Sunday 14th of July 2024

Democracy is not a Spectator Sport

First published in Webdiary

G'day. I wrote this piece for today's Northern Rivers Echo on Tuesday morning, just before news broke that Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan were gunna go for it on mandatory detention. That night on the 7.30 Report Judi Moylan did a George Galloway and told it straight. She's since received 2000 emails from citizens supporting her stand, a dozen long-stemmed red roses from a citizen to 'a brave lady', and dozens of calls from small l Liberal names across Australia offering congratulations and support. Her case for a House of Representatives debate on the Petro bills is in today's Australian at Judi Moylan: Detention policy fails the test of humanity.

Democracy is not a spectator sport

Telling it like it is isn't done in the American mainstream now. It's too risky. It's the same in Australia. If you have a go telling it bluntly, and with moral force, you're condemned as a Howard Hater by the media's dominant band of Howard Lovers. And to be condemned as a Howard Hater means you're, well, unAustralian.

I mean, democracy is about finding a school to vote at every three years, right? We did that, the people have spoken, and the minority who didn't want this government have to shut up or leave Australia, right? Otherwise they're anti-democratic.

I've copped these arguments constantly on Webdiary since the October 2004 election. Many Australians seem to have forgotten what democracy means, or never worked it out in the first place. The rule of law - huh? Protection of minorities from the tyranny of the majority - are you a socialist? The citizen's duty to defend our democracy - get off the streets you dole bludgers so we can get to work.

It's us versus them stuff, and the "us", it seems, doesn't seem to notice that their ranks are getting smaller by the day.

Tampa. To me, that was the event which saw Australians accept that it was okay for our government to treat some human beings as less than human. As long as they're not us.

But who is us? Australian citizens? The government will treat all us Australian citizens as worthy of their duty of care, won't it?

Down the slippery slope we went. We now know that the government locked a mentally ill Australian permanent resident in jail and at Baxter for 11 months. We now know that an incapacitated Australian citizen was deported to a Philippine hospice. We now know that DIMIA (the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs) locked up an Australian citizen known only as "Howard" for two days, despite him producing credit cards and a driver's licence - until his lawyer brought his passport to DIMIA.

Let's tell it like it is, shall we? Australia has its own "disappeared", and its own "disappear them squad". Our Parliament, to its everlasting shame, made an exception to the basic principle of Westminster-style democracies - that no citizen is ever deprived of his or her liberty by the State without access to a lawyer and recourse to the courts.

Parliament did this by voting for a law which gave junior DIMIA officers the absolute power to detain anyone they liked if they "suspected" that person of being an "unlawful non-citizen". The detention can last a lifetime.

This law must be abolished now. Where is Labor's private members bill? Not game. Too scared. What do the Howard Lovers say? Why I still get shocked, I don't know, but I was when more than one of Webdiary's right-wing commentators pronounced that Rau and Alvarez were to blame.

But, perhaps, the government has gone too far this time. There is a prima facie case of terrible abuse of power here. Yet there would be no inquiry, no commissioner with legal powers to get to the truth and bring any perpetrators of crimes before the courts. There would instead be a cosy closed-door investigation by a former police officer relying on the cooperation of those in the frame for possible crimes, criminal negligence, and just plain negligence.

This up-yours response and the abandonment of any pretence that Australian citizens had the right to know what the government did to fellow citizens was too much even for a media cowered by threats and intimidation (the ABC) or whose commercial interests directed pro-Howard coverage (News Limited). When Vanstone refused to give any details of who, when, how and why an Australian citizen was deported, the media did the job, and is still doing it. Webdiary began "a people's inquiry" to help get the truth.

Palmer has become irrelevant. As I write this on the eve of Senate Estimates committee interrogations of Vanstone and DIMIA, former immigration minister Philip Ruddock has publicly rejected Vanstone's claim that there's something rotten in DIMIA's culture. Vanstone makes regular announcements changing DIMIA's lock-em-up guidelines after demanding that the people wait until her little cover up played itself out.

It's not yet four years since Tampa and S11 (which Howard and Co jumped on to falsely assert that terrorists were using leaky boats to come to Australia), and Australians are starting to realise that Australian citizenship doesn't keep them in the "us club" any more.

Australian citizenship doesn't matter much to this government. Unlike just about every other nation whose citizens were incarcerated and tortured in Guantanamo Bay, we've let the Americans do what they will with Hicks and Habib. Until the public screamed too loud, it was also happy for Corby to be thrown to the wolves for the sake of friendly relations with Indonesia.

The "them" is getting bigger every day. First they came for the interlopers, then they came for the undesirables, then they came for the mentally ill, then they came for...

So let's tell it like it is. Let's feel proud to do so, and let's see the vitriol rained down on us for what it is, the scream of the fascists and their yes people now dominating the "governance" of this nation.

No more pussyfooting around with these people, okay? Yes, it is us versus them, but the them are the destroyers of our values. The us are the ever-growing numbers of Australian citizens who've decided that democracy in Australia can no longer be a spectator sport.

Letter re: Detention Policy

Hi all, Margo has as usual said it all in the way I would wish to, so I would only add that we all have an obligation now to stand up and exercise on of the few rights we still have, (as long as you are not black, Asian, Muslim, poor etc) - free speech.

When the site was first set up we planned to have letters to send to your member of parliament prepared so that all of us overworked people would not have to stretch our brain.

In the spirit of this, I have contructed a pretty basic letter on this issue to send to you local member. Its rough because I mainly cut and paste it from emails sent, so if you are pernickity, feel free to clean it up. Whatever else, just send it. I have made a solemn commitment to myself to pick myself up out of my feelings of miserable hopelessness and get active, remembering at all times a pledge I made when I was about 16.

"Better to die on your feet, than live on your knees."

I got me into a fair bit of trouble then (regular seat outside the principals office) and I think it will serve me well now.

In unity,

Here tis:

27 May 2005

Your Name

Your Federal MP

Dear Name,

I am writing to support the Private Members Bill to change aspects of the Migration and Mandatory Detention Policy proposed by Mr Petro Georgiou MP. Please review these facts in regards to this matter.

Release all children from detention - there are currently 68 children in detention. The latest detainee, baby Michael Andrew Tran, was born on Christmas Island on Monday 23 May 2005·

End Mandatory Detention - thousands of asylum seekers have been detained for anywhere up to seven years under Australia's policy. Just this month an Iranian man was recognised as a refugee and released after having spent 5 years in detention.

End Indefinite Detention - under Australian law, the Australian Government can detain failed asylum seekers until they die. Peter Qasim has been detained for almost seven years, despite requesting to be returned to any other country that will accept him.

Grant Permanent Protection for Refugees - Australia is the only country to grant temporary status to people recognised as refugees. Over 9000 refugees, fearful of being returned to countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, are having to re-prove their status once their 3 year visa expires.

The Australian Government must bring its refugee policies in line with international human rights standards.

I support the Private Members Bill proposed by Mr Petro Georgiou MP which will provide for the following:

  • those who have been in detention for more than a year will be released while their claims for protection are resolved;
  • release of children and their parents from detention, unless they pose a risk to the public or are likely to abscond;
  • permanent protection for Temporary Protection Visa holders;
  • asylum seekers who arrive without a visa will only be detained initially for up to 90 days, which can only be extended by application to the Federal Court; and,
  • permanent protection for those whose claim for asylum has failed but who cannot removed from Australia (after 3 years).

This is the only way for Australia and it citizens to hold their head up in the world community where we have been shamed for our policies on refugees and asylum seekers.

I urge you to support these changes and ensure that the Private members bill is heard.

Yours faithfully

Your Name

Well done Maggie

This link is also very helpful in explaining how to craft a letter to pollies.

One of the things it points out is that form letters have much less impact than people writing in their own words. So if people can find the time to change the words around a bit, include some personal info or examples to illustrate your position (apparently also helps greatly) and be respectful, it will all help.

Hamish: Hey Myriad, yesterday I placed this link in the left hand links box under, Getting Politicians' Attention.


Sorry Hamish, missed that. Thanks, excellent idea.

Thanks Maggie

Hi Maggie, thanks for posting your letter for others to use. I've written to all four MPs and the Senator, but haven't gone any further than that as I haven't had the time to draft anything yet.

I agree with Myriad that form letters don't have the same impact and I'll be putting it into my own words, however this is an excellent starting point.


letter writing

Hi All.

Copy of our letter below, which may be of help...

“We are writing to congratulate & thank you for taking the initiative to amend the government’s mandatory detention policy for asylum-seekers, in particular to do-away with prolonged or indefinite detention & the detention of children.

We also wish to commend your character & determination in pursuing this issue, notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s stubborn & wilful insistence on maintaining current policy.

Your stand on this issue marks the re-emergence of values & beliefs that were originally central to the Liberal Party & its traditions, before being casually & carelessly cast aside by today’s party leaders: an act that would be deplored by the Party’s founding members, including Sir Robert Menzies.

The refusal of the Prime Minister to allow this issue to be addressed by Liberal Party MPs as an issue of conscience also flies in the face of another long-standing Liberal tradition & is dictatorial, anti-democratic & anti-Liberal in nature.

Please maintain your resolve to restore moral integrity to the formulation of Party policy: both for its better health & the health of our democracy.

Georgiou gets more friends

Someone called the office of "one of the five" in the Petro Georgiou group this morning - and spoke to a staffer. Seems there are many more than the five mentioned in the press this week. I also think that the number has grown since Senate Estimates this week and the information about DIMIA that has come out. I sent an alert to action "to all and sundry" through the Project SafeCom database this morning. I included the names of other candidates who may be supporting the Georgiou/Moylan initiative if enough people urge them to do so. They are Hon Jackie Kelly, Member for Lindsay; Mr Phil Baressi, Member for Deakin; Mr John Forrest, Member for Mallee; Mr Patrick Secker, Member for Barker; Mrs Kay Hull, Member for Riverina; and Mr Greg Hunt, Member for Flinders. Margo Kingston on Web Diary, suggests also: "I reckon NSW MPs Danna Vale, Malcolm Turnbull and Pat Farmer and WA MP Dr Mal Washer might be consulting their consciences too, so if you live in Hughes, Wentworth, Macarthur or Moore how about asking them for their thinking on the matter." Project SafeCom, Narrogin WA "....proudly undermining human rights abusers since September 2001"

Good stuff Jack

Hey Jack, that's really pleasing to hear and very encouraging. More letters on the way.

Danna Vale? I'm shocked and surprised but hopeful.

Order to Chaos to Wisdom

'Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last fish has been caught, only after the last river has been poisoned, only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten.'
- Cree Saying

'Journalists,' George Bernard Shaw once said, 'are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization.'

There are not many individuals in the world who have the gift of giving the voice to the powerless. The testimony of the power to the powerless resides with characters like Vaclav Havel who risked it all in order to bring chaos into the sad Czechoslovakian regime by spreading the word about the Charter 77. While the degree of powerlessness is on a different scale the Charter drafted by John Hatton in 1992 proved that the wheel of democracy needs to be oiled regularly. No democratic society is immune from getting so rusty as to cause everyone to give up and live in apathy. As they say anyone can survive adversity. If you want to see the real character of individuals or political party give them absolute power!

As Solomon Burke sang in his Grammy winning CD, Don't Give Up on Me – “None of us are free, if one of us is chained, none of us are free.

Thanks Jack

Thanks for this information Jack! Phil Barresi is my MP and I have just sent off an email to him to urge him to support the bill. Next on the list will be to get on to friends/family also in the electorate of Deakin, to do the same.

give us a direction

Give us a direction, if you want to be a leader.

I read your posts. I agree with a lot.

I also just see words. Words that don't mean anything to the average Australian.

You wanna Lead? Give me more than just words, cos Words are cheap!

Where is Margo K these

Where is Margo K these days?