As Green Left Weekly approaches its 1000th issue, more than 20 years after it first hit the streets, we will be looking back at some of the campaigns it has covered and its role as an alternative source of news.
The first editorial of Green Left Weekly, urging the Bob Hawke government to not lift sanctions against South Africa until apartheid was completely dismantled, set the anti-racist tone of the paper.
From reporting on racist attacks on Muslims here and abroad, to support for the Aboriginal struggle for land rights and recognition, GLW has challenged racism and exposed the covert (and not so covert) racism of the mainstream media and governments around Australia.
The election of Pauline Hanson to federal parliament as an independent, after she was disendorsed by the Liberal Party, was a new low for parliamentary politics. Her maiden speech in September 1996, which criticised Aboriginal land rights, multiculturalism and Asian immigration, was a racist rant that unleashed a tidal wave of racism in Australia. Prime Minister John Howard refused to censure or criticise her views, saying she "accurately reflected what people feel" and his government implemented most of her racist policies.
Unsurprisingly, protests soon followed her around the country. During the 1998 election campaign (in which Hanson lost her seat) GLW reported on protests and high school walkouts against Hanson.
The corporate media viciously attacked students and activist youth organisation Resistance for taking part in national anti-racist rallies. Scores of prominent commentators called young people “brainwashed” and "manipulated and ill-informed kids".
But Green Left Weekly was on the ground talking to the students themselves, attending every rally and action and sharing the point of view of those attacked and lied about in the mainstream media.
Resistance high school activist Jordie Collins told GLW: “This is not about brainwashing, as Hanson accuses us. This is about young people actively voicing their opinion about racism." Another student said: "It would be easy for us to sit back and take it — to listen to our parents and our teachers and just concentrate on our homework. But young people are smarter than we're ever given credit for. We know things need to be changed.”
The racist attitude of Australian governments towards refugees arriving by boat in northern Australia is another issue that GLW has followed since its start. Although it was the Paul Keating government that introduced mandatory detention for refugees, the policy was expanded under Howard.
GLW has reported on the numerous protests, marches, forums, vigils, detention centre visits and convergences that have been held since mandatory detention was introduced. It has thrown the spotlight on children in detention; on suicides, self-harm and psychological problems inside detention centres; on the wars that cause people to undertake terrifying journeys to find peace; and on the inadequate refugee quotas that allow people to safely settle in this country.
The two ugliest points in Howard’s attack on refugees were 2001’s Tampa “crisis” and the “children overboard” election stunt.
The Tampa affair outraged many Australians, including one who wrote in a letter to the editor: “This week I burnt my Master Mariner's Licence in protest at the Australian government’s actions in the M.V. Tampa affair. As a professional and conscientious mariner, I feel that the ethical integrity of seamanship has been severely undermined by ‘our’ government's refusal to allow the causalities of a marine incident to disembark in a safe haven.
“The accusation that the refugees are mere ‘queue jumpers’ defies any sense of true understanding of the extreme and dangerous position that these people are in. People smuggling cannot be stopped until a proper attempt is made to transport these people to safety, and this cannot happen until Australia opens its borders to accept a morally acceptable number of refugees.”
Two months later, in the middle of the closely-run 2001 election campaign, came the “children overboard” lie. GLW was one of the few media outlets to report the true story. This lie, that refugees threw their children from their sinking boat to stop the navy turning them back from Australian waters, became election propaganda.
Howard was depicted with fists clenched and the slogan, "We will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come" in Liberal Party ads which were distributed to all voters in marginal seats; full-page newspaper ads with the same image and words were published in all major newspapers. A month later, the Liberals won the election with an increased majority.
In one of its last acts before losing the 2007 election, the Howard government announced that it was "taking control" of up to 80 remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. It claimed that it was a response to the 320-page Little Children are Sacred report, which detailed high levels of sexual abuse of children in a range of NT Aboriginal communities.
GLW reported extensively on opposition to the plan. The intervention, as it was known, took over communal property and discriminated against Aboriginal people in welfare payments (by "quarantining" 50% of all welfare payments in Aboriginal townships) and was done without consultation with Aboriginal communities.
It also removed the rights of Aboriginal people to control access to their land, banned alcohol in all Aboriginal communities (although not in tourism sites) and took control of all assets worth $400,000 or more. The army was sent in to take control of Aboriginal lands and the Racial Discrimination Act was suspended. Howard stridently claimed that this was not race-based legislation, despite the fact that it applied to only one race.
As GLW reported, the intervention was more about land and mining than protecting Aboriginal children. The intervention weakened native title rights and forced remote Aboriginal communities to lease their land to the government. Aboriginal land rights could not be allowed to stand between miners and the NT’s huge deposits of manganese, bauxite, lead, zinc, silver, gold and uranium.
GLW was the only media outlet to challenge the distorted mainstream media’s reports of the supposed “violent Muslim protest” in Sydney in September 2012. It reported witness accounts of police charging, pepper-spraying and dragging people around who had been protesting in relative peace. For this it was almost condemned in the Australian Senate.
Despite activists’ best efforts, racism continues to raise its ugly head in Australia. GLW will continue to report on racism wherever it appears because true freedom will come only when all people are treated equally.