Sunday, 11 January 2009

Happy 2009

Just weeks after open heart surgery, veteran community campaigner and activist Bryan Law, is ready to continue to battle and raise issues for our community.

Here, he looks back at the tumultuous year that was 2008.


2008 was pretty trippy for me.

It started real well with a legal victory in the Court of Criminal Appeal at Darwin. A nice and very capable lawyer, retired Federal Court Judge the Hon Ron Merkel QC, made some compelling arguments for us in relation to the Defence (Special undertakings) Act 1952 – and the miscarriages of justice that had occurred during our trial of June 2007. You can read one lawyer’s account here.

Before the legal argument in Court, the four of us served out some time in Darwin’s Berrimah prison, a barbarous and decrepit hole some 15 kilometres north of the city. 83% indigenous. I spent 10 days on a package stay. It’s been ten years or more since I was last in prison, but like riding a bike, it doesn’t take long to get used to it again. Anyone who thinks prison is a doddle has never been there.

So on Wednesday 20 Feb I’m being escorted to cells under the court-house and guarded by three or four security officers all day. On Thursday 21 I’m in the court-house coffee shop getting a toasted sandwich and cappuccino. On Friday 22 I’m acquitted, the Act has been interpreted to our satisfaction, the government is unable to use its heavy legislation against us, and we are free to enjoy a few days rest and recreation in Darwin - which can be a fairly pleasant spot, even in February.

The legal victory, and the jail time, came out of nonviolent direct action I’d taken at the Pine Gap spy base with Christians Against ALL Terrorism (CAAT) in December 2005. It was a citizens inspection, based on work I’ve done around US warships in Cairns with Margaret Pestorius and Peace by Peace. It was a terrific action, and CAAT made some real achievements for peace and nonviolence. It’s a good group. Here’s a photo of us all together in Brisbane in November 2008 where we had a yarn about the Talisman Sabre war-games in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland in July 2009. Left to right: Adele Goldie (Mt Nebo), Sean O’Reilly (Brisbane), Jim Dowling (Mt Mee), Jessica Morrison (Melbourne), Donna Mulhearn (Sydney), Bryan Law (Cairns)

By February 2008 I was on a promise from Australian Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, to meet and discuss Pine Gap. (“I respect your position and I will be happy to discuss with you after the Federal election” Joel had written to me in October 2007, when the ALP wanted support from the peace movement). In January 2008 the newly elected Labor member for Leichhardt, Jim Turnour (for whom I’d campaigned) promised me he’d follow up my letter to Minister Fitzgibbon, and ensure we got a meeting.

Being a political realist, I maintain pretty low expectations of the Labor Party. But I started 2008 fairly optimistic, firstly that nonviolent activism is enjoying something of a resurgence in Australia, and secondly that we might get some useful discussion with government around defence and security policy. The resurgence is real. The ALP is not.

In April I experienced some difficulty breathing, and went to Cairns Base Hospital for a couple of weeks with a condition called heart failure - which put a temporary hold on my activist agenda for Pine Gap. Apparently I’d had a heart attack without noticing. I spent a quiet winter coming to terms with life’s little changes, and preparing for surgery through Queensland Health.

While I was waiting for surgery I got involved with PADYC (People Against Demolishing the Yacht Club) when Wendy Richardson from the Liberal National Party declared she would chain herself to a bulldozer with union organiser Stuart Trail if she needed to, to save the Cairns Yacht Club building. CairnsBlog's Michael Moore, facilitated the introductions, and my old china plate Warren Entsch attended the first meeting. In the event, Wendy chickened out of NVDA (non-violent direct action), but Labor Councillor Di Forsyth climbed up on the roof in a safety harness.

In September 2008 half a dozen citizens stepped forward to have a go at civil disobedience. Terry Spackman had a good go at staying on the roof for days, but was foxed by Police. Sharon, Wendy and John all pushed it past the point of arrest as well as Di. I spent six or seven hours in the Cairns watch-house. Around the campaign were maybe 50 real nice folks who wanted to preserve a little bit of their heritage and values in modern Cairns. Bloody Cairns Ports. Bloody Labor Party. Good on ya Di Forsyth. Good on ya Wendy.

For me it’s always a privilege to know people who are willing to act on their beliefs. The bunch around PADYC came mostly from circles I don’t usually move in. Older, whiter, and more conservative (and of course a scattering of crazies). It was good to show them how a direct action campaign works. We’ll complete the program when Anna Bligh calls the election in 2009. That will be the time to target Desley Boyle and Steve 'Wet ‘n No Balls' for their seats in Parliament. Bloody Labor Party.

In February 2009 Di Forsyth will need a display of support as she confronts the real Court, as well as the kangaroo Court of her fellow Councillors. More about that later.

In November 2008 I did the surgery thing, with a triple coronary by-pass which is a traumatic thing to do to the body but generally provides an extension of life. They cut the chest open, stop the heart, deflate the lungs and keep you alive on the heart lung machine while they graft leg veins to augment the coronary arteries. If you’re at all lucky you survive the operation. Sort of ouch but good on ‘em. I’ve spent the past seven weeks basically hanging at home and healing the wounds of surgery. It’s a trip.

So my time and attention for politics was limited in 2008, but not entirely absent. I now have little projects around local, state, and commonwealth issues. All the actions are planned out of my experience and vision of strategic Nonviolence - latterly Christian Nonviolence. (I’m busy joining the biggest Christian church on planet earth) Here’s my little plan for local, state, and federal NVDA.

LOCAL

I’ve enjoyed nine months of Val Schier as Mayor. My experience has been limited, but I have my concerns, and I’m aware of a general feeling that folks would like a stronger performance from Val and her administration. She’ll be Mayor for around another four years.

My plan on a local level is twofold. First and most important is to organise and show support for Councillor Di Forsyth’s act of civil disobedience re the Yacht Club. Di showed personal courage and political commitment to get up on that roof and represent the thousands of her constituents, and the thousands of other Cairns and Queensland signatures collected on the PADYC petition.

I think Di deserves support for her actions. The best way we can show support is by creating substantial public rallies whenever Di fronts Court or the Regional Council as they consider her civil disobedience action.

But it’s not just a matter of support for Di Forsyth. It’s also about preserving civil disobedience as a vital ingredient of our Parliamentary democracy. The Suffragettes, the Civil Rights movement, the ATSI movement, the trade union movement and all the social movements have relied on civil disobedience to achieve their democratic aims. In Cairns the Police and the Courts have recognised the Yacht Club actions as nonviolent civil disobedience.

Within the Cairns Regional Council there are moves afoot to conduct star chamber hearings against Councillor Forsyth, and equate nonviolent civil disobedience with terrorism. CEO Noel Briggs is one player threatening our democracy. Councillors Cochrane, Gregory and Blake share his desire. In defending and supporting Councillor Di Forsyth we proclaim a standard of democratic representation that we wish to see in our Cairns Regional Council.

My second action will be to try and facilitate a small process of community engagement through which those passionate about Cairns development/environment can play a significant role in improving it. We’d be looking for ways to communicate with, and coordinate with, Mayor Val Schier and key Councillors about significant environmental and development projects over the next few years.

I believe that community input and support can be orchestrated in such a way that Council policies and operations work to provide a much better and more cost-effective amenity for all city residents. I see the invitation being open to all Councillors – at the same time recognising that some Councillors are hostile to community participation in Council business. I’m hoping that CAFNEC will play a sponsoring role.

I haven’t given up on Val Schier yet, and I don’t plan to anytime in the next three years. Anyone who’d like to propose electoral action against Val, if they want to convince me, will have to come out and say who their alternative mayor is, and demonstrate the reality and value of that alternative. I’m happy to listen.

STATE

Unless something truly remarkable happens I’ll be using the Queensland election to hammer ALL the local ALP MLAs because they’ve been so pathetic. I don’t want a “better class of manager” as my political representative – a spin doctor, or a representative of Cabinet.

Call me bitter, call me twisted, but the yacht Club issue convinced me that the ALP has once again forgotten that its job is to represent the community and engage with its values and desires. Imposing “solutions” on an unwilling population just doesn’t do it for me – especially when the “solutions” involve such an incompetent, unimaginative and expensive failure such Cairns Ports Inc.

COMMONWEALTH

Minister Joel Fitzgibbon went from a position of “respect” to one of simply not acknowledging or answering my correspondence. MP for Leichhardt Jim Turnour turned out to be no use whatsoever. Instead of a dialogue about Pine Gap and Security, the Rudd government introduced into Parliament amendments to the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act which plugged the holes we went to so much trouble to disclose. Pine Gap noe receives more support and protection from the Rudd government than it did from John Howard and Philip Ruddock.

According to Minister Fitzgibbon’s first reading speech I and my friends are either “mischief makers” or someone altogether “more sinister”. This according to a government that effectively supports the commission of war crimes by Israel in the Middle East and USA around the world.

In July 2009 the Rudd government is conducting exercise Talisman sabre ’09. Some 8,000 Australian troops, and 15,000 US troops will practice the sea-borne invasion of the Shoalwater Bay Training Area near Rockhampton – where they will conduct urban warfare against a city built around a walled market square. There’ll be a nuclear Aircraft Carrier Battle Group, plus Marines and amphibious Landing Craft, Live Firing, and all the fun of modern warfare.

As a humble citizen I’m compelled to accept that my betters (Jim Turnour, Joel Fitzgibbon and Jan McLucas) have better things to do than talk with rabble like me.

However as a proud member of the rabble element I see no reason to stand idly by and let these fuckers practice mass murder and invasion unchallenged. With my family, and with Christian nonviolence activists from around Australia, I’ll be going to Shoalwater Bay in July and trying my level best to interfere with the war-games. At this point I’m planning to enter the live-firing zone of the exercise area and compel the defence forces to search me out before they can proceed with their stupid and barbarous wankery.

I’m planning on a happy 2009 because I’ve learned through practical experience that life is sweet, and government/policy merely transitory. If any one of us truly stands for what we believe, we make a difference. If enough of us stand for what we believe, we change the world. To echo a black man from the other side of the world who takes office next week as president of the USA “Yes, we can”.

I hope you all have a happy 2009 as well.

12 comments:

Quickie said...

I was talking to a friend of mine's little girl, and she said she wanted to be Prime Minister some day.
Both of her parents, Labor, were standing there, so I asked her,
"If you were Prime Minister what would be the first thing you'd do?"
She replied, "I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people."
"Wow - what a worthy goal." I told her, "But you don't have to wait until you're Prime Minister to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull up the weeds, sweep my patio, and I'll pay you $50. Then I'll take you over to the Coles where a homeless chap hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food or a new house."
She thought that over for a few seconds 'cause she's only six.
And while her Mum glared at me, she looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Why doesn't the homeless man come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?"
And I replied, "Welcome to the Liberal Party."
Her parents still aren't talking to me ...

Bryan Outlaw said...

So, let's see.

You accomplished NOTHING in 2008 - every cause you undertook was unsuccesful. You increased your time on the dole, took our health care system to the tune of probably about $50k, cost the NT government a large sum to keep you in gaol, and the result of all this produced NOTHING positive for society. Gave you your 15 minutes of fame.

And your plan for 2009? More of the same.

What a wretched, pathetic life!

Wendy Richardson said...

Bryan,
While I'm sure it was made light-heartedly, your comment that I 'chickened out' on the Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) is a bit unfair, not only on me, but on others who chose not to do that.

While its true I was concerned re the ramifications of being personally involved in NVDA, I don't think that was due to a lack of 'guts'on my part. In fact Bryan, resisting your niggling on this took a bit of strength!

The way I see it, I have other ways in mind to pursue the issue still, that compliment your actions.

Your way is unfortunately necessary to jerk public attention to an issue, but it also goes hand-in-hand with the type of dismissive behaviour you experience with elected representatives who find your aproach a bit too uncomfortable to confront and so they seek to avoid you.

And you know that from the outset I repeatedly said that the comment to the Cairns Post was, that Stuart Traill was so upset about what was happening to the Cairns Yacht Club (CYC) that he said he would chain himself to bulldozers with me. I had never said I would chain myself to anything.

You need to come clean too Bryan and let readers know that you actually counselled the folk of PADYC that they should carefully consider the ramifications of involvement in Direct Action before getting involved.

It is not for everyone for a range of reasons.

Indeed you suggested I seek legal advice if I was considering it, given my probable intention to stand for parliament again.


Also, we all acknowledged it was in part my difference to you - the perception that I was more conservative - that made it possible for many people in the community, who do not understand or sympathise with your way of doing things, to align themselves with PADYC (People Against Demolishing the Yacht Club).

Bryan, we all know that (unfortunately) the world tends to work on perceptions. That is after all one of the main points of NVDA is it not? - to get people to see and remember a strong image that may cause them to stop and think when they next need to act or vote.

My decision not to be involved in the NVDA was a difficult one. I felt the challenge to prove my convictions to some of you by taking this dramatic step, but I knew many other people would not understand or symapthise with it. Indeed many members of PADYC already knew of the huge sacrifices I was making in other ways to pursue matters even up to this point.

In deciding what to do, I had to consider ALL the perceptions, both postive AND NEGATIVE (not the realities) that would stay in people's minds, based on their generally limited understanding of the issues and the role of NVDA. In fact, Michael Moore in this blog recently even pointed out that 'in politics, perception is everything'.

I know you believe being involved in NVDA would have enhanced my standing as a politician of conviction (a la Senator Bob Brown) but that may have been outweighed by many people who would not see me as being 'serious/sensible' etc.

In fact many PADYC supporters felt the same way and understood my anguish at having to stop short of NVDA.

Bryan, I think your mission in life is, in part, to show people the valid role of NVDA, and you have certainly changed my mind on that. I applaud you for your stand and look forward to more interesting interchanges between us. I will always view NVDA differently from now on and not dismiss it with the usual insults which are designed to nullify the so-called 'vocal minority'.

Through my involvement with PADYC I have also learned that OF COURSE these vocal people are a minority!

How many people can sustain for long periods, the required time away from work and family, emotion, financial strain, the demands of researching legislation and other information, along with the risk of public confrontation?

Not many! Hence the minority!

Yet these people may well represent the views of many who are NOT in a position to speak out. They must not be dismisssed without careful consideration of what they are saying.

Hopefully, this understanding of the 'vocal minority' and NVDA, along with my experience of the Government's disregard of the people and its own laws, will be an enduring and very useful legacy of my involvement with the Yacht Club battle.

I hope this will mean the community will be all the better for having in me an advocate (political or not) who has a greater understanding of this type of stance and the sacrifices it involves.
Sincere Regards,
Wendy

Rob Williams said...

Bryan, it’s truly good to see you gaining strength. You are a person with a mission and you nail the politics of our Nation to the wall. Most people are in the third category, “shit what the fuck happened, I dint know they were going to do that?”
This epitomises the “silent” majority who don’t want to know anything. Politicians of all ilk’s know this and take extreme advantage of it. So do the get rick quick scam merchants. This is how George W Bush and his mob of ratbags have brought the world to the brink of destruction and murdered millions of innocent people in the process of making their own fortunes.
The loss of Trillions of dollars of peoples Superannuation on the grand Ponzi Schemes of the world can be laid at the very feet of the losers.
They let greed ride rough shod over their common sense and didn’t stand up and make their representatives in Parliament town the line. People who challenge politicians soon find out what we are against and soon become super sceptical. There is a growing band of us these days with a bigger resolve to get better outcomes for us. The carcass of the once proud Aquatic is a monument to the ugly side and incompetence of the Labor Party and its hacks.
Let’s see if all the losers get in the front line with us to stomp them out.

Rob Williams
Cairns 4870

Bryan Law said...

Hey Wendy, I agree with everything you said here, and I think it shows people just how thoughtful and engaged you are with these issues.

The "chickened out" phrase was a bit of a cheap shot, which I justify to myself with the need for brevity on Michael's blog. I was impressed when you read Martin Luther king's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and understood it, and I think you'll come to a point in your parliamentary career when standing up through civil disobedience is called for.

You're correct that I warn people about the consequences of NVDA. The last thing I want is folk acting unawarely. At the same time I really want them to act, because that is the means through which they'll discover just how much they can achieve.

Rob Williams, it was a pleasure to hang out with you, and listen to the jazz. I have faith in the capacity of ordinary people to smell the bullshit, but I think we need help in believing there's something that can be done.

Bryan Outlaw, mate, you just don't get it do you?

Quickie, for the sake of my New Year's Resolution, and out of respect for Wendy Richardson, I refrain from any cheap shots about "Welcome to the Gulag, err, I mean Liberal National Party".

If we've learned anything from the industrial revolution and subsequent events, it's that Capitalism and the privatisation of the Commonwealth needs to be leavened with social capital and public regulation. I'm sure you agree.

Syd Walker said...

Quickie, do you advertize regularly for gardening help in Homeless Shelters? (photographic prooof please). Or do you expect the homeless to be telepathic?

Or are you just posturing, yet again, with the smugness of one who is quite well-off and very self-righteous?

Dennis Quick said...

sent off a response explaining that I am not “Quickie” Can you please make sure it is posted, as I’m becoming a little weary of this game.

I’m a little touchy that others, such as Bryan and Syd think it is me.

Kind regards
Dennis Quick

Robin Quick said...

That "Quickie" person is certainly not my Dennis.
I haven't been able to call him him Quickie since he was in his 30's.

Tyson said...

Yeah Bryan, their "stupid and barbarous wankery" is what keeps you safe and free in a country that protects your right to do the stupid things you do.

As George Orwell said: "People sleep peacefully at night because rough ready men stand ready to do violence on their behalf"

Brian, Kewarra said...

Tyson, did you get out of the wrong sid eof bed this morning and hit your head on a LNP brick?

Quickie said...

Now here's a thought . . . .. If you are ready for the adventure of a lifetime, try this:

a.. Go to Pakistan , Afghanistan or Iraq illegally.
Never mind immigration quotas, visas, international law, or any of that nonsense.

b.. Once there, demand that the local government provide free medical care for you and your entire family.

c.. Demand that all nurses and doctors be fluent in English, and that all food be cooked according to your special specifications in the hospital.

d. Demand free local government forms, bulletins, etc. be printed in English.

e.. Procreate abundantly.

f.. Deflect any criticism of this allegedly irresponsible reproductive behaviour with, 'It is a cultural thing; you wouldn't understand.'

g.. Keep your original identity strong. Fly your previous country's national flag from your rooftop, or proudly display it in your front window, or on your car bumper.

h.. Speak only English at home and in public, and make sure that your children do likewise.

i.. Demand classes on English culture in the Muslim school system.

j.. Demand a local country driver license or national insurance number equivalent

k.. This will afford other legal rights and will go far to legitimise your unauthorised, illegal, presence in Pakistan , Afghanistan or Iraq

l.. Drive around with no motor, tax or insurance and ignore local traffic laws.

m.. Insist that local country law enforcement teaches English to all its officers..

n.. Organise protest marches against your host country, inciting violence against non-white, non-Christians, and the government that let you in.

Good luck! You'll soon be dead.

It would never happen in Pakistan , Afghanistan or Iraq (or any other country in the world for that matter) except in the UK, US, Canada or Australia, because we are run by soft, politically correct politicians that are too scared to 'offend' anyone

Tyson said...

Hear hear, Quickie!

The Pacific Solution was some of the best legislation this country has ever seen!

Of course, the first 27 illegal immigrants processed under Rudd's laws were given permanent visas...

Target practice for our air force, I say - we'll know our best when they hit the floating eskys ;)