Anti-war activist stands for parliament

Issue 

BY AMANDA ZIVCIC

Dr Margaret Perrott, the Socialist Alliance candidate for the Wollongong seat of Throsby in the March 22 NSW election, has a long history as a campaigner for peace and social justice.

“Socialists, by their very definition, believe in and practice social justice”, she told Green Left Weekly. “In a time of war, this has never been more crucial. It has been estimated that if Australia goes to war, it will cost tesn of millions of dollars.

“This could be better spent on reintroducing free tertiary education. It could save Medicare. The $100 million that John Howard gave as the public's contribution to the $42 billion that Hawker de Havilland are going to get over the next four years to build a stealth bomber could solve the rural doctors' crisis overnight. Public education could get the boost it so urgently needs. The ecological and environmental struggle that Australia faces, with regard to land degradation, deforestation, pollution and sewerage.

“This society has the resources to combat these problems. But that just isn't where the money is going at the moment. It is not even a matter of ill-prioritising of government funds. It is a deliberate attempt at destabilising the public sector.”

In 1984, living and working as a doctor in England, Perrott became outraged at the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and was influenced by demonstrations at the US Air Force base in Greenham Common in England. Upon her return to Australia, she joined the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW). Through MAPW, she became involved in the election campaign for the Nuclear Disarmament Party, and later became the Wollongong local branch secretary. She also became involved with People for Nuclear Disarmament, and the Hiroshima Day Committee.

“People are starting to realise that the problems of the world, such as poverty, starvation, and their own problems of joblessness, health, public education — it is the capitalist ruling class who are responsible. These are the feelings I was left with after the Wollongong February 8 and Sydney February 16 anti-war rallies.

“There has already been an ongoing war with Iraq since 1991, and the suffering has been massive. The spread of infectious, treatable diseases, malnutrition, and everything else that goes with poverty. The physical and psychological effect on all people, but especially children, is monstrous.

“This is something we're seeing across the Middle East. A huge majority of the population are young, and they have grown up under dictatorial regimes, and under these conditions. This is an ideal climate for breeding discontent and fanaticism.

“There are four main reasons the current peace movement is different from others that I have been involved with over the years. Firstly, people are inspired, organised and active.

“Secondly, it has developed very quickly and spontaneously, the sheer numbers of people expressing themselves against war shows that we are definitely in the majority. Also, the peace movement is very broad, from Liberals to the far left, and those who have never considered themselves as politically active before. It is inclusive and all-encompassing.

“And, thirdly, there is an amazing understanding among the majority of people of the real reasons for the war on Iraq — not only oil, but Western interests in all their forms, in the Middle East.

”This is a turning point in history. There is a very great feeling of determination on the part of the people to make their voices heard.

“Unity is also important, within the left and within the message bringing the troops home immediately.

“It was obvious at the rallies that unity against war is what people want. We don't want to see another generation of Australian service personnel suffering the effects of war as the Vietnam vets continue to suffer today. If we win this demand, the people of Australia can break the 'coalition of the willing' which would have major implications for world politics.”

A veteran of many grass-roots campaigns, Perrott argued that “people power can put a big dent in the idea that might is right and that people don't count when it comes to global capitalist economic decision making.”

In 1986 Perrott became a member of the Democratic Socialist Party, and through the DSP she became active in the Committee Against Repression in the Pacific and Asia, the Committee Against Racial Exploitation, and was involved with various anti-apartheid demonstrations.

From 1985 to 1999, she was the chairperson of the Kemblawarra Child and Family Centre.

Perrott is a member of the International Women's Day collective, and a founding member of Illawarra Residents for Native Title. Since 1986 she has been a member of the Committee in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2001, she was elected as the South Coast May Day committee secretary, and became president of the committee in 2002.

“We need a socialist candidate in the upcoming state election to offer a real alternative to the two major parties, and also to electoralism and electioneering. It is important that activists get involved in the electoral process, to show that we don't always have to vote for career politicians”, Perrott said.

“Even one socialist in the NSW parliament would be able to set an inspiring example for working people. We would not take part in the slanging matches that pass for politics in this country.

“United we stand, divided we fall. The old phrase is so very apt. We'll never beat the ruling class until we can work together — and that is why the Socialist Alliance is such an exciting project. We still have our differences, which we can debate and discuss, but the most important thing is unity. Against war and against the present system which puts monetary gains ahead of the needs of ordinary people.

“The Socialist Alliance is urging people to vote for candidates who are active against the war, and also to write 'No war' on the ballot paper so that we can actually turn the NSW election into a referendum against the war.”

Referring to the “law-and-order” election platforms of the Liberals and the ALP in the NSW election, Perrott said: “The Socialist Alliance platform is anti-war, anti-racist, for social justice and greater democracy in this country, for people to have a greater say.

“We are totally opposed to the law and order push of the major parties. The solution to anti-violent social activity lies in developing human solidarity, not in throwing more people into prison.

“The competitive individualism and self-seeking at the expense of others which capitalism promotes leads inevitably to violent anti-social acts and to people preying upon each other to get rich.

“Only when we have a government and a society which puts meeting people's rational needs ahead of the individual drive to accumulate private wealth, will 'crime' be eliminated.”

From Green Left Weekly, March 5, 2003.
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