I had applied for a meeting with Bob Carr (Foreign Minister) prior to the community cabinet meeting last Wednesday (14 November) in my suburb of Kippa-Ring, to raise questions about West Papua, Afghanistan and Palestine. Just my luck that he was in Perth meeting Hilary Clinton and Leon Panetta. So I practised my question for Julia Gillard, refining and refining it. Friends stood on the main road outside Hercules Rd. Primary School, vigiling in opposition to the war and in support of the Afghani people and Julian Assange. I have lived in this area for 20 years and my first opportunity to bring national politics to Redcliffe. Not having been to a community cabinet meeting before I took a seat off to the side as seats nearest to the stage were already taken. The community reception was not as I expected. There was no sign of the cabinet members apart from Joe Ludwig. I had hoped to have had an opportunity to collar Julia Gillard.
Cabinet ministers then appeared from behind a black curtain. The hour set aside to the ‘forum’ soon shrank. Once the welcome to country, school principal’s address, a few words from the local member and then Julia Gillard were completed there remained just 30 minutes. Gillard started taking questions from my side of the audience. I missed out to a woman behind me for first one and thereafter Gillard did not come back to near me. She answered a total of 12 questions. What was frustrating that most of them were on state issues so cabinet members were simply lining up to take a free kick at Campbell Newman. There were others on live exports, fishing and one older person asked for the bips to be re-introduced to national phone calls. One fellow wanted more government support for his firm that was developing a new super firearm for fear that we could lose this wonderful piece of ‘intellectual’ property overseas.
I was feeling more impassioned as time went on but my opportunity did not arrive. It was tightly choreographed exercise and security stood in position as cabinet members disappeared around the curtain and gone. Did they know my identity, was the process rigged or was I just plain unlucky? Do I yell out a question about Afghanistan and be ignored from the podium as the Gillard signs off and leaves the stage. Caught between thoughts and wishing there was somebody beside me to help make a decision. The 400 strong audience looked decidedly unsympathetic and besotted by the show. And me sitting behind the school principal of my daughters’ old primary school. Indecision? Apprehension? Or overcome by politeness? And then the moment lost. I trudged out feeling upset, frustrated and a bit angry with myself. An opportunity missed? Would there be another? So close to power but still out of contact. How smug and arrogant the system appeared.
I met up with the vigilers back at my home which is a short walk from the school. Good to hear that the vigil went well and good to be amongst comrades to share some beers and review. My line manager asked me on the following day if I had been at the community cabinet meeting. I explained that I was and why I was there. There was only a detached expression looking back at me. However I am sure that I am not alone in my frustration regarding the occupation of Afghanistan, in feeling the pain and suffering of its people and that I should have done more, should have taken the opportunity that was there and then gone. But I must move on. Lesson learnt. If you ever find your find yourself at a community cabinet meeting get a central position. Don’t expect you’ll be invited to ask a question. Instead be prepared that you will not and prepare to stand and deliver it anyway.
Sean O’Reilly (21-11-12)