leaflet bout Canberra demo

JEFF SPARROW jeffs at werple.net.au
Wed Aug 21 11:08:21 MDT 1996

For those who are interested, what follows is the (badly typed) text of =
a leaflet my=20
organisation has rushed out about the events in Canberra.

Jeff (un-Australian and proud of it) Sparrow

Howard's chooks come home to roost.

On Monday the 19th of August, around 1000 people crashed through police =
lines and stormed Parliament House in Canberra.
The very least we can say about the storming of Parliament is that it is =
a case of John Howard' chickens coming home to roost.=20
The Federal Government has cut the ATSIC budget by $100 million a year. =
ATSIC commissioners have pointed out that this will mean fewer jobs, =
more social dislocation, more arrests, and thus more deaths in custody. =
Cuts to state grants mean cuts to hospitals, which mean more deaths. =
Working class high school students have seen Howard's cuts to education =
slam the door on their attempts to get ahead.=20
With all this at stake, why should we be surprised at tempers flaring? =
Why should we regret that Parliament House, the "symbol of democracy" =
which houses those that legislate the cuts, is seen as a legitimate =
target for the anger of people with very little to lose? Why should we =
be dismayed that, when a government treats people like dogs, they bite =
An Aboriginal person dies in custody every month, and the media quietly =
"tut tut," Australian troops participated in the mass slaughter of the =
Gulf War in 1991, and we were told to be proud. Mounted, baton wielding =
police attacked the picket line at ACI in Melbourne last week, and the =
Age justified it on the basis that coffee was alleged thrown at the =
But when a thousand people vent their anger on the centre of political =
power in Australia, all of a sudden this violence is declared to be =
"unAustralian", and the press screams that all those responsible should =
be rounded up and arrested.
This hypocritical line is meant to cover up the fact that the damage =
done in human and physical terms on Monday is a tiny drop compared to =
the ocean of trashed lives that Howard's attacks are set to create. =
Don't believe the hype - the man who is set to unleash the most violence =
on ordinary people in Australia is not some Aboriginal BLF Trotskyist =
troublemaker of Herald-Sun fame, but John Howard himself.
Doesn't violence cost public support?
We have to be clear that passive "public support", while welcome, =
achieves precisely nothing. It isn't hard to see this: according to =
opinion polls, a clear majority of people oppose privatising Telstra, =
digging up more uranium, attacks on working conditions and cuts to =
higher education.
Nevertheless, the Liberals are intent on pushing all these things =
through - precisely because they govern not in the interests of "the =
public" (most of whom are workers) but the few who make large profits. =
And despite "public opinion", the opposition parties in the Senate are =
only talking of a few (mostly minor) amendments, not outright rejection, =
of these measures.
Our side has two weapons enormously more powerful than "public opinion". =
The first is the strike. A lot of Howard's attacks are meant to benefit =
business. By stopping or disrupting the flow of profits, strikes can =
convince these bosses that Howard's attacks will cost them money, rather =
than leave them better off.
The second weapon our side has is the ability to cause political crisis =
and instability. One of the reasons that bosses like doing business in =
Australia is the political stability of the place. No riots through the =
middle of town, no destruction of expensive property, no mobs of angry =
people disrupting the smooth functioning of the system by kicking in =
doors or trashing shareholders' meetings. By puncturing this 'business =
as usual', our side can make the bosses worry that this happy =
arrangement is coming to an end.
The combination of both strikes and street militancy can be enormously =
powerful. In France last year, such a movement forced the Chirac =
Government to major retreats on a range of cuts. And if Monday's scenes =
can be built on rather than squashed, we can hope to do the same here.
The outcome of Monday's storming of Parliament is yet to be seen. If it =
is a one-off act, not repeated then Howard will no doubt tough it out - =
with the help of Ray Martin, the Herald-Sun, and an apologetic Jenny =
George. However, if such scenes are repeated at future protests, =
especially in a climate of rising industrial action, they can play a =
role in convincing Howard and his well-heeled supporters that things are =
getting out of hand and they should back down.
Which of these things happens is not set in stone. Many people will be =
pulled both by their gut instinct on the side of the demonstrators, and =
the arguments against them offered by Howard, Jenny George and the like.
Whether conservative 'common sense' or militant sentiment triumphs =
depends partly on what sort of argument happens in society. Hence the =
importance of publicly defending the militancy, of puncturing the lies =
and the hypocrisy of Howard and the media, and of arguing to repeat the =
militancy of the Canberra demo in the future.

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