John Pilger: Refugee movement `needs campaign

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Posted by David Chibo from ( on Saturday, February 16, 2002 at 4:49PM :

John Pilger: Refugee movement `needs campaign focussing

By Sarah Stephen

“The challenge facing those in Australia who understand and act upon
urgent issues, such as the treatment of asylum seekers, or the issue of
racism in general, is to draw together a national focus or campaign that
brings direct political pressure on the government”, said John Pilger, in
an interview with Green Left Weekly from his home in London.

Endorsing the call for a royal commission into Australia’s treatment of refugees,
Pilger argued that even the Howard government is vulnerable to public opinion
and pressure.

“There is a combustion in Australian politics when there are enough people who
care about an issue taking action”, said Pilger, pointing to the examples of
opposition to French nuclear testing.

“It would be a useful thing to have something which provides a focus similar to
that of Ronald Wilson’s Human Rights Commission report [on the stolen
generations], Bringing Them Home — useful in focusing attention on an issue.”

Pilger endorsed the idea of a series of “people’s inquiries” to explore and
uncover some of the lies and distortions perpetrated by the government, helping
to build momentum for such a royal commission. “Bertrand Russell’s people’s
inquiry, around the time of the Vietnam War, while it was ignored by the
mainstream at the time, informed a lot of people.”

On his thoughts on the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, he said:
“Looking at it from outside Australia, the treatment beggars belief. It’s bad
enough in Britain. The same principle of oppression applies here, but there are
degrees! Not only is it a disaster for asylum seekers, but combined with the
treatment of Aboriginal people, Australian politicians have continued to destroy
the country’s international reputation.

“Before the ‘60s, Australia’s name was mud in the United Nations. The
decolonisation committee, for example, regarded Australia in the same vein as
South Africa. It is not the same today, but it’s getting there. Consider this: the
`heroic’ SAS are now being sent to Afghanistan. Their last activity was boarding
leaky boats full of asylum seekers, and before that they were training Indonesia’s
elite Kopassus troops.”

Pilger explained that he has always felt a gap between Australian people “doing
the right thing” in a way that doesn’t challenge government policy and the need to
take direct political action that confronts the legitimacy of policies which lead to

“Especially in relation to the Aboriginal struggle, I feel that white Australia cannot
simply stage feel-good demonstrations, however admirable, like the [Sydney
harbour] bridge walk. They can’t just plant a sea of hands all over the country,
sign sorry books. It has to go further, and that’s what is missing — taking direct
political action and bringing real force to bear on Canberra.”

Citing the example of Canberra’s sending of troops to defend the East Timorese
people from the massacres organised by the Indonesian occupation army after
the September 1999 independence referendum, Pilger argued: “There was only
action — finally — on [sending troops to] East Timor because there was mass
direct action in Australia.”

[This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly, December 12, 2001.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page]

-- David Chibo
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