Remembrance Day Response to the Year Democracy Died

I abhor a system that glorifies and spends 60 million AUD a day on militarism. The Australian government continues to increase the percentage of our tax dollars spent on the military.

The US is broke. They can’t pay for their internal infrastructure or for health and education. Even their US Mayors are calling to “Bring the War Dollars Home.”

We must end the war in Afghanistan. We must radically change the nature of the US alliance. Our country is not theirs to militarise. Our country has a proud history of indepedence and sovreignty.

I do not want my children to grow up in a State that is at permanent war — Andy Paine from #occupy Brisbane

Hamish’s Remembrance Speech near (General Douglas  McArthur Chambers in Edward Street during Occupy Bris 12 Nov 2011

It was Remembrance Day 1977.

On the eve of the Queensland state election in 1977, 198 people were arrested by police in the valley of death. Three proposals to march against the ban on political marches were put to 2,500 people on the steps of King George Square.

Three times we marched. Once to the steps, then to the corner of queen and Albert and then right up to police lines. They numbered over 600.

One of the people arrested that evening was Matt Foley who later became the Attorney General and Minister for Justice in the Goss Labor Government. It was 11 Nov 1977, 34 years ago and Foley and I shared a cell with about 30 others. Only two months before Bjelke-Petersen had declared the ‘day of the political street march was over”.

Foley wrote of those times:

“Brisbane in the 1970s was alive with the politics of social protest and government repression – from the Springbok tour and the campaign to remove the racist Aborigines Act, to the mass arrests of the banned street marches. I was knocked unconscious by a policeman’s baton in a 1974 demonstration and arrested along with hundreds of others in 1977 for ‘taking part in an unlawful procession’ in alleged breach of Traffic Regulation 124(2).”— Griffith REVIEW

The baton incident refers to the eviction of freeway protest committee from the houses occupied in Bowen Hills.

The day he was arrested Labor  Senator George Georges was threatened with dis-endorsement by the Labor Party-in-opposition in 1977 if he spoke at the rally on 11 November 1977. Labor officials did not want Georges style reform in their party. In the watchouse on night of 11 November 1977 Foley argued that we all seek bail, get out of goal and campaign against the re-election of the Bjelke-Petersen government. Foley had moved from occupation of the watchouse cells to reform via the electoral process. I argued that we stay in jail and begin organised resistance against the government — the formation of a united extra-parliamentary opposition.

I lost the vote and the argument. People accepted bail. But we organised a demonstration in King George Square. Another 5 people were arrested inside the square on Election Day. Our speaking equipment was confiscated by police. There was a 10% swing against the government in the metropolitan area. People were sick of Bjelke-Petersen. Yet he stayed in power for another 12 years and sacked SEQEB electricity workers in 1985, virtually introducing industrial conscription in the electricity system when he hired scabs to replace unionists.

A Socialist Left faction was formed inside the Labor Party by Georges and others. Georges reformed the party making it more democratic and changing the way Labor Day was run in May. Labor Day became more inclusive and the Left was welcome to set up stalls in Albert park on May Day each year.

Foley delivered reform in the parliament that he had promised. In 1992, at least part of it, he wrote:

“I got to chair an all-party Parliamentary Committee overseeing a commission to clean up the electoral laws as well as introduce judicial review, freedom of information and (this was particularly sweet) a Peaceful Assembly Act to enshrine a statutory right of peaceful protest. It was a golden age of reform.”

Now in 2011 with Goss and Foley and all the reformers gone the occupy movement in Brisbane have spent the last month on the run from police and city council with our right to assemble under attack. We are not even able to assemble in speaker’s corner in King George Square without being given $500 fines. When we camped in Emma Miller Place we received over $4,000 fines in one night. We were forcibly evicted from Post Office Square and Queens Park. The right to assemble is under attack again by State Government and City Council alike.

Now the former party of reform is against the occupy movement and is seeking re-election. The people are sick of it too. Foley wrote of the ‘good ol days’ thus:

“We were so focused on the blatant civil and political outrages that we overlooked the structural dysfunctions of the Queensland economy, not to mention the police and government corruption right under our noses. This was their joke.”

Yet the ALP had introduced its own economic dysfunction by privatising ports, rail, and electricity. It had also followed economic rationalist agenda by amalgamation of shire councils producing economic hardship in regional Queensland.

Now it is about to be turfed out on its arse as well just as the national party government was so many years ago.

The golden era of reform has gone, an economic crisis begun three years ago is about to hit us hard once again.

Are we going to make the same mistakes over again and be content with reformism? Probably. But I argue against it why not go for broke and make real change? There are risks certainly — but if we were to organise to challenge the system from the outset and not turn back — these risks can be overcome. We should begin by challenging the refusal to allow the occupy movement from challenging real power lies in the big corporations, the banks, the beasts of profit and exploitation.

The Trains

Tunneling through the night, the trains pass
in a splendour of power, with a sound like thunder
shaking the orchards, waking,
the young from a dream, scattering like glass
the old men’s sleep; laying
a black trail over the still bloom of the orchards.
The trains go north with guns.

Strange primitive piece of flesh, a heart laid quiet
hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
recalls the forgotten tiger
and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
and how shall mine be sober,
since blood’s red thread still binds us fast in history?
Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
troubling the children’s sleep; laying
a reeking trail across our dream of orchards.
Racing on iron errands, the trains go by,
and over the white acres of our orchards
hurl their wild summoning cry, their animal cry . . .
the trains go north with guns. — Judith Wright

Ian Curr
12 November 2011

PS This is the speech I tried to give to the occupy movement in Brisbane Square today, it came out slightly different but the same idea is contained in these lines. I made a factual error in Brisbane Square there were 198 people arrested in the valley of death on Remembrance Day 1977. I was thinking of 3 December 1977 when i said that 397 were arrested. The increase in the number of arrested was directly related to the fact that the Trade & Labor council decided after the election that they would throw their lot in with the protesters (after ALP lost the election).

Please comment down below