Local councils should support human rights


Last year, Marrickville council in Sydney passed a resolution in support of the non-violent struggle of the Palestinian people for their human rights.

Since then The Australian and other media outlets have gone into a hysterical frenzy, accusing the councillors of being dangerous, naive, anti-Semitic extremists.

Actually they are just ordinary community members; some of who are in the Australian Labor Party, some in the Greens and some who have no political affiliations.

The corporate media are also pushing the idea that local councils should keep their noses out of national and international issues.

But local government can take care of the bread and butter issues as well as represent community views on sustainability and global human rights.

In the past year, Fremantle Council has taken positions on issues as diverse as the live sheep trade, workers rights, global warming and human rights in Western Sahara.

Remember how the murderous Indonesian occupation of East Timor had bipartisan support in the federal parliament as well as The Australian for more than two decades?

Who today would say that our councils were wrong to speak up for human rights in East Timor in the 1990s?

Below is a letter of support I sent to the Marrickville councillors.

* * *

Dear fellow councillors,

I write to you express my admiration for your adoption of a policy in support of the global non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

I won't dwell on why your policy is worthy of support other than to repeat the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu when writing to students at UC Berkley on the same topic last year:

“Despite what your detractors may allege, you are doing the right thing. You are doing what is incumbent upon you as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings.”

Those who say that it's not appropriate for a local government to take a stand on global human rights and that we should leave all questions of foreign policy to higher levels of government have a very poor understanding of Australian history.

On the eve of the World War II, wharfies at Port Kembla refused to load pig iron destined for the Japanese war machine. They were condemned by Prime Minister Robert Menzies and the media for interfering in foreign affairs. That pig iron exported from Australia later rained down on Darwin as bombs.

How much longer would our involvement in the Vietnam War have dragged on if Australians hadn't expressed their opposition to it through every forum they could find?

For nearly two and a half decades, support for the murderous Indonesian occupation of East Timor was bipartisan policy in the federal parliament, despite it being condemned by all levels of Australian society.

The Howard government committed our country to war in Iraq despite the clearly expressed opposition of the majority. A million people have died in that country as a result of the invasion.

Leaving foreign affairs to the so-called experts in Canberra has only brought policies based on greed and kow-towing to great powers, with a sad and bloody legacy.

Australians have every right to demand a foreign policy based on human rights. They have every right to push for that through every channel they can find.

Inevitably, local government will become such a forum when our federal government is incapable and unwilling to do what is right.

Marrickville Council's support for the BDS campaign is consistent with international humanitarian law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Those who mock or condemn you are ignorant, cowards or bullies. Your policy is a positive example for my and all local governments to follow.

[Sam Wainwright is a Socialist Alliance member and councillor for Hilton Ward, City of Fremantle, WA].

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