Gaza explosions expose Australian faultlines

Mar 18, 2024
Parliament House from Red Hill

Since the Hamas atrocities of October 7, through the following months of disproportionate and incomprehensible Israeli vengeance wreaked upon the Palestinian people, the seismic waves from Gaza have been felt near the surface of Australian democracy itself.

Reputedly we live in a robust democracy but the current situation in the Middle East has exposed fissures in our system.

How do we the people, get out voices heard? Representative democracy doesn’t always solve that problem; articulate people want more. The rise of the Teals with their message of participatory democracy through listening to citizens’ concerns and setting responsive agendas should have been a sign that changes needed to be made.

It is clear for those who have wanted for months to be heard and helplessly watched the escalation of the genocide that:

1. No mechanism exists whereby we, the people, can force our government into a full debate about key issues such as a ceasefire or the recognition of the Palestinian State. No matter how big a demonstration or a petition, there is no onus on the government to address any subject. The Victorian parliament last year passed a requirement for a 30-minute debate if triggered by a 10,000-signature e-petition, fewer if a paper one. It’s a snail’s start.

2. The MSM has been closed to advocates of a ceasefire. Every week thousands upon thousands of pro-Palestinian citizens march through city streets with no media coverage, simply ignored, not even a mention of the uplifting contingents of Jewish demonstrators marching against the genocide

3. The influence of the Zionist lobby hides in the shadows so that we, the citizens, cannot know how far their influence reaches.We do know that many politicians and journalist have been on free ‘fact finding’ trips to Israel but it is only when people have searched it out that that information is revealed. There is a requirement for lobbyists to be registered but not so for less formal determined ideology-based groups.

4. Except for the games on the floor of Parliaments, no politician has to account for any decision in this time of bloodshed. Case in point is NSW Premier Shoot -From- The -Hip deciding in a presumably Napoleonic fashion that the sails of the Opera house would be lit in Israeli colours at a cost to the taxpayer of up to $100,000.

5. What democracy is it when free speech cannot be automatically guaranteed? We have witnessed the pile on about Palestinian writers appearing at the Adelaide Writers Festival and the brouhaha when actors at the Sydney Theatre Company AFTER their performance chose to wear the Keffiyeh on stage. This week it is alleged the Palestinian band, 47 Soul, were not booked at WOMADelaide because of ‘safety concerns’; Ziggy Marley a supporter of Israel and the IDF nonetheless performed despite planned protests. Unsurprisingly when an internet group lobbying for Israel was exposed, an immediate proposal for anti-doxing laws came from the government. Presumably it will also protect those doctors pleading on behalf of Gaza who have been stalked by Zionist adherents.

6. Last week a group of lawyers wrote to the ICC attempting to bring the PM and other senior members of government before that Court for complicity in the Gaza genocide. Their 92-page attempt will flounder for a number of reasons including the need for the Attorney General’s fiat. Fat chance. Draft legislation to amend this barrier has fat chance too.

7. Many citizens see problems with our coat-tailing the USA. How about some way where we can find out what, if any, role Pine Gap is playing to help rain down hell on Gaza? By the same token how do we find out (except perhaps in some distant future answer to an FOI request) what any of our troops are doing in the Middle East on the edge of the conflict. We are not at war so why is this a secret? Toadying to the USA?

8. Senator Wong says we do not supply arms to Israel. Senator Shoebridge says DFAT itself has published that $10 million in arms and ammunitions have been sent to Israel in the last 5 years. Where is the truth? Are we contributing to the death of a child every 10 minutes? Is a component of a bomber included in the definition of armaments? In the UK detailed requests for export permits are readily available. Why not here?

The list of tiny democratic tremors grows daily but last week I experienced at its most basic level how the democratic system is failing the oppressed of Gaza.

With a few other elders, we made our way from the north shore to join the 24/7 vigil outside the PM’s electorate office in Marrickville. There was a motley crew indeed sitting in low slung canvas chairs, walking babies in strollers and chatting quietly amongst themselves.

These young Palestinian mothers and babies were the instigators of the vigil and with them were a few older middle-aged men seemingly from the Middle East, a few young people, including one young man who could have been a senior scout sitting chatting while knitting. A couple of other women had like us, come as a mark of solidarity. About 20 in all. Absolutely nothing to fear from this lot of gentle souls with their communal table of water and biscuits and a mishmash of flags and posters

The opportunity for me to make representation to the key decision maker in the country was not to be missed so I decided to speak to the electorate staff. Of course, one does not expect a busy PM to be there.

The iron gates to the entrance to the office were locked – and covered in posters. I managed to slip through the briefly unlocked church driveway next-door. I reached the front door to the Electorate Office; I knocked; I rang the bell. No reply. I peered in. All lights off; no one there; they had abandoned ship. I understand that the PM doesn’t want the optics of walking through a vigil outside his office but his staff? Really? There is a side entrance.

How I thought, do I lodge my protest? A hundred or so metres away is the State electorate office held by another member of the governing party, a Minister no less.

I knocked. Out to lunch. I waited and a young woman finally come to the door. She had no idea how to contact her federal counterparts – 100 metres away and from the same Party!

At this point I swore for which I apologised profusely and pointed out that from experience, this is not how the system is meant to work.

She gave me a landline number for the missing staff. I rang it. It rang out. I returned to the State office; explained to another staffer that the number was not answering and in true Monty Python meets Yes Minister fashion, he prints off a phone number for me. It is the same one.

Frustrated I ring the Canberra Parliament House switch; ask for the PM’s office. I get the robot voice; I choose a robot’s option and another robot answers. At this point I give up. This was a losing battle to have my voice heard in the democratic process. This experience counts for nothing in the scale of things.

The bigger issue – the remoteness of the democratic system where between elections all but the truly influential are mere spectators, needs to be addressed.

Right now, for example, there is no mechanism to stop any Australian Government from taking us into another foolish war. They can’t even be made to debate that on the floor of Parliament itself.

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