Paul Barclay, Bob Brown, Patricia Turner, Peter Edwards and Verity Burgmann, 19 November 2019
MAT TRINCA: Well, welcome everyone. Great to see you. Full crowd. Blazing lights. Hope those might go down a little bit, just to save our friends here. Oh, look at that. If only I was listened to in other aspects of the Museum’s practice. Oh, what is — terrible to complain on this great night when we’re joined by guests and our great friends from the ABC for what’s going to be a fascinating panel, I think, tonight, panel discussion.
Can I begin by welcoming everyone and thanking you for joining us tonight. For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Mat Trinca, I'm the Director of the National Museum of Australia.
I want to begin, as always here at the National Museum, by acknowledging that we meet on the lands of the Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, who have been here for a very long time. I offer my respects, my thanks for the continuing welcome we receive from these communities of this place.
As I frequently say here at events at the National Museum, I think it’s one of the great virtues of living in this country, that we live in a place that has such a long human history. For those of us who hail originally from other places — which is a very great many of us — to be mixing our story now with the stories of those people who have been here for countless millennia is a very special thing indeed.
So, I extend that respect that I've offered to the people of this place to all the First Nations of this continent and thank them for the continued welcome that we receive in this country.
This is quite a discussion tonight about how protest and enthusiasm for change, for reform, has played such a part in making Australia. Indeed, we’ll canvas how forms of protest have really evolved and consider how the role of protest has changed in Australian society over the course of at least the recent parts.
History shows us that protest has been a feature of Australian life for a very long time. It ranges, really, across the political spectrum, representing the interests, I think, of people of all walks of life, and from very different parts of a political frame, and representing a series of political views.
We speak often about the defining moment, in this place, the defining moment of Eureka in 1854, the rebellion in Ballarat when gold miners demanded reforms to the system of licensing — mining licence fees there.
Before and after, protest has been a signal part of Australian life. I think of the women’s suffrage movement. The First World War conscription debates. The great protest and political action that has sought justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country, not least the Day of Mourning in 1938 and the 1966 Wave Hill walk-off. And the Razorback truckers’ blockade of 1979. Anyone remember that?
The fight to save the Franklin River, of course. The airline pilots dispute of 1989. And farmers’ rallies in Canberra. So, it has, indeed, been something that’s ranged across a breadth of political view. And the desire to make one’s views known and heard, I think, has been an important feature of Australian life.
So, when, in the National Museum’s Defining Moments in Australian History project — our great project online, and through these sorts of events, such as we’re holding tonight. When we came to consider the role protest and political action has had playing in the life of our nation, we have seen that there are a great many defining moments, if you like, that have some of this spirit in them.
Indeed, our collection, the National Historical Collection, includes key objects from Eureka, the Vietnam War, the Wave Hill walk-off, many other protests, and that, of course, that surrounded the Franklin, the fight for the Franklin. And the latter, thanks greatly to Dr Bob Brown, who’s with us tonight. Thank you, Bob, for returning to this place.
We’re the proud holders of the Bob Brown collection, and I take this opportunity to thank him for the great faith he showed in gifting that collection to the nation, of course with us as its custodians.
So, taking that as our line, and with an expectation of the territory we might roam across tonight, a big welcome to the aforementioned environmentalist, former Australian Greens leader, Dr Bob Brown.
To Pat Turner, a highly experienced policymaker, and current CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.
To Adjunct Professor of Politics, Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Dr Verity Burgmann.
And author and highly acclaimed diplomatic and military historian, Dr Peter Edwards. Welcome to you all and thank you for joining us tonight.
And, of course, a very big welcome to our great friend — I was just talking to him before about how much we missed him when he took six months sabbatical. I thought it was this year, but it was last year — how time flies. Great to see you, Paul, tonight. Paul Barclay, of course, Walkley Award-winning journalist and broadcaster from the Big Ideas program.
It’s an honour to host you all here tonight. And now, over to you, Paul.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, thanks very much, Mat. It’s always great to be back here at the National Museum of Australia, and especially to host the latest instalment in our Defining Moments in Australian History series.
The discussion that I’m about to host is being recorded for Big Ideas on RN. It will appear in the weeks to come — probably, I was just saying to the guests, not until early next year. So keep an ear out for that. You can also follow me on Twitter at Paul Barclay and get an idea of what’s coming up on Big Ideas.
Let me also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet today and pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Australia of today has been shaped by the social and political protests of yesterday. Australian suffragettes marched in the streets for the right to vote for women.
Charlie Perkins and his Freedom riders drew attention to racism and discrimination faced by Indigenous Australians. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens took to the streets to demand an end to conscription and an end to the Vietnam War.
Environmentalists formed a blockade to save the Franklin River in Tasmania. The first gay Mardi Gras marches paved the way for LGBTIQ rights, including, later on, marriage equality. There are so many more examples I could draw on.
Social and political progress rarely occurs without organised campaigning and disruption, without a struggle. Even in this era of online activism, we’re still taking to the streets, Extinction Rebellion protesters using civil disobedience to demand urgent action to tackle the climate change emergency.
Change does not come easy. Many protests fall on deaf ears. In 2003 hundreds of thousands of you marched in the streets of Australia against Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War. These were some of the protests in Australian history. Hundreds of thousands.
Bob was just telling me before that you could look down from the State Library of Victoria, all the way down Swanston Street to Flinders Street Station, and all you could see were people. Ordinary people. Many of them who hadn't marched for years, protesting against Australia’s involvement in that war. Yet, we still went to war.
Tonight’s speakers will cast an eye over our rebellious past and consider the future of popular protest. They've been introduced by Mat but, perhaps, I should just present the order of our speakers. We have Verity, from left to right, Burgmann, Bob Brown, Pat Anderson, and at the end, Peter Edwards. Oh, sorry, Pat Turner. Excuse me, Pat, I'm terribly sorry. Please make them welcome.
Bob, you've protested so many times. You’ve been arrested several times, thrown in jail. I thought I’d begin by asking you what’s the most memorable protest that you've attended and been a part of?
BOB BROWN: If I can crib one or two. One was I was in the Styx Forest, the tallest flowering trees, on earth, just yesterday with environment prize-winners for our foundation in central Tasmania and it took 4000 people — we thought hundreds would turn up to a Wilderness Society protest there in 2004, with snow on the ground in the morning. Instead of that, 4000 people turned up in the most remote environmental protest of that variety in Tasmanian history.
But I think the most memorable one is been under some cutting grass, just over the Picton Bridge in the East Picton Forests in Tasmania in 1987, when there was an explosion up on the hill. We had a bus blockading a logging road there, that was blown up. Then down the road, came a carload of people with guns out the window and a hunting dog.
I’d said to the other protesters, run deeper into the forest, and I got under this cutting grass, and the searchlight came around, and the dog was whining. Afterwards — they didn't see me, or I’d be dead now — they went back across the bridge and, with gelignite, blew up the cars that were there. And they burnt the forest. It was fairly well known who those people were, but they weren't arraigned.
That forest, what’s left of it, the forest we were protecting then, all the wildlife is destroyed. But the Picton Valley, what’s left of it, like the Styx, is now in World Heritage because of protesters.
PAUL BARCLAY: How many times have you been arrested, Bob, over the years? Have you lost count?
BOB BROWN: I think eight. Or nine, if you count my father, who was a policeman, locking me up when I was six for not eating my spinach. When I came out, that was cruel and unusual because it was cold by then and he made me eat the spinach, but my mother made for it with some sweets.
Look, you don’t get arrested for nothing, but the environment of the planet is in dire peril. We all know that. And taking peaceful action against — Gandhi said that there's only one thing worse than wrong laws and that's their implementation. And we’re seeing harsher implementation of existing laws, but new laws coming in. So, what we’ve seen to date is just a little light on what we’re going to see in the decades ahead, right around the planet.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, we’ll talk about some of the threats to the right to protest during this discussion.
Pat, you've been, also, to numerous protests over the years. What are some of the memorable, maybe the memorable one or two, protests that you’d like to mention?
PATRICIA TURNER: Well, I think the first one was the first land rights march that we organised in Alice Springs, where I was born, of course. So, my uncle, Charlies Perkins, was home on — I don't know what they called it, whether they sacked him, or they put him on leave for a year, or whatever it was.
So, he was home in Alice. And myself and three other young people — we were young in those days, in the mid-70s — organised the first land rights march in Alice Springs.
So, we had a barbeque in the Todd River in the morning —
PAUL BARCLAY: Sorry, when was this? Which year was this?
PATRICIA TURNER: I think it was about 1975, and Alice Springs had never seen anything like this. So, we’d done all the banners up and had to get everyone there, so we put on a breakfast. Sausage breakfast, and so we got a really good crowd.
We marched down the streets of Alice Springs with our land rights placards. So that was very memorable because it was the first one in Alice. Of course, many more followed.
Also, one of the most memorable was the 1988 protest in Sydney. And I was actually in Townsville that year to oversee the arrangements for the fifth Festival of Pacific Arts. Where we had a couple of thousand indigenous people from around the Pacific come to Townsville to celebrate and promote the indigenous cultures of the Pacific for a couple of weeks. Which happened in August later that year.
So, I went to Sydney for the protest. It was enormous. Why they think that we weren't going to do anything, I have no idea, because, of course, we were. Far from having the social justice thing. But it was a wonderful occasion.
PAUL BARCLAY: Ended up at Hyde Park, a number of speakers.
PATRICIA TURNER: It did. Oh, yes, we had everybody there. People had travelled for days and days, driving in busses from the territory and from WA and Queensland. So there were — I don't know how many of us there, but a big mob, we say. A big mob.
PAUL BARCLAY: It was a big mob, yes. And, Verity, what about you? You've been involved in a range of social and political movements over the years, what sticks out to you?
VERITY BURGMANN: Well, I suppose the first time one is arrested always sticks out in one’s mind. In my case, it was in 1971. This was the year that the anti-apartheid movement was organising protests at the matches of the racially selected Springboks rugby team from South Africa.
In the case of, I think it was the first test at the FCG, I was one of the group of four who managed to leap over the picket fence of the member stand and run into the middle of the ground. I got there first, being 18 and fleet-footed at the time. And I kicked the ball out of the scrum.
PAUL BARCLAY: Wow. There’d be footage of that, would there? Television footage of that?
VERITY BURGMANN: Yes, yes, there is footage of it. In fact, Canadian friends tell me that it’s something that is often played on Canadian television for some reason. More often than on here.
Yes, but I was arrested and charged with offensive behaviour. So was my sister Meredith. In fact, she was sent — initially got a three-month jail sentence with hard labour. That was overturned on appeal. It turned into a suspended sentence.
So that was, obviously, memorable. But with the benefit of hindsight, I think I’d like also to mention that I was on the very first Mardi Gras march in 1978. I’d never imagined then — as people were being beaten up by the police and it was such a siege hostile atmosphere — that a few decades later, 40 years later, we would have marriage equality.
So, that has been an extraordinary example of a very, very beleaguered movement achieving an extraordinary amount.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, indeed. We should also say, actually, that Verity was once arrested for hitting a police officer with a papier-mache truncheon. They took that rather seriously. Perhaps we’ll come back to that if we have time, later on.
Now, Peter, you're a historian, so I suppose you have a more scholarly interest in protest and what goes on at demonstrations. You're an observer. Have you ever been a participant, though, in a protest?
PETER EDWARDS: Not of the sort that you mentioned, but if you look at page seven of the Canberra Times this morning, you’ll see I make the occasional protest with the pen. But no, it’s mostly been an observer. But I have been thrown out of the odd protest march, actually.
Because in 1968, the year of revolutions all around the world, I was a graduate student in England. I got a student newspaper to give me a press pass to a presidential convention. So the only presidential nominating convention I've ever been to was the 1968 convention in Chicago. The Democratic one, which became a police riot. And walking around the streets of Chicago after that was a chilling experience.
I remember just walking around the corner once, and there were these trucks of the National Guard all loaded up, military-style trucks. You had the sense that the country was almost on the verge of civil war.
PAUL BARCLAY: But the so-called Siege of Chicago — didn't Norman Mailer write a book about that?
PETER EDWARDS: Yes, he did. We saw a certain amount of it because I was where the same place as the delegates to the convention were, which was in the convention hall some way away from downtown. And there was another rally where I was thrown out from. Senator Eugene McCarthy was heading a meeting and the marshals came up and thought I looked too suspicious and too foreign, so they ejected me.
PAUL BARCLAY: I'm interested in — and we can mention as we will — what makes a successful protest? You have, on the one hand, the numbers of people that get out into the streets. That doesn’t necessarily mean the protest will deliver its outcome though.
I thought I’d ask you this, Bob, do protests shift societal attitudes? Is that what makes them successful? Or do they respond to changes in how we’re already thinking about certain issues like, for example, the environment?
BOB BROWN: I think they're both those things. As Verity was talking about the protests against the Springboks tour, and that had a huge impact on changing the Australian feeling. Because sport was at the centre of this and here were people disrupting a huge sporting event to protest against racism and apartheid.
I think that stopped millions of Australians to think about this and had a big impact on the future Australian opposition to apartheid. Eventually, the end of it in, as far as Australia could influence it, in South Africa.
But I think the big thing is heart. If your heart is in what you're protesting for, then it’s much more likely to succeed. In a functioning democracy, the aim of protest is to change. Is to do exactly that, is to change the mind of the public.
We knew with the Franklin campaign that this little part of Australia, with the last great wild river in southern Australia, needed to get to the public.
So, protests which culminated in 20,000 people in the streets of Hobart and 15,000 in Melbourne, with Bob Hawke up saying, ‘Oh, we’ll stop the dam,’ in the run-up the 1983 election, were hugely important.
But there had been seven years in getting films out and distributing literature, in getting people to understand what an important part of the national and Australian heritage and —
When the Indigenous people took a stand for their country, I think that was absolutely critical to saving the Franklin. It became a test of heart. And the voters — millions of voters in Australia — had the decision in 1983.
It’s one of those — maybe the most outstanding case of an environmental issue — an issue about what sort of Australia are we going to have in the future — that changed that vote, and brought Bob Hawke and Labor into power. And at the expense of losing every seat in Tasmania.
But it took gumption from that leader to say, ‘I will stop the dam,’ with Hazel standing next to him, with her No Dam earrings on, in front of the crowd in Melbourne. That saved the river, which is now recognised as one of the world’s great white-water rafting adventures.
PAUL BARCLAY: I think of a couple of things when I think of that campaign. I think that over 40 per cent of the people who were on the ballot papers for the Flinders by-election in Victoria — very much a middle Australia electorate — wrote ‘no dams’ on their ballot paper.
BOB BROWN: And then, here, in the ACT.
PAUL BARCLAY: Here as well, yes. I also think — and I don't think you can underplay this — the wonderful photographs of Peter Dombrovskis that brought to light just exactly what was at stake in that campaign.
BOB BROWN: Just pivotal. A picture is better than a thousand words. Peter’s pictures were so fundamental to saying — in a one-pager or a one TV ad — here’s what is at stake here.
PAUL BARCLAY: Verity, I'm interested that a lot of protest movements when they first start emerge from the radical fringes of protest groups, pushing the issues that don’t have majority public support at first.
What role and what can the radical groups claim, in terms of the success of some of the big political movements in Australia, the moratorium marches, for example? How much is it about them and how much is it about the moderates who then basically embrace those issues?
VERITY BURGMANN: Well, political scientists like to talk about what they call the radical flank effect. The argument basically is that when reforms are achieved, it’s often because the movement has demanded a lot, lot more than the reforms that are attained.
So, for example, the Femocrats of the women’s movement in the 1970s and so on, who achieved a lot, were offered places in the corridors of power. To a large extent because of the strength of the much more outrageous women’s liberation movement on the ground.
Going back further, you could argue that the defeat of the referenda around conscription during the Great War in 1916 and 1917 were achieved because there was a very vigorous movement that didn't just oppose conscription but also opposed involvement in the war — who argued that this was a nasty imperialist war that the plutocrats were benefiting from and working-class people were sent off to the front and their lives wasted.
So, the anti-conscription, pure and simple, they were called, emerged as the voice of compromise and reason that could get majority support. So, the referenda for conscription were defeated because the anti-conscriptionists were seen as the middle ground. They're just a couple of examples of the radical flank effect.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, we’ll talk more about both of those because they're some of the most important political movements in our history, the anti-war and anti-conscription movements.
Pat, so many of the protests involving Indigenous Australians around land rights, around constitutional rights and so on, have not achieved what was hoped for. But tell us about how important these collective protests have been. Not just for what you're trying to achieve, but for bringing your community together as a uniting force.
PATRICIA TURNER: Yes. Well, extremely important. So, when you're three per cent of the population, you're this mouse with the elephant in the majority. So we have chosen to kick up and make our voices heard. Not listened to very well by government at all.
Nevertheless, one of the things that I've found with our protests is that it gives us a chance to catch up with each other and see how we’re going. So it’s a very unifying thing for us. Catching up with old mates you haven't seen since the last protest, or for a long time.
To be serious, it’s a very important part, I think, of the impact of us getting together and making our voices heard about whatever the issues are.
PAUL BARCLAY: It gives you strength, because a lot of the issues that you're campaigning for, you've been campaigning for for a long time.
PATRICIA TURNER: Oh, yes, absolutely. There's nothing new in what’s being sought. It’s hard but we keep on keeping on because we have to. So, I think that we have achieved some good things, but we have a long, long way to go.
PAUL BARCLAY: Peter, I've heard it said by the baby boomers that the hippies may be much maligned but they helped to stop an unpopular war. The anti-Vietnam moratorium marches in Australia back in 1970 were the biggest public demonstrations up until that time there, writ large in Australian history. Did people power end the war and bring the troops home?
PETER EDWARDS: Only to a certain extent. I think the war was ended because it was unwinnable in the first place. So, it had already been on for — well, Australians had been committed for five years by the time of the moratorium marches, and American opinion was turning against the war. The real battle in the Vietnam War was for American public opinion. It wasn't even in Vietnam itself.
So, once American public opinion was turning, that really took Australia with it. But I think the Vietnam protests in Australia had a much wider effect, in that they came as an awful shock to the establishment, to most middle-class Australians, the quiet Australians, or the middle ground, or whatever you want to call them.
This was a pretty new phenomenon because memories of the conscription referenda and so on were long gone. But people learned that you could protest. There was this cumulative effect. We can argue about which came first, but it coincided with the women’s movement, the gay liberation movement.
PAUL BARCLAY: You’re saying it didn’t stop the war, but it did, inarguably, end conscription, those marches?
PETER EDWARDS: Yes. And conscription was always the hot button issue. I think the movement was — much more emotion, certainly, was generated by the anti-conscription sense than by Vietnam per se. And that touched on a very old chord.
It goes back to the original compromise made in the 1903 Defence Act, which was that you could conscript people for compulsory military service within Australia, but only volunteers would go overseas. When Billy Hughes tried to challenge that in 1916 and 17, it provoked that huge reaction.
John Curtin got into trouble in the second war for a very modest extension of it. And when Menzies tried to bring in conscription in the 60s, which wasn't actually for Vietnam — people were much more concerned about Indonesia at the time than Vietnam — but that was the trigger if you like.
PAUL BARCLAY: They were a motley crew of protesters. You had the anti-American imperialists. You had the hippies. But you also had the mums and dads from the suburbs concerned about the fate of their kids.
How important was it for the protesters to maintain a degree of unity, given that there were all of these dispirit groups, many of whom wouldn't necessarily agree about a whole lot of things? But on this issue, they certainly did come together.
PETER EDWARDS: Well, that's the important thing, I think, about any protest movement. And Bob says that you’ve got to have your heart in it. But protests are successful, partly by the emotion generated from the heart, but partly by the canniness in the head. Getting those two together is not always easy.
The anti-Vietnam protests were two quite distinct strands. The more moderates, who basically said the war was unwinnable, and the more radical ones, who wanted to overturn all sorts of institutions. It was not easy to keep them all together.
I think Jim Cairn’s finest hour was in that first moratorium movement when he made sure that those two wings stayed together. That there was no outrageous radical action. That's what made a great impression on public opinion at that time.
PAUL BARCLAY: Verity, does that accord with your view?
VERITY BURGMANN: Well, just a couple of comments. Firstly, I don't think that divisions within a protest movement are necessarily a problem. I think, often divisions can be quite productive. Certainly the radical flank effect works best if there is also a very, very strong moderate wing of a movement that can even, if it likes, declaim and denounce the radicals.
Certainly in the case of anti-Vietnam mobilisations, the moderates were very quick to denounce the Monash University Labor Club students who didn't just oppose the war, they went and collected money for the National Liberation Front.
So, that was an example of them being totally outrageous in their activities, in a way making the merely ‘Oh, we shouldn't be there’ position look like the voice of compromise and reason.
PAUL BARCLAY: I'm was curious to find out, Bob, that you were a doctor working in Canberra, helping young men avoid the draft by certifying that those who didn't want to fight in Vietnam were unfit to be conscripted.
Tell us about that. And were there many other doctors taking such action? Was such action ethical, in fact, as a doctor?
BOB BROWN: Well, you have the Hippocratic Oath, don’t you, to do the best by the person who’s come to get your services? Right on this spot was the Canberra Community Hospital. And the older, the senior, registrars at the hospital had failed everybody who was brought up for Vietnam service.
So, they sacked all of them and brought us junior resident doctors up to re-examine the lot. And I was changing at this stage. I’d been very conservative. It was people like Verity who were changing my mind.
But when it came to — I missed the first draft by four days myself. I was too old. But here were people who came up for examination who were appalled by going to Vietnam. There are others who wanted to go.
So, it was a case of saying to the people who were appalled, ‘Look, I think you've got a little bit of acne. This is a bit of a worry in the tropics. Go home, have no cream, don’t eat citrus, don’t have any showers, don’t eat this and that. Come back next week.’ And inevitably, you had to fail them the next week.
The other one was, ‘You don’t have any homosexual tendencies, do you? That is prohibited in the armed services.’ So, quite a few got failed on that score as well.
Oh, and by the way, if you wanted to go to Vietnam — because we realised that they’d re-examine again. If you had flat feet but you wanted to go to Vietnam, well, we could do some foot exercises that would make it acceptable. Yes. Terrible dilemma. Terrible dilemma.
PAUL BARCLAY: Pat, we all know about the famous Wave Hill walk-off by the Gurindji, led by Vincent Lingiari in 1966. That led to the first land rights legislation. But long before that, in 1939, there was the Cummeragunja — have I got that right? — walk-off. I understand the first-ever mass strike by Aboriginal people?
PATRICIA TURNER: Yes, well, there were quite a lot of — there was a lot of activism by the Aboriginal Progress Association, which started in the 1920s. There were some magnificent people, Aboriginal people, who were leading that. So, we had the Cummeragunja walk-off, and people were protesting about wages and restrictions on them.
There was also the 1938 Day of Mourning in Sydney, with the same people involved, where they called for citizenship. That was on the 150th anniversary, of course, of the colonisation of our country. And it was a really simple ask.
The other thing that was happening, of course, at the time was the Aboriginal reserve lands were being whittled away by the government and the settlers who wanted to have it, I suppose. So, our people were very concerned about those measures that were occurring. So, they were very active. Very active.
Of course, there were all the resistance, like Jandamarra in the Kimberly, who fought off and kept the troopers at bay for years. I've been to Jandamarra’s country and I've been shown by his ancestors exactly how he traversed that terrain and how he was so clever in that resistance.
Of course, there was an article today in The Guardian about the killing times and the map of the massacres. So, I don’t want to get away from it, but our people have resisted from day one. The impact of colonisation is still with us, large and loud and clear. But now we’re a minority in our own country.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, I think those earlier protests deserve to be better known than they are. I think many people, obviously, know about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and the freedom riots, and some of the later protests that have been covered more extensively in the history books. But you're very right to point out that the protests began fairly soon after colonisation.
PATRICIA TURNER: The day one.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, day one.
PETER EDWARDS: It’s the great protests in Australian history. And, of course, it’s ongoing. But the minority is, I think, gaining a great deal more strength from the majority, which feels we can't go along with this wrong longer, we’ve got to take action against it.
PATRICIA TURNER: I think that also with protests, we’ve learnt that you have to have a strategy. You can't do it, just go out on the street and make a noise and go home and feel good about it. You really have to have a plan.
So, I think where we’ve been most successful is where we have had a strategy that is ongoing to influence people. We are getting better at social media campaigning. I'm not good at it, personally, I'm a bit of a — what do you call it? — idiot on that sort of stuff.
But my three-year-old grandson is getting across it very quick-smart.
PAUL BARCLAY: He is the future, no doubt.
PATRICIA TURNER: Yes, that's right. But anyway, I just wanted to make the point that it’s important to have a strategy around it. That's, I think, what the radical fringe and the middle groups, that's how it transpired.
With us, I think that we’ve known that for some time. And I am feeling a sense of hope from the Australian people. And we are appealing more to the Australian people because you're the people who vote.
We don’t have the numbers to change governments, but we certainly have a lot of issues which we would like your support on to make sure we get the right government. That's the ultimate power that you have living in a country like this. Of course, we didn't get that power until the 1960s.
PAUL BARCLAY: Bob, you successfully challenged the anti-protest laws that Tasmania introduced, last year in the High Court. These laws were seen as being in breach of the implied right to political free speech in the constitution.
Notwithstanding that victory, would it be fair to say that we are seeing the right to protest coming under greater threat in Australia today?
BOB BROWN: Oh, absolutely. Just in the last few days the Hodgman government in Tasmania has brought in even more draconian penalties. The minister for so-called resource development has cooed that it will be 21 years in jail for environmentalists.
Eighteen months in jail plus $10,000 for a first offence of standing peacefully in the way of chainsaws coming to destroy a 1000-year-old tree full of wildlife on Indigenous territory. And four years, next time up, but up to 21 years.
That legislation is now extended to cover fish farms. Tassal was at one of the big fish farms to stop people protesting about the degradation of the oceans around Tasmania, as well as onshore.
What we’re seeing here, parallel with the federal government’s move to stop secondary boycotts, is protest coming from the plutocracy, that Verity spoke about. The rich corporations threw weak-spine governments against the people.
They're protesting against the people by bringing in draconian laws. They know they can't win the argument, so they've got to lock up those people who are espousing that argument.
Unless we stand against that and vote out people who do that, we’re in for a period of repression in Australia that the non-indigenous people haven't seen in a long, long time.
PAUL BARCLAY: Well, Verity, we just saw the Queensland Labor government actually pass some laws that crackdown on climate change protestors who use locking devices. This, obviously, in a state that's had a history of protest being outlawed under Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Bob’s mentioned that proposed legislation in Tasmania. Is this a phenomenon Australia-wide? Are we seeing governments of all persuasions seemingly wanting to crack down on this?
VERITY BURGMANN: It’s not just an Australian phenomenon, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. I think the irony should never be lost on us that with several decades of dominance of free-market ideas and practices, we see the neoliberal strong state very heavy-handedly dealing with the consequences, to a large extent, of free-market forces not being controlled sufficiently by governments.
A lot of the inequality and the environmental damage that has been going on around the world is precisely been caused or exacerbated by governments taking too much of a back step. Letting corporations have too much power.
Now we see governments coming in and trying to beat up people that protest about this situation.
PAUL BARCLAY: Is there much, Peter, that we can learn from protests in the past and the resistance of governments in the past, in terms of what we’re seeing today?
I'm thinking of Prime Minister Billy Hughes — tried twice to introduce conscription into Australia, failed both times. Australia was deeply, deeply divided on this issue. People went to prison, at the time, who were involved in the protests.
It seemingly had got up in the end because of the grassroots support opposing conscription. Is there anything that we learn from those days?
PETER EDWARDS: Well, there’s a lot we can learn from the successful and unsuccessful attempts. I think part of it is building a coalition.
In fact, a large part of any successful protest movement is building a coalition. Because it’s going to start with a small group, almost invariably a small group of activists, of so-called radicals. Whether they are radical or not is often open to question.
But you've got to get out to other sectors of the population. And Verity refers to the radical flank effect. Sometimes the radicals can lead the way, but you've got to bring in other people behind you who can establish policies and institutions that will back up when progress is made.
For example, I don't know what Bob feels about this, I've been looking at the committee of inquiry into the national estate in the 1970s, which was an important part in the early conservation movement. And the protest activists are, obviously, putting things on the agenda and raising the issue of making people think about it.
But you can't follow through unless you bring in the respectable middle-class matrons who think it’s a good idea to preserve certain buildings or certain areas. then you also had Jack Mundy from a totally different section of the — That's how success is done, building coalitions.
PAUL BARCLAY: Maybe Bob and then Verity.
BOB BROWN: Oh, sorry, Verity. That committee of inquiry came out of the destruction of Lake Peter. And Brenda Hean, a devout Christian, died after a plane crash, going to Canberra to write Save Lake Peter in the skies over parliament after she’d received a death threat and the hangar had been interfered with. And the emergency beacon taken out and hidden behind a drum. there was no adequate inquiry into that.
We’ve seen that gallantry of people whose heart is in it reaching out. And, of course, that on the shoulders of the campaigners for Lake Peter, the Franklin was saved. But not until 1500 people had been arrested and 500 sent to jail for peacefully protesting in the public forest on the banks of the Franklin River.
And where we’re now seeing, of course, governments saying, ‘Well, we’re going to make the penalties so draconian that people won't protest for social justice or the environment.’
But all they're doing is building the dam, to the point where the protests — And on the climate emergency, the existential crisis that we human beings face with extinction of our fellow species is one that has to be faced. The greater the protest, the earlier it will be faced.
At the moment, it’s foot on the accelerator of the destructive processes which have brought that about. But, Greta Thunberg and the kids of Castlemaine, and then the mass protests around the planet, have enlightened us.
One of the reasons I feel happier in my old age than I ever have been before, having been through the 60s, is to see this resurgence again of public action.
People getting out of their comfort zones to take action for a planet we either bequeath the better for being here, or with mass human cruelty and destruction of the environment. We’ve got to take — 11,000 scientists are appealing to us to address this existential crisis.
The people know that but the politicians don’t, and they're simply saying we’ll lock people up who want to protest about that. They will lose, but a lot of people are going to go to jail because of the direction being taken by governments in Australia and, as Verity says, around the world, before that happens.
PAUL BARCLAY: So, I suppose the question then, Verity, is what makes for a successful protest? What are the ingredients for a successful protest?
We’re seeing, for example, right now, the extinction rebellion protestors — young people impatient, angry — who want climate change action. How can you see that potentially translating into something, a successful movement that will bring about political change?
VERITY BURGMANN: Well, I think, generally, it helps if protest movements have appropriate targets. If you think of the Tent Embassy on the manicured lawns of Parliament House, the Freedom Riders taking on the locals in New South Wales country towns. But perhaps more spectacularly, the two women in 1965, in the Regatta Hotel in Brisbane, Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bogner —
PAUL BARCLAY: Oh, I love this story.
VERITY BURGMANN: Yes, who chained themselves to the bar, pointing out that women weren't allowed in the front bars of hotels, they were obliged to buy drinks in the ladies’ lounges, where they were, typically, charged a lot more, and they earned less.
Zelda D’Aprano, a few years later, chains herself to the railings of the Commonwealth offices in Melbourne, protesting against repeated failures of the Arbitration Commission to award equal pay for equal work.
Perhaps, a particularly good one is the Women’s Action Committee in Melbourne went on a mass tram ride and insisted on only paying 75 per cent of the tram fares because they only received 75 per cent of the pay. So, having good targets helps.
But another very important factor is whether or not the support of the labour movement is there. Now, the middle-class matrons of Hunters Hill in 1971 had found that all their lobbying and letter writing and so on was absolutely getting nowhere to save Kelly’s Bush from being bulldozed to make way for luxury houses for the rich by a real estate company.
So, they contacted the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation, who came out and heard the arguments. They insisted that the women call a public meeting in the area to show that there was widespread support for a ban on the destruction of Kelly’s Bush. Sure enough, there was.
This is the origin of the famous Green Bans movement, when Builders Labourers over several years refused to work on environmentally damaging and socially irresponsible projects.
It was powerful because it involved middle-class environmentalists and workers with power at the point of production who withdrew their labour. That movement certainly changed the culture of town planning. It led to governments bringing in much better heritage protection laws, environmental protection laws.
If you look at just some of the more concrete examples of what was saved — The Rocks, developers wanted to turn The Rocks into concrete and glass skyscrapers, an extension of the central business district. It was only saved from a Green Ban.
Millions of tourists go there each year. They certainly wouldn't have gone to see what the developers had in mind.
PAUL BARCLAY: Now, what strikes me about all of the examples that you've quoted, Verity, is that all of them were achieved through peaceful protests. I wonder whether that's a key part of successful protest, that it not turn violent. Does violence turn off public support for protests?
VERITY BURGMANN: Well, the Green Bans movement, actually, there was quite a bit of violence enacted against the protesters, including Juanita Neilson who lost her life.
PAUL BARCLAY: I was talking more about the actions of the protestors. I think you're right, and Bob was talking, too, about how environmentalists have been the victims of violence. And those people seeking to protect the built environment, the same.
But in terms of the protestors themselves, they're under great scrutiny by the media, aren't they, in terms of how they act in public protests?
VERITY BURGMANN: Absolutely. Countless examples have shown that often the media plays an invidious role in that it, often, even before the protests have started, gets across the message that there is going to be violence. This softens up public opinion to accept police going in and, in fact, starting the violence.
Obviously it’s important for protests to be non-violent if they possibly can. It does discredit protests if there is violence. But we also know that often that violence is the fault of agent provocateurs sent in by the powerful that are being protested against to discredit the movement by picking up a stone and throwing it at a police horse, or whatever.
So, there's a serious problem in that often the protestors are actually innocent, but they are, nonetheless, seen as having been violent when they haven't been.
PAUL BARCLAY: Pat, I'm interested in your perspective as someone who has, sure, marched in the streets but, perhaps more significantly, been in some very senior jobs in government and in the bureaucracy.
CEO of ATSIC, the senior job in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Department of Health. These days, you're seeking progress with Indigenous health with NACCHO.
What have you learnt about getting outcomes via the processes of government versus what’s achievable through people power? And perhaps bringing those two things together, are there any lessons that, perhaps, you can draw from that experience?
PATRICIA TURNER: Well, I think my commitment to getting resources out to Aboriginal community-controlled services had always driven me in my public service career. So, I always listen to my people. I didn't have all the resources to respond to every request, but we tried to be as fair, I tried to be as fair as possible.
PAUL BARCLAY: Learning how government works, too, the processes of government, and how to get things —
PATRICIA TURNER: Well, it’s come in handy. It’s come in handy for the latest — well, quite a number, but for the latest exercise. So, what I did in — we were getting nowhere with the government on closing the gap.
You would have all heard about the failure of them to meet the targets or even be on track. Targets that they set to achieve lowering equity and life expectancy and children’s education and all these things. So, failure was really very clear.
So, they went through a whole process, the government, of conducting consultations on a refresh. We found it totally unsatisfactory. Twelve months, waste of time. It was going to be more business as usual.
So, we said, ‘No way.’ So, we wrote to the premiers and the prime minister and the chief ministers, got a meeting with Scott Morrison, and he got it. I have to credit him for that. He got it. He said, ‘So we can't do it without you.’ I said, ‘No, you can't.’
So, he agreed to a formal partnership with us at COAG and led that and got it over the table at the COAG council meeting in December last year. By March, we had a national partnership agreement signed by the Coalition of Aboriginal Peaks and every Australian government is now a signatory to that and committed to it.
So, this is a very different way of working. So, I'm pleased.
Look, it’s not easy, we’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting because we’re the original thinkers in this. Government thinks it’s business as usual. So, there are some really hard negotiations. And we expect that they've got to come good with the money because you can't do it without the resources. But we’re prepared for that to be implemented over a 10-year time frame.
So, I'm hopeful that they stay true to their commitment to work in partnership, equal partnership, equal decision-making, and that our views are respected and carried through.
PAUL BARCLAY: Let’s look at some campaigns, high-profile campaigns that, perhaps, didn't achieve the outcomes that were desired.
The biggest protest I've ever been to was the protest against the Iraq War in Brisbane. Peter, 100,000 people, or so, marched in the streets of Brisbane. There were protests all over the country. Incredible protests.
Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people marching. The opinion polls tended to show, too, that the public was opposed to that war. Why did people power fail in that respect? Why did it fail to change the mind of John Howard?
PETER EDWARDS: I think John Howard was fairly committed, and he was also one of the most astute politicians of recent decades. The way he handled the Iraq commitment indicates, I think, that he learnt the lessons of the Vietnam War and the Vietnam protests.
A, there were no conscripts in Iraq. In fact, at one stage, I can't remember just when it was, a former chief of the Defence Force raised the idea of bringing back some form of national service, not necessarily military, when John Howard was prime minister. He killed that within — it didn't last 24 hours of the news cycle. He said that is definitely out.
But getting back to Iraq, he sent a small force with a specific role, which kept them fairly removed from the American military machine. So, they had a separate role, quite a distinct one, and he went in and made it clear that they would go in fast and they would come out fast. There was an exit strategy, which there never was in Vietnam, so that those troops were removed.
So those protests that you refer to, they failed, but who knows what would have happened if Australians had still been — some were sent back, actually, at a later time. But if they had been there for six, seven, eight years, suffering the sort of casualties that Australians suffered in Vietnam, there would be hundreds of thousands on the street.
PAUL BARCLAY: It’s fair to say, though, isn't it, that the protests against that Iraq War were on the right side of history, given what we now know about the absence of weapons of mass destruction. Given, arguably, what we knew at the time, actually, about the arguments about weapons of mass destruction.
That would seem to be a case that, basically, those protestors look like they made a pretty reasonable call at the time, even if the government didn't support them?
PETER EDWARDS: I think they did. But the remarkable thing is that it was handled by the government in such a way that the Howard government did not pay the political cost, compared to the Liberal coalition governments in the late 60s and early 70s.
PAUL BARCLAY: Another protest I thought I’d bring up, Bob, that you might not be too happy for me to bring up. We last spoke in Brisbane when you were on your way up north to the Stop Adani Convoy.
We now know how that ended. There was a backlash against Labor in Queensland, not that you were there to do Labor’s bidding for them.
There were, though, criticisms that the protestors were not respectful of the locals and their concerns around jobs and financial security and so on. With the benefit of hindsight, was the Stop Adani Convoy a mistake?
BOB BROWN: No, absolutely not. And you cannot put — get home under the bed because you've got people like Renee Viellaris at the Courier Mail running a Jihad against decent Australian making a point.
The fact is that we’ve seen what the follow-on from that was that Labor, unfortunately, went to an election not offering Australians a strong alternative. I think if Bill Shorten had said, as Bob Hawke did back in 1983, I will stop the Adani mine, not that dam but I will stop the Adani mine, he could be prime minister now.
But the campaign against Adani goes on. The majority of Australian are opposed to that mine. We’re now at the situation where the Wangan and Jagalingou people, and Adrian Burragubba in particular, have been evicted from their own land because Adani has been given it through a process.
So, here we are in 2019 Australia, where Indigenous people are off their own land. And they said ‘interfering outsiders’ — Adani is running this from India.
I remember very well Joh Bjelke-Petersen coming down during the dam campaign and saying, ‘Oh, you've got to build that dam. You've got to build that dam.’ But here, we’ve got the Courier-Mail and the Murdoch media, which owns 80 per cent of the papers, coming out in Queensland saying, ‘Interfering Australians should have no say in Queensland.’ What rubbish. You stand up for what is right.
I’ll be going back up to the Adani mine in the coming times to stand with the Wangan and Jagalingou people and all those Australians who believe we should be not mining more coal, putting it into the atmosphere and threatening the future of life on this planet. Simply so that Adani can go from being number two richest Indian to number one billionaire by exploiting the planet. That's not on.
And if we don’t, as Australians, make a stand against the multiple wrongs of the Adani mine, who will?
PAUL BARCLAY: Verity, we look at some of the big campaigns in recent times, it is worth being reminded that there is significant opposition from the media, from powerful interest groups, the fossil fuel industry who, obviously, sees action against climate change as an existential threat to them.
We looked at the movement for same-sex marriage, opposed strongly by the church. Indigenous land rights and native title opposed by the mining industry. In order to win what you want to win out of your protest, you have to defeat some pretty powerful institutional forces, don’t you?
VERITY BURGMANN: Absolutely. I think the Adani and the reporting of the Adani convoy is a good example of how protestors are very much at the mercy of media, and also media narratives, for decades now. Corporations backed up by the media have been running this story about how greenies don’t care about workers and their jobs.
In fact, the Greens have fairly well thought out and clearly articulated policies around just transition. And the importance of ensuring that workers displaced from the closing down of coal mining or coal-fired power stations are assisted to be employed just as well in alternative forms of employment.
But that message was totally lost in the media reporting of the Adani cavalcade because the media presented it as yet another example of greenies not caring about workers jobs and livelihoods.
I think that you might have anticipated that and, perhaps, tried to work out ways of getting around that better. Certainly, it’s another —
BOB BROWN: I'm open to any suggestions.
VERITY BURGMANN: Yes, that's right. You were almost on a hiding for nothing.
The forestry industry is another example of where the media has brought about this myth of tree huggers driving forestry workers out of a job. In fact, 98 per cent of job losses in the forestry industry in the last 20 years are due to restructuring to the forestry companies. Cost-cutting with increased mechanisation and so on.
It’s very handy for the Forest Industries Association employers to pretend that it’s the fault of greenies. And to perpetuate that myth of greenies and workers being at odds with each other. Whereas, in fact, they have so much in common because there are no jobs on a dead planet.
BOB BROWN: Whereas, in fact, in Tasmania ... absolutely. But it’s the jobs myth being used by corporations who are so good at shedding jobs as they automate. And the bottom-line rests on them getting rid of jobs.
In the case of Tasmania after all these multiple protests over decades, it’s the natural environment which employs 35 times as many jobs as the loggers, logging companies. It’s green to create jobs.
PAUL BARCLAY: I want to take some questions from the floor in just a minute. I just wanted to ask you, though, Pat, you look at a couple of the — let’s look at, say, the reconciliation marches in 2000. Once again, enormous numbers of Australians marched in good faith and in good spirit for reconciliation.
As Mat was saying before, I took six months off recently and spent most of that time living in Berlin in Germany. If I came away from that sabbatical with one message it was the benefit that comes from making peace with your past and being honest about your past.
We’ve had the reconciliation marches and then, much more recently, the Statement from the Heart in Uluru. What is it, in spite of all of the protests, that is stopping us from making that move forward?
PATRICIA TURNER: You're going to have to ask the whitefellas that.
PAUL BARCLAY: From a blackfella perspective, what are you thinking?
PATRICIA TURNER: I think a lack of understanding of the real history. And people saying — people don’t like to hear the negative statistics. They really don’t. They say, ‘Well, I'm struggling too.’
Well, we know that, but not to the extent that our people are. And so we try to get people to understand it’s broader for us.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an appeal to every Australian. Every Australian should really read it because it’s not a demand, it’s a plea to walk with us. And we’ve been doing this for decades, really.
You might reflect on an occasional time when there's been a bit of aggressiveness between white and black, but, generally, our people have been very peaceful. Very peaceful when there's been plenty of opportunity to not be. But it’s not our way.
So, in terms of where we go, really, white Australians have to ask themselves when are they going to face up to the true shared history of this country and recognise that we were here for 60,000 years before the British colonised us. And the impacts of colonisation have just been devastating.
I keep hope for my own people. And I talk to a lot of Australians, but I want people to work a bit harder to get to understand our situation themselves.
PAUL BARCLAY: Sure. Okay, we have a little bit of time left and it would be good to get some questions from the floor. We’ve got about, a little bit less than 15 minutes before we have to wrap it up.
Let me just say questions are much more preferable than statements. And brevity would be much appreciated in your questions, please.
QUESTION: Yes, I understand that. Bob Brown, I note what you say about the Adani protest, and I think Bill Shorten, by trying to walk both sides of the barbed wire fence, certainly didn't help things.
But going back to 2009, the Greens effectively torpedoed the ALP’s efforts to bring in some sort of climate legislation on the basis that it wasn't very good. But the net result is that 10 years later, we’ve got no climate legislation.
Had they been allowed to pass theirs, it could have been amended and fixed and adjusted as time went by. So, what have you got to say about that? Are the Greens just too pure?
BOB BROWN: Thanks for that question. It was extraordinarily weak, but after Labor and Liberal came to an agreement, the Liberals dropped out. Penny Wong flew to Hobart and asked Christine Milne and I take it up. And we did, and we had some amendments.
She shared: ‘But I will not take any amendments back to Prime Minister Rudd.’ And he, by the way, had the option of a double dissolution election. I think he’d have done well, and the Greens would have done well in those circumstances. But he backed off from that.
When it came to Julia Gillard’s turn, she did negotiate properly with the Greens. We did get a much better piece of legislation. Some of that — in terms of funding renewable energy and so on — goes on now, despite the worst efforts of Tony Abbott, who would have wiped out the Rudd legislation and left nothing at all.
But Julia Gillard’s proposals — worked out with myself and Christine Milne — have even withstood the destructiveness of Tony Abbott’s short period — mercifully short period — as prime minister.
Politics is the art of compromise, but sometimes you just have to turn down proposals that have no real effect when you're looking at a problem that needs to be properly addressed.
PAUL BARCLAY: Okay, another question.
QUESTION: It seems like Australians have got a relatively low concept of what’s a big protest in assessing what can be achieved with big protests. With the Iraq example from 2003.
At the moment, in Chile, there have been repeated protests of a million people in a country of less than 20 million people. And they had big periods of protest in 2011, 2006 as well.
We actually don’t know what would happen in Australia if we had repeated protests of a million people. So, I wonder if we’re not really testing the limits of protest?
PAUL BARCLAY: How do you get a million people out onto the streets in Australia too, I suppose is another question.
BOB BROWN: Well, it’s coming, simply because of the destructiveness of the climate emergency. We, by the way, had 300,000 people out quite recently on this climate emergency, led by the young people who can see what’s coming down in their lifetimes.
But we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth, we’re just too comfortable by far. And it’s very hard to get out of the comfort zone, to step off the footpath, to say, ‘No, I'm going to defend the future. I'm going to stand with young people. I'm not going to leave them to a 20 per cent hit on their income.’
I'm not going to leave, as Professor [inaudible] says, a Murray-Darling Basin that's going to lose 90 per cent of its food productivity by the end of this century. Look at the drought at the moment — I'm not going to simply allow coal mines and coal seam gas and destruction of forests. Feeding a process which is going to leave the next generation fighting itself on a global scale.
So, really, our nation, yes, is challenged. But the best way to change this is not through millions of people on the street, it’s through the ballot box. In May 2019, 90 per cent of people voted for candidates standing for more coal mines. Come on, Australia, we’ve got to change that.
When we do change at the ballot boxes — as happened with the Franklin campaign way back there, and happened with Gough Whitlam in the wake of the Vietnam moratorium — the country can change course and move into a much more — an era in which it’s much more content with its own soul.
PAUL BARCLAY: Can I just ask a quick supplementary question to you, Verity, about has the golden age of street marching and public protest passed us by?
Are we now looking at a time where activism is going to happen more and more at an organised level online, linking up communities of interest virtually? Or do you still think that people marching in the street can make the difference that they made all those decades ago?
VERITY BURGMANN: Well, I think what we’re seeing is the tried and tested old forms of protest are enduring. They're being supplemented, rather than supplanted by other forms of protest.
But some of the forms of protest that people think are novel, in fact — art, the Extinction Rebellion — owe a lot to the traditions of non-violent direct action and satyagraha popularised by Gandhi.
Even the anti-corporate movements’ grotesque effigies, making of great puppets and so on, actually dates back to medieval times when peasants would have the head of the lord of the manor on a pike and parade that through the streets.
So, things just keep going around and coming around. And I think online mobilisation is more a way of organising other forms of protest, rather than a form of protest in itself.
PAUL BARCLAY: Okay, can we take another question? Thanks.
COMMENT: Sorry, I'm up here at the moment.
PAUL BARCLAY: Hi, maybe you're next.
QUESTION: I’d like to bring it to a contemporary position, and that's Dr Edwards, in relation to the War Memorial at the moment. There seems to be a very groundswell objection to the fact that they're going to spend almost $500 million, which includes the knocking down of Anzac Hall.
I'm just wondering, do you think that — what sort of protest or action do you think could work in relation to this? Because the groundswell that I'm reading is that no, it’s not popular at all. In fact, a lot of the people that I have mentioned it to have said, ‘Well, we could do a lot more for the vets rather than the memorial itself.’ Anyway, thank you.
PETER EDWARDS: I've taken, well, I've not taken any public position on that. I have great reservations about it because I was certainly very surprised that Anzac Hall, for example, would be taken down so soon after it was constructed.
I can think of a lot of other places, or a lot of worthy causes, that could benefit from that sort of money. I think the case needs to be made. I see the prime minister had just come out and defended it again.
There was a collective letter by a number of people, including, I think, three former directors of the War Memorial, protesting about it. So, I think — well, as I say, you need to build a coalition.
I think one has to get a number of people who would not normally be associated with this sort of protest to say that they are against it. That's the only way you're going to overturn a decision which had bipartisan support, I may say, before the last election. The leader of the opposition expressed his support for it.
COMMENT: Sadly, yes.
PETER EDWARDS: So, you’d need to build a much broader groundswell of support, including from veterans’ organisations, to have — You have to have, as Pat quite rightly said, a strategy. you have to work out how that strategy is going to mobilise all sorts of different constituencies apart from those who’s opposition to a particular proposal may be taken as inevitable.
BOB BROWN: How much better if that 500 million was spent on a Truth House, where the post-invasion history of first Australians was laid on show for all Australians who wanted to go and see. That we come to grips —
You were talking earlier on about how well the Germans do it. If we came to grips with our own history and had such a place that we could see that, and I think, all Australians would be much better off than, say, with the War Memorial.
PAUL BARCLAY: And to the lady in the front.
QUESTION: So, going back to Adani, I'm not very well-versed in government workings or legislation, but how is it possible for the Queensland Government to just extinguish native title in order for Adani to proceed and set up this situation for Adrian Burragubba not being able to be on his own land?
BOB BROWN: Well, there was some federal and government involvement too, but they simply gave the Crown land title across to Adani through legislative process. The efforts in the courts to defend that land have left Burragubba bankrupt, and Adani making potentially more billions.
It’s a part of the Australian inability to come to the defence of Indigenous people, who are offered incentives by corporations to go against their own feelings on the country, when we should be, as Pat was saying, addressing not just closing the gap, but the right of individual people to determine what happens on their land and not have weak-spined governments caving in to the next corporation that comes in and says, ‘I'm going to give you this if you overrule these Indigenous people.’
PATRICIA TURNER: Well, I just can't believe that we’re having another coal mine when we should be moving to better energy sources.
But the one thing I do say about the young climate activists is, thank God. But that shouldn't allow those of us who are older to be complacent. We should be out there with them because —
But I'm so glad that they're coming through. I look forward to the reforms that they’ll make. Not just for climate, for our environment, overall, throughout the world.
But I reckon that they’ll have a much better understanding of issues like social justice and fairness and so on. So I look forward to them maturing and bringing their experience forward.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, converting their anger, perhaps, into action. I've got young kids myself actually, in their early 20s, and there is a lot of frustration and anger there and concern about the future, I can tell you.
Look, it’s been a terrific discussion, as they always are here at the National Museum, as we take a look at parts of our past and reflect on the present. Please put your hands together for our fantastic panel of guests.
And as they say on Insiders, over to you, Mat.
MAT TRINCA: Thanks. Thanks, Paul. Please put your hands together for Paul Barclay.
In the course of the discussion tonight, I was struck by how much, in a sense, one is moved by seeing protests or, indeed, political action of any kind that springs from a deep personal enquiry about a moral or ethical question that affects us. And connecting that to a broader collective sense of our common good.
It seems to me that the discussion tonight has touched on this as the essential character of political life, which is really about how we organise ourselves and make decisions in our common interest. That there is a connection, both between the personal realm of consideration and reflection and what we believe is right, whatever that might be, and thinking about the benefits, the circumstances of the collective, our society, our people.
For that, I thank not just Paul Barclay but also our panellists Bob Brown, Pat Turner, Verity Burgmann and Peter Edwards once again. Thank you.
This panel will be broadcast on ABC RN’s Big Ideas program in the weeks to come. And if you enjoyed tonight’s discussion, keep an eye on our website for news of next year’s program when we plan to host more absorbing discussion that reflects on defining moments in our history.
Indeed, you should contribute, if you're encouraged to, by what you see there, to this debate, which is ongoing. About the important defining moments in our nation’s past.
Thank you all for your attendance and good humour tonight. Good night.
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Date published: 17 March 2020