Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

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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.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 28 July 2017

It’s all over! After successfully filming the show my verbatim theatre project, ‘The Nakba is not only a memory, it is ongoing’ the project came to an end today. I’m sad to see it go, but hey, we’ll have the film!

The filming was relatively painless, and basically didn’t lose anything by not having an audience. I was very pleased to see that Murad, the Centre’s film teacher and all round ‘camera guy’ took more care with the set, carefully pinning the curtains together and so forth. Mind you, from a Workplace Health and Safety POV I was concerned that though putting black floor cloths down was good from a lighting perspective any of the actors could have tripped over the joins and ripples, as it wasn’t gaffered down at all. Thankfully he did listen to my request that it be taken up for the Dabka. otherwise there would have been trips and falls. Anyway, he’s a great guy, and has been a big help throughout, as has been Ahmed.

Very fond farewell with the cast after the filming. I’ve grown very fond of them and aren’t likely to forget them in a hurry. They did a great job.

I do hope we get to show the film several times in Australia, as the stories so powerfully bear witness to the suffering of the Palestinians since 1948.

Now its over I’m thinking what to do next year! But before then I’ve another day left in Bethlehem, one day in Occupied East Jerusalem, and then a couple of days in Muscat, capital of Oman, on the way home. Those two days are my little ‘holiday’.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 27 July 2017

We did it! Performed the play today, that is. There were a few aspects that worried my purist streak, but it was meant to be poor theatre, even rough theatre anyway, so my purist streak can go park itself somewhere far away.

Which is a long winded way of saying how pleased I was with the work of our cast, and how the importance of their stories stood out. It all really lived up to its title, which is ‘The Nakba is not just a memory, it is ongoing’. It was powerful, moving, with very good performances, and it all ran very smoothly.

The stories really do bear witness to what the Palestinians have been suffering since 1948.

They are accurate testimony, and are told in as very moving way too – and I really mean very.

Now, what was worrying my purist streak? Ahmed, the theatre teacher and my stage manager, lighting and sound guy, and interpreter (now that’s multitasking) was late for this morning’s rehearsal and almost late for the performance this afternoon, the audience space wasn’t set up until the last minute (by my cast), the promised sur-titles for the parts in English never eventuated, the entrance was never opened so the audience came through ‘backstage’, and there were way too many unaccompanied little kids in the audience.

But just to teach me a lesson about not worrying unnecessarily, the young kids were a great audience and its a tribute to the actors that they held the littlies’ attention so well.

So yes, a very good feeling about this project, and a great incentive to us all to make a great movie during the filming tomorrow./

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 26 January 2017

Today being the Alrowwad Centre’s closed day, no report on the verbatim theatre project. I do though have a positive and pleasant item to report. As I’m coming to the end of my time in Palestine I’ve been faced with the problem of having bought far too many books for my luggage’s capacity.

They include two excellent (and very large format and very heavy) atlases, one of Palestine and the other of Jerusalem. Both a new, up-to date, everything carefully GPesed, and politically very aware. Anyway, in previous years I’ve solved this problem by posting my book purchase home to myself from the Israeli post office in Saladin Street, Occupied East Jerusalem. It’s always been a horrible experience as that PO is more like a dirty and scruffy prison, and the staff very aggressive and rude. But this year I’m faced with the problem of posting a large and very heavy box of books back to myself from Bethlehem. However, this time around it turned out to be a very pleasant experience, as the Palestine Post PO in Manger Square, near the Mosque of Omar, is a new, smart and clean place, and the staff were very helpful and very friendly. Top marks, PA!

Being my day off I also popped over to Occupied East Jerusalem to my other favourite hang out in this part of the world, the Educational Bookshop (Books and Coffee) in Saladin Street, where over the past month I’ve bought most of the books I’ve just had to post home.

Though I didn’t go to the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock compound, as I feel I should show solidarity by joining the Palestinians in their boycott, I can’t help but reflect on this sorry mess.  I fear the Israeli government is trying to ethnically cleanse the site of Palestinians so that it will become another Hebron city centre, which has been cleared of its indigenous population to make way for 600 illegal Israeli settlers protected by 2,000 Israeli troops. I hope there’s a resolution before Friday prayers, but somehow I doubt it.

 

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 25 July 2017.

Only two days to performance day! On the whole today was quite encouraging, with every story teller doing either as good as they’ve ever been or far better.

We had all bar two of the students/actors today, with two of the young women being absent. I knew Fatima couldn’t come because of a university commitment, and had okayed that, but why Lara didn’t show I don’t know.

I also initiated ‘George’ into the Camera-person’ role today. That’s an onstage camera operator purely there to create the illusion that the show is supposed to be the taping of a TV interview doco. We won’t be using any of its footage. ‘George’ isn’t his real name, but as he looks so much like George Michael (the slightly older version) I promptly nicknamed him such. He loved it and it struck with everyone. Goodness, that was almost four weeks ago! ‘George’ hasn’t been a very good student, with fluctuating attendance, focus and concentration, but he’s a nice guy and keen to be involved, so this makes him part of the team without giving him a significance he hasn’t earned.

The other innovation today was for me to introduce formal ‘Notes’ from the director after reach run. Of course, there’s been ‘notes’ all the time since the story telling started, but now we are doing several runs each day it’s formal notes after each one. The concept of quietly taking the notes without yelling at other after each one is new to some of them (but by no means all), but even the novices are quickly learning.

I think at this stage we are in as good a place as we could be, given all the constraints, though I wish tomorrow (Wednesday) wasn’t Alrowwad’s day off. The show will certainly will live up to my title, ‘The Nakba is not only a memory, it is ongoing’, as the stories really do bear witness, some of them with a strong emotional punch.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 25 July 2017: New Super-Sized Ministry of Home Affairs moves us closer to becoming a police state.

In what must have been one of the most unsurprising announcements of recent years last week Peter Dutton was named the minister in charge of a new super portfolio that will incorporate immigration, border protection and domestic security agencies.

However, intelligence and security experts are split over the need for such a change, with some questioning whether the plan has been thought through properly.

And those who of us who are aware of how the Liberal/National coalition government uses security fears to hide its agenda of increasing its powers while it keeps wages depressed rightly point out that it is yet another smokescreen, this time one that also appeases the right wing of the coalition.

The head of the Australian National University’s Defence and Strategic Studies Centre, John Blaxland, said the plan would have significant ramifications and he was not sure if it the government had thought through the new tensions it would create between ministers and agencies.

Michael Wesley, Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, told Sky News there was no reason to force ASIO, the AFP, and other security agencies to report directly to one minister.

“My question is what’s broken that needs to be fixed?” he said. “I think we’ve got one of the most successful security and policing sectors in the world that has been honed over decades of practice and high operational capability.

“We’ve seen in Australia much fewer terrorist attacks than in the UK or the US that have centralised homeland security departments.

“I think we have a system that works extremely well and playing politics with Australians’ lives and safety potentially is an extremely bad move in my view,” he said.

Peter Jennings, the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has warned that for the changes to work properly, the new Home Affairs Minister and Attorney General will have to work “incredibly closely,” so if there’s a clash of personalities it could lead to intelligence operations being paused.

“That would be very serious for intelligence,” he told Sky News.

More to the point, “The creation of a new supersized department of Australia’s security and immigration agencies led by Peter Dutton would move Australia closer to becoming a police state”, Greens Justice spokesperson Nick McKim quite rightly said.

Also, both Labor and the Liberals have spent the last 15 years trying to frighten Australians to justify eroding our fundamental freedoms and liberties. This is another step down that terrifying road.

We should also be concerned about how Super-Sized Minister Dutton will handle his new role. Indeed, if we want to get an idea of how this department will look, all we need to do is look at what has happened on Manus Island and Nauru on Peter Dutton’s watch.

His legacy so far is one of death, torture, illegal detention, forced deportations, secrecy and a complete absence of compassion and decency.

Given the sweeping new powers granted to security and immigration agencies by Labor and the Liberals in recent years, we need to see greater accountability, not less.

Merging these portfolios and giving Peter Dutton the key will mean the ongoing erosion of more of our hard-won freedoms and liberties.

All in all, it strikes me and many other commentators to be more about politics than good policy. And the politics seem to be all about appeasing the right wing of the governing coalition.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 24 July 2017

A good solid rehearsal today, with no backsliding and some solid improvements. Momen (The Israeli Rubber Bullet in the Head Story) was really firing today. That’s very encouraging because though keen he was very shy and hesitant to begin with.

I’m slowly teaching my students/actors that we rehearse aspects such as entrances and exits, blocking and so forth now exactly as they will be on performance night, and we keep rehearsing them until we know them inside out and backwards, rather than ‘wing it ‘on the night. It’s an unusual concept to some, though thankfully not to all.

I also added an encore today – a second Dabka dance. There was discussion about which one of several dances to choose, which I narrowed down to two, and then solved the problem of which one by adding one of them as an encore. The second one really ends on an amazing high, so it will be a great ending.

Now all I need is for all the cast all to turn up on the same day. When it happens it will be a luxury – as well as being very unusual.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem

We ‘graduated’ to the performance space today, and it was great to be there. It’s too echo-ey (all hard surfaces) for my taste, though once the blacks were in place it improved no end.

So being in situ I was finally able to block the beginning properly, i.e. organise the entrance of the story tellers, and then the two hosts. Those of you who have a theatre background will know how good it feels to say “Fade to black …”.

And indeed, we had lights and sound (LX and SFX) today, which was great. Thank you Ahmed!

We had everybody today except two of the boys, Moussa and Mohammed (M&M), and as I haven’t seen them for three days they got the sack. A pity, as both were i) quite good, and ii) nice guys. It will be interesting to see if that news filters through to them and I see two penitent young men tomorrow morning.

Back in  my hang out of the bar/café/restaurant of the Walled Off Hotel this afternoon I typed up all the remaining linking dialogue for the hosts to introduce and thank each speaker, so I prepared two versions, one with M&M and one without them.

We perform in four days time!