growing, thereby ripping off the Murray Darling Basin’s environmental water supply.

And about time too, given that extracting water from the river system for irrigation has been one of great contention for decades. It’s contentious firstly because contrary to what some think, the water is a public resource, not a private one. Secondly, because historically we have inherited a water allocation system from a century ago that was way too generous and optimistic towards irrigation. When sensible measures were adopted to restore at least a semblance of balance some irrigators irrationally reacted as through ‘their’ water was being taken away from them.

With this in mind it is pleasing to see the report say that government needs to restart water buybacks and invest in regional development projects

Reaction to the report was swift. The director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Paul Sinclair, called for ICAC to investigate allegations which could amount to one of the largest known cases of alleged water theft in Australia’s history, as well as evidence that the NSW government did nothing to stop it.

The SA water minister, Ian Hunter, wants a judicial inquiry, Senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon wants the New South Wales ICAC to investigate “stolen” water, and joined South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in calling for a Senate inquiry with full parliamentary privilege to protect witnesses.

Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon appropriately pointed out that “The NSW government has been caught out. Major cotton corporations have stolen billions of litres of water from the Murray-Darling Basin that was purchased with public money. This water was earmarked for downstream communities and environmental flows. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young will move for a Senate inquiry when Parliament resumes” Senator Rhiannon concluded.

Our First Peoples brothers and sisters were onto this scandal too, as the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) called for an ICAC investigation, an overhaul of water planning and the removal of the water ministry from the NSW Nationals.

Deputy PM, the Nationals Barnaby Joyce said it was a state issue and the federal government had ensured under the Northern Basin Review that measures were more efficient to get water back to the environment.

Yet sadly, and all too predictably, the NSW water minister, Niall Blair, denied that his government was abandoning its commitment to the Murray-Darling basin plan.

Thankfully NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham challenged Mr Blair, calling on him to explain why investigations into water stealing were cancelled and why senior bureaucrats were conspiring with large irrigators to give them access to key documents to undermine the Murray Darling Basin Plan. He also called on Minister Blair to explain why the NSW Government has just introduced regulations that legalise all illegal flood diversion works built in the Barwon-Darling Valley Flood Plain. All this comes as the entire world moves inexorably towards one of the major crises only a few seem to be aware is coming: international conflict over one of the world’s scarcest resources, clean fresh water. As I write this in Palestine I am all too aware that Israel’s claim to ‘have made the desert bloom‘ has only been possible through its theft of Palestinian and Jordanian water from the River Jordan, and from the West Bank’s aquifers.