Australia at the crossroads

November 17, 1993

Michael McDonald, Brisbane

On August 3, a public meeting at City Hall on the theme "Australia at the Crossroads" was attended by 800 people. The meeting called for "Howard out", but also for any new government to govern in the interests of all Australians.

Aboriginal spokesperson and singer-songwriter Kev Carmody told the forum that "democracy's definition involves tolerance of minorities, government by all the people and absence of class and hereditary distinctions". He argued that "we have corporate global domination, at democracy's expense".

Environmental scientist Ian Lowe explained that "serious environmental problems that demand radical economic planning have been abandoned to the marketplace". Mary Graham, an Indigenous woman from south-east Queensland, called for a treaty with Indigenous people, which "would set a template for a just and humane society".

The meeting also addressed working conditions in Australia. According to Julie Bignell from the Australian Services Union, "people are working longer hours, with more stress". She said that "this generation will hand on working conditions that are worse than the previous generation, for the first time ever".

Bignell explained that "unions are trying to give power back to the workplaces and not union offices. Change will only occur by workers acting collectively, not in the courts." She concluded: "Show John Howard what it is like to be unemployed."

Anne Madison from Oxfam spoke of the need for fair trade between nations, and for Australia to have appropriate maritime boundaries. She noted that "Australian wealth has doubled and [spending on foreign] aid has halved in the last twenty years".

Michael Raper, president of the Australian Council of Social Service, told the meeting that "there are 2 million families in Australia with dependent children and 20% of these have no wage earner. Australia's present prosperity has passed these people by." He noted the rising inequality in this country, pointing to the "great divide between those with a house and those without, which has come about because of Howard's halving of the capital gains tax and the allowance of negative gearing tax breaks".

He said that "Labor leader Mark Latham has ruled out any change in capital gains tax. We don't just need a change in government, we need a change in direction."

The final speaker, lawyer Julian Burnside, said that "you can assess a government by the way it treats its most vulnerable people, such as refugees. The government has gotten away with inhumane treatment through lies."

From Green Left Weekly, August 11, 2004.
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