Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Australia est 1788?

Unfortunately it is a common misconception that Australia was founded on 26 January 1788. This is simply the day the British Colonial forces arrived, beginning a brutal occupation of discrimination and dispossession against Aboriginal people based on the notion of 'terra nullius' - that the land belonged to nobody - which was declared false by the High Court in 1992. The negative effects of this are still devastating Indigenous people today. On 'Australia Day', I'll be standing in solidarity with my Aboriginal brothers and sisters to recognise Survival Day, and continue to work towards true healing and Reconciliation. 

And for the record, the real 'Australia Day' is 3 December 1854, when the nation's ancestors fought for democracy against the British authorities and ultimately won. We will honour their legacy when we fulfill our promise to become a proud, independent Republic. 

Aldi has made the right decision in ceasing the sale of these t-shirts. 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/08/aldi-takes-tshirts-off-shelves 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Difficult circumstances or not PM, torture is never acceptable

She’s probably no more than about eighteen years of age. She’s lying peacefully on the ground.

No, it’s not a teenager sitting outside watching planes fly past or the sun going down.

It’s a girl with blood streaming down her face. Her have been clothes ripped off. She’s blindfolded.

She’s just been raped. Beaten. Murdered. A life full of potential, lost. Just another figure in what the United Nations estimates is between 80-100,000 people killed during Sri Lanka’s 27-year civil war that ended in 2009.

YouTube is filled with chilling amateur footage of war crimes allegedly committed by both sides of the Sri Lankan conflict, the Rajapaksa-led government and the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The debate will forever rage on about the details of what happened during the fighting in Sri Lanka. What all of us can at least agree on is that the use of torture is despicable and pressure should be placed on any government or organisation practicing torture to cease immediately. One would think.

When recently questioned by journalists in Colombo about allegations of torture in Sri Lanka, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott initially said that his government deplores the use of torture. Fair enough. But he then went on to say, and I quote, “but we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen.” I had to listen to it again twice to ensure I’d heard it correctly. Had the Prime Minister seriously just implicitly defended the use of torture by the Sri Lankan government, which he sees as a strategic partner in his efforts to ‘stop the boats’?

Yes he had. I was stunned. Then I was infuriated, that this man claimed to be speaking on behalf of Australians, the vast majority of whom abhor torture. Indeed, many Australians are former victims of torture and civil war, which is why they fled their homeland. I’m proud to call some of them my close friends. Their stories would make you physically sick. Yet hear was an Australian Prime Minister failing to address such a grave issue with the vigour it requires.

Perhaps this didn’t surprise me. Mr Abbott was a minister during the Conservative Howard regime that actively supported the illegal Bush-Cheney invasion into Iraq, which has costed an immeasurable number of lives and well over a trillion dollars.

Mr Abbott also appears to be at odds with the 1994 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Australia is signatory. It states that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

This is a stark reminder of why human rights should never, ever be subordinate to the domestic political games of any country. At its most extreme, this has led to genocide, as demonstrated in Rwanda and Nazi Germany. Human rights protection must be central to all government policy. Ending mass human suffering and promoting a common humanity is the collective duty of every human being.

Here’s hoping that next time, Mr Abbott will show leadership on the subject, just as his Conservative counterpart David Cameron of the UK did during the recent CHOGM, where he used his influence to shine a light on the issue and call for an international investigation, a sentiment I wholeheartedly support.

And importantly Tony Abbott, please don’t ever, ever again in your capacity as an Australian political representative defend the use of torture, implicitly or directly. We are a much better country than that, and instances that the one I described above are never acceptable.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Calling for action against Camp Ashraf atrocities

I’d never personally known someone who was seriously contemplating a hunger strike, let alone actually partake in one. Until now, that is. And it wasn't just someone I knew, it was a close friend, someone who I consider family.

Jahangir Hosseini is one of the most brave and honourable people I know. A former trade union leader who escaped from Iran during the reign of the late oppressive dictator Ayatollah Khomeini, he has continued his tireless struggle for peace, justice and dignity.

Jahangir is on the right (Photo credit to SBS Persian Program)

He is now on day 15 of a hunger strike outside the Department of Foreign Affairs’ office in Melbourne. I went to visit him over the weekend and was instantly shocked by how physically frail he looked. While his body was noticeably weaker, his mind, heart and resolve were infinitely stronger. Then again, this is a man who would die for the cause he believes in.

The reason for his hunger strike is to call for action by the Australian Government against horrific crimes committed by Maliki’s forces against Camp Ashraf residents in Iraq. As I have written before, these residents are members of the Iranian resistance movement led by Maryam Rajavi, and constantly suffer persecution at the hands of the authorities.

Most recently on the 1st of September, thugs stormed Camp Ashraf, killing 52 residents in cold blood and abducting seven, including six women. Amnesty International, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the Vice President of the European Parliament Alejo Vidal-Quadras and other parliamentary representatives from around the world have condemned the brutal killings.

All these who believe in a common humanity and basic decency need to stand shoulder to shoulder with those such as Jahangir who are giving their life to the cause of democracy and freedom in Iran. I will continue to do so for as long as I’m alive.

_________________________________________________________________________________

You can assist the campaign by emailing Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

If you would like to get in touch with Jahangir, please contact me directly.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The extreme-right's vision for a less compassionate, more unequal Australia

The Institute of Public Affairs, the right-wing teabagger ‘think tank’ that graces us with its presence, has come up with a set of ‘Radical Agenda Items’ to ‘transform Australia’. These make perfect sense from the perspective of the parallel universe of tooth fairies and unicorns in which the IPA operates. However, the reality is that some of these ideas are simply wacko, and I’ll henceforth dissect the most bizarre ones, tongue-in-cheek of course.

#1 Repeal the carbon tax; #3 Abolish the Clean Energy Fund; #6 Repeal the renewable energy target; #10 Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol

The notion of human-induced climate change is a left-wing conspiracy by around 95% of the world’s scientists to deindustrialise the Western world, so absolutely nothing needs to be done about it. Basic economic theories such as negative externalities are just a myth. Rather, we should continue pumping toxic fossil fuels into our atmosphere at unsustainable rates with no regard to the welfare of future generations, because that’s the common sense thing to do. Usually I wouldn’t want to take a risk with the future of our planet, but I’ll be damned if I allow peer-reviewed scientific facts to get in the way of my ideology.

#5 Abandon Australia's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council

Too late on that one amigos, we’ve already won a seat on the Council, which so happens to be the most important decision-making committee within the world’s foremost multilateral institution, dealing with matters of international peace and security. Now Australia can play a key role in establishing a true One World Government, just as Orwell would have wanted. Goodness help us all.

#9 Abolish the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

Consumers should not be protected from uncompetitive practices. The altruism of large, often foreign-owned, corporations is enough to ensure a fair go for Australian consumers and small businesses. I totally don’t mind corporations potentially forming monopolies, but no way will I allow a statutory body of a democratically-elected parliament protect the citizens’ best interests.


#19 Abandon the paid parental leave scheme

Measures to increase productivity (you know, the thing that leads to more economic growth and prosperity) and allow parents with newborn children to look after them (unless it’s a super-baby that can nurture itself) should be gotten rid of forever. This is an example of Socialist social-engineering masquerading as ‘pro-family policy’ and should be stopped.

#20 Means-test Medicare

Universal medical care shouldn't be available to all, no. That would be evil socialism, which is what that North Korean guy with a funny-looking haircut believes in.

#23 End mandatory disclosures on political donations

Measures to minimise corruption and ensure accountability by our political leaders? Nahhhh. All good mate. Major corporations such as mining and tobacco companies, very nobly, only have the long-term interest and wellbeing of the Australian people at heart, despite never being elected by anyone, so there’s no need for us mere commoners to be aware of who is lobbying our politicians. I know that for a fact – their public relations officer told me, while they handed me many thousands of dollars to do their bidding (but don’t tell anyone, it’s our little secret).

#26 Remove anti-dumping laws

We should allow unfair trade practices to harm Australian industries, destroy true competition and create an uneven playing field. That would be completely in the spirit of the free market.

#29 Eliminate the National Preventative Health Agency

Preventing serious illnesses before they happen? That would be infringing on the civil liberties of the illnesses, so they should be allowed to occur no matter the damage they cause to people. Tackling obesity, reducing smoking rates and discouraging harmful alcohol abuse are stupid ideas anyway.

#52 Reduce the size of the public service from current levels of more than 260,000 to at least the 2001 low of 212,784

Well, the thought of sacking around 50,000 people actually gets me pretty excited. Said no one ever. Unless you work for the IPA.

#53 Repeal the Fair Work Act

Orwellian-named, any legislation to ensure that Australians are treated fairly (cringe, there’s awful that word again) at work is detrimental to a free society. Workers are just objects to be controlled; they don’t need a decent wage, penalty rates or a safe place to work. They are robots with no emotion, so why support them in any way? I mean, who do these people think they are, that they have the gall to demand decent treatment? Why start a class war, they should already know their place in society! As multi-billionaire Gina Rinehart says, there are Africans willing to work for only a few dollars a day, so we are actually being more moral than we need to be. Too much morality is a bad thing for humanity.

#62 End all public subsidies to sport and the arts; 63 Privatise the Australian Institute of Sport

No, funding for arts programs, which celebrate our identity, enrich our culture and unite us, is an infringement on my civil liberties and I demand it be stopped! Australians don’t care much for sport either, or the health and wellbeing benefits it brings to society. We don’t really care about winning The Ashes and winning a gold medal at the Olympics is totally overrated. The free market says so.

#69 Immediately halt construction of the National Broadband Network and privatise any sections that have already been built

Nation-building projects such as superfast broadband systems are not the role of governments. Australian businesses shouldn't have strong infrastructural foundations on which to compete in the global market, and people in regional areas should have to suffer the tyranny of distance when accessing basic services such as healthcare and education, being the second-class citizens they are.
An internet system run by hamsters in wheels would suit us just fine; then again, it is the 20th Century isn't it? With the ACCC abolished, service providers would be free to establish a monopoly and charge us well above a fair, market rate, so screw the little guy.

#70 End all government funded Nanny State advertising

All those Nanny State advertisements, particularly those that promote Occupational Health and Safety to prevent long-term injuries, encourage people to stop smoking to ensure longer, happier and healthier lives, and those aimed at reducing the road death toll by warning people about the dangers of speeding and drink-driving should all be removed. I don’t need some evil Government Operative in a white suit and a clipboard creating propaganda to control my life. If I want to drive while drunk and possibly cause serious damage, even death, to another person, then that’s my fundamental right and shouldn't be discouraged from doing so.

#72 Privatise the CSIRO

Encouraging Australian scientific excellence in key areas such as agriculture, water, environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and health and wellbeing is just plain stupid. I don’t see any public benefit in that at all, whatsoever. Enough said.

#73 Defund Harmony Day

Social cohesion is overrated. Efforts to promote trust and understanding among people of different faiths and cultures – so that we can all live in harmony and respect – should be stopped. Rather, instances such as the Cronulla Riots and racism on public transport are simply signs of a free and equal people demonstrating their liberties and participating in civic life. How dare the government try to make us all get along and be friends. If I want to raise my kids to be hateful, intolerant racists then I will very well do so!

#74 Close the Office for Youth

Young people are unimportant. They are lazy, apathetic and shouldn’t be invested in. Who cares if youth want to start annoying initiatives such as ones aimed at fostering Reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, ending homelessness and assisting fellow young people with mental health issues? It’s just all a waste of public money and society reaps no benefits from young people taking charge of their own destiny.

 ...

Well well well. Talk about a positive, visionary plan for Australia’s future peace, prosperity and social cohesion in a rapidly changing world. A staggering 41 ideas – over half the total – in this anarcho-capitalist rant begin with either one of the following words: repeal; end; abandon; abolish; eliminate; cease; close; reject; defund; halt; slash or force. Good to see they learnt how to use a thesaurus during their education. Credit is thus due to Australia’s longstanding policy to provide free, universal education to our young people, which is without doubt one of the great legacies of our Communist, class-warrior ancestors.

These ideas certainly are transformational, it you wish for Australia to become an individualistic, selfish society rather than a caring, compassionate one where the most vulnerable are looked after and everybody gets a good start in life.

Australia doesn't need the IPA’s ‘transformation’ any more than we need greater inequality, civil strife and political unrest. Fortunately the Australian people are balanced, fair-thinking and sincere, so the IPA’s Flat Earth ideas won’t ever become public policy. Thank goodness for Socialist social-engineering.


I do think, however, that Australia needs teabaggers like the IPA. As the saying goes, ‘a laugh a day keeps the doctor away’. The IPA’s foot-stomping and thumb-sucking whenever they think the big bad government boogyman is out to get them is indeed good comic relief in this draconian Nanny State we live in.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Australia's lost generation

I’ll never forget the first time I met the kids I’d be working with over the next month in Kununurra, Western Australia. Like children everywhere, they were energetic, playful, had radiant smiles and of course, they had a good dose of cheekiness. 

I’ll never forget when they got their little hands on packets of salt water from a first aid kit and started squirting me with it. I’ll never forget their laughs when I used to make the car bounce when driving them home.

I’ll never forget playing football and basketball with them, or even having to chase them for the ball when it was time to pack up but they didn’t want to finish. I’ll never forget when we caught a fresh barramundi in the same river where my brother Peter traditionally welcomed me to Miriuwung Gajerrong country.

I’ll never forget the woman in the middle of the road who pleaded for me to stop. When I did, I saw that she had blood pouring down her face. She pointed to a man walking away with a pram, saying that he had bashed her and taken her baby. She begged for help, so I called the police. This was particularly confronting for me, since I’ve witnessed my own mum getting bashed up repeatedly by one of her former boyfriends when I was about 13 years old.

Jermaine with his fish!
This trip was the result of a desire to spend some time with Indigenous young people my own age so that I could learn about their culture and hear their stories. Perhaps it was due to frustration that my school years had never seriously considered Indigenous history, language or culture, a continued widespread deficiency with the Australian education system. These memories of my trip have been searing at me ever since, and it is only recently that I’ve worked up the courage to write about it.

Identity is central to who we are. Indeed, it is who we are. It forms our heart and soul. It should be a source of pride. Perhaps most heartbreaking is the sense that these children have had their identity ripped away from them, the main vestige of our existence as human beings. They are torn between their cultural roots – a trait for which they continue to suffer evils such as racism, on top of the many years of injustice – and a desire to fit in to the ‘mainstream’. I found myself constantly telling them to be proud of who they are and to cherish it. Their identity belongs to them and them only. Australians should rightly be proud of the contributions that Aboriginal people have made to this great land for over 40,000 years, particularly in recent times through sports, the Arts and community service.

However their situation is very much unlike that for most other children. Beneath the smiles, the brutal reality of the circumstances they face would put even hell to shame. In some areas of the Kimberleys, almost two-thirds of girls have been sexually abused before they turn 12, with instances of pack rape highly prevalent. I remember meeting primary school-aged kids who were drug and alcohol affected.

I’m not usually lost for words; rather, I generally find it hard to stop talking. However, no words can describe how amazing it is that a group of people that has suffered dispossession and discrimination for many years can still remain strong and proud to this day.

My man Peter.
An Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report in 1997, Bringing them Home, suggests that the treatment of indigenous Australian children by both State and Church agencies throughout 20th century falls within the terms of the United Nations definition of genocide. The definition in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide includes 'forcibly transferring children of the group to another group' committed 'with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such'.

From the moment I stepped onto the plane to return to my seemingly perfect life in cosmopolitan Melbourne until this very moment, I haven’t been sure what to feel about my experience. Angry? Anger has never solved anything. Ashamed? Perhaps, but there’s no point being ashamed if something doesn’t lead to action to rectify it. Determined? You bet.

Until Australia wakes up to its own reality and looks outside the bubble that many of us live in, then we will continue to remain a broken nation that’s built upon injustice. It is not a history that can really be celebrated, but rather than ignore it, we should recognise it and continue on the path of healing. This isn’t starting a ‘history war’, this isn’t ‘Left vs Right politics’; this is healing through recognition, which in turn leads to respect.

As former Prime Minister Paul Keating said of the British Colonialists in his legendary Redfern Speech: ‘their failure to bring much more than devastation and demoralisation to Aboriginal Australia continues to be our failure’. He then went on to say ‘Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless'. Given the example of the way star footballer Adam Goodes was treated recently, it's evident that racism and prejudice still exist in society today.

For many of us, we will rightly wake up tomorrow surrounded by family and friends, beautiful cafes and safe streets. For the children in Kununurra, tomorrow will be yet another day in the vicious cycle of destruction that is fast spiralling out of control. And another generation will be lost. The foundations of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence are understanding and respect. Australia’s heart and soul will remain torn until we heal the injustices of the past. While we can’t change the past, we can certainly shape the future for the better. With young people central to the cause,
 Australia can and must achieve true Reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

I’ll conclude by contradicting the title of this piece. When any Kimberley kid – or indeed any kid – loses their chance for a life of peace and happiness, and instead every day becomes a horrid struggle for survival, then it is not just Australia’s loss, it is a loss to all of humanity.


The kids drawing in the library.


*I would like to thank Nicolas Rothwell for his eye-opening article on the social issues faced by young people in the Kimberleys. It can be read here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/living-hard-dying-young-in-the-kimberley/story-fn59niix-1226046773687

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2000 examples that young people can improve the world

The Harvard World Model United Nations is an annual gathering of around 2,000 students from all over the world. This year in early March, it came to Australia for the first time and as expected, the truly exceptional city of Melbourne had a touching impact on all participants.

As Peruvian delegate Maria José Pinto – who won a Diplomacy Award in the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee representing Mexico – opines: ‘this was the perfect opportunity to show the world that the generation that is meant to shine in the future, is working to have a better present. It also gives you another perspective of life and the world, inspiring you and making you realize that there is more than you thought, redirecting your objectives to something that might make a difference one day’.

Pictured left: Maria with her Diplomacy Award
Having been involved in youth advocacy and activism for a number of years, I’ve seen first-hand the patronising opinions of many towards young people. They are immature, incapable, inexperienced…you name it, I’ve heard it. And yet, we proved them wrong. Big time.

I had the pleasure to co-Chair the Disarmament and International Security Committee, alongside my friends Damon Meng, Cara de Vidts, Jonathon Hausler and Alek Hillas. This role of this Committee in real life is to deal with all matters that impact world peace. Our Agenda topic was on Foreign Military Bases - a matter that’s controversial at the best of times. After days of vigorous debate, witty banter, painstaking negotiations and even an all-out Harlem Shake, a substantive international framework was agreed to by a vast majority of voting States.

Other Committees dealt with pertinent world issues such as the situation in Libya, exploitation of migrant workers, mental health in regions of conflict, the fate of endangered languages and the Millennium Development Goals. These are keynote issues which young people managed to find real solutions to in just a week of deliberations, through a mix of idealism and pragmatism and a touch of pure common sense.

I am yet to be presented with a single example of environmental degradation, mass poverty or war that was started or perpetuated by youth. Nevertheless, it is young people who always suffer disproportionately the most in situations of humanitarian disaster. One just needs to look around and witness the plethora of social initiatives that are being driven by young people. Indeed, this very journal is one such case. Once the potential that youth have to offer is unleashed, then anything is possible.

German representative and DISEC Diplomacy Award winner Lucas Hornung, who represented the Democratic Republic of Congo, summarises it well: ‘It is safe to say, that the WorldMUN in Melbourne has touched the way of thinking of its almost 2000 young participants. The Conference has inspired me to the maximum and the amazing delegates with whom I had the pleasure to work with give me hope, that the sustainable solution for ongoing conflicts might not be as far away as we think’.

I trust that the Harvard World MUN will continue for many years to come, so that many more can experience a week of thrilling adventures. When young people work together to solve the issues that we face, we can achieve a world free of discrimination, war and poverty. The motto of this year’s Conference was ‘Reinvent Your World’, which was explained in a powerful and emotional closing ceremony address by Conference President Siamak Loni, whose family was forced to flee Iran due to the incessant brutality of its ruling despots. We were inspired to not only imagine a better world, but to make it happen.

The simple fact is this. Young people will not be silenced. We are the solution, not the problem. We are not just the future, but the here and now. As a social sciences student, we learnt to provide examples and evidence. Well, I have 2000 real-life examples to prove it, and ‘Reinvent Our World’ we shall!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yet more attacks on Iranian political refugees


Iranian political refugees in Iraq have yet again been subject to despicable human rights abuse. On the 9th of February at around 5:45am, mortars and missiles were launched at Camp Liberty, a former US military base now housing the refugees, leaving seven dead and around a hundred more seriously injured. This attack was coordinated by the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime in Tehran and the Western-backed Maliki government in Baghdad. 

These crimes were strongly condemned by senior political and diplomatic figures around the world. They were not the first against these refugees, with previous attacks occurring at their former residence in Camp Ashraf. The most notable of these was during April 2011 when Iraqi forces stormed into the camp and killed dozens, with hundreds injured.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, described the attack as a ‘despicable act of violence’ and Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme, said that ‘the attack against Camp Liberty is a despicable crime.’

Martin Kobler, the UN’s Special Representative to Iraq, not only failed to condemn the attacks, but was the key figure behind the transfer of the over 3000 refugees from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, which is about 80 times smaller. Retired US Colonel Wes Martin has described Camp Liberty as an ‘extermination camp waiting to happen’. The sick twist in the tale is that the Iraqi commander that was in charge of the brutal 2011 attacks was given responsibility for the security of residents at Camp Liberty.

Reflecting how broad the support for the Iranian resistance movement is, leading American Conservative Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City Mayor and Republican Presidential Candidate said that ‘they are our only hope that within our generation we can see an Iran that lives up to the wonderful Persian culture and lives up the incredible accomplishments that these people have had. These are enormously talented, cultured, civilized and educated people.’

Even George Bush’s former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton stated that 'If there were ever a group of people who could demonstrate the original wording of the statute of ’a well-founded fear of persecution’ it is obviously the residents of Camp Liberty.’

Memorial for those murdered in the cold-blooded attacks.
Last Thursday I had the pleasure of joining my good friend Nosrat Hosseini and other members of the Iranian-Australian community to speak at a peaceful demonstration outside the Consulate-General of the United States in Melbourne. We were calling on the United States and United Nations to actually defend the human rights of Camp Liberty residents and ensure humanitarian access to them, facilitate their return to Camp Ashraf, launch an inquiry into the attacks, prosecute those responsible and immediately reprimand and sack Martin Kobler for his gross incompetence and complicity.

In June this year, Iran will hold a presidential election. Just like their Arab brothers and sisters have so valiantly done, the people will rise up against the tyrannical political system they face and fight for freedom and dignity. The international community must support them every step of the way.



For further details and a background to the issue, here is an article written by Struan Stevenson – a Conservative MEP for Scotland and president of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with Iraq: http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/article/3080/camp-liberty-attack-a-symbol-of-basket-case-iraq#ixzz2KeZN8MAg 

The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom’s website also has details: http://www.iran-freedom.org/