Reality behind the news footage
As a youth worker I work with young people on the margins of society. One was heavily involved in the violent clashes at last week’s rally. He was a Reclaimer (Martin McKenzie-Murray, “Inside Reclaim’s strange dynamic”, July 25-31). We spoke to him about his involvement after we saw him fighting, then being pepper-sprayed and arrested, on the news. He was and is extremely confused. He is justifiably angry at the way his life has been buffeted by forces outside his control, notably family violence and financial insecurity, and he has found scapegoats in Islam, non-white immigration and “the left”. After speaking to him I’m convinced the counter-protests are a bad idea. The anti-racists actually harden the resolve of the Reclaimers who are, from what I have seen, mainly alienated and angry white men. The Reclaimers, particularly the UPF, target vulnerable and lonely people who are easily signed up to their cause. The young man in our program and his friends have very tough lives and struggle to find meaning. The tragedy is that they have now found a sense of purpose in (literally) fighting the very people who purport to care about, and should be organising, the disenfranchised and alienated: trade unionists, socialists and “the left”.
– Daniel Nicholson, via email
Stoking fear in Australia
I’m not a fan of violence in any form. But misreading its importance in the nationalist zeitgeist must be addressed: “that unopposed, bigotry will become a virulent weed” is not simply a “recurring metaphor” of the left. It’s a lesson learnt from history, and along with violence it’s a fundamental plank of the hard right – a raison d’être in itself. Both stem from fear of the “other” – be they Muslim, Jew or phantom terrorist. When Tony Abbott says Daesh is “coming for us” he deliberately stokes those fears. When George Christensen speaks at a Reclaim rally he legitimises those same fears and implicitly spurs the subsequent reactionary violence. When a prime minister constantly divides us, and demonises “foreign” out-groups, a surge in violent nationalism is inevitable. That some of the “radical” left who turned up responded with violence makes it clear that there are thugs on both sides. But bigotry and violence go together like Brownshirt and jackboot, they always have.
– Lee Kear, Kambah, ACT
Damage done for political expediency
Re Tony Windsor’s slaying of the Baird and Abbott government, “Going to groundwater” (July 23-31), it appears our elected leaders are shockproof about the potential destruction of natural resources, i.e. Liverpool’s mining project. When ministers assist friends (Macdonald and Obeid) and weak-kneed ministers such as New South Wales premier Baird, Greg Hunt (environment) and Barnaby Joyce (agriculture) waffle under a bullying Abbott, concerned only about a profitable Chinese relationship, what future is there for NSW? The Liverpool Plains mining project with China’s Shenhua sounds a quick financial fix in exchange for potential damage to the Murray-Darling underground water system. The mind boggles at the monumental nonchalance, ignorance and lack of integrity of all those who ticked boxes and okayed this appallingly unwise project. Have we come to such a pass that staying in power supersedes the good of the country? One hopes this project will jump out of the box and bite Abbott on the bum, hard enough to unseat him.
– Y. Liechti, Dangar Island, NSW
All over the map
Tony Windsor’s article explains a lot. As I read it, I could certainly understand that the Chinese may be forgiven for believing that the licence granted was located in the Hunter Valley region and not on the Liverpool Plains, given who approved the licence. Perhaps this is extremely naive, but why can’t we just give the Chinese back the $300 million and explain that the minister just got it wrong on the basis that a NSW government brain was absent during negotiations and we do not wish our rich agricultural land to be compromised by a coalmine. I can just see this debacle as an episode on Utopia; the deal is sealed and cannot be abandoned as the business cards have already been printed.
– Bernadette Scadden, Earlwood, NSW
Labor ignoring the suffering
Expediency over principle seems to be continuing to drive ALP thinking, at least among its dominant Right faction. Copying the Abbott government’s refugee turn-back policy suggests that, far from being the party of the “future”, it is continuing to sacrifice compassion and international law obligations for the sake of short-term political gain. Bill Shorten’s assertion that Labor did not want to reopen the “lethal” seaways to Australia is like saying we should close our highways due to thousands of road deaths and forget about the need for ambulances to reach people. Tony Burke’s concern about the 33 who died at sea on his watch as immigration minister does not seem to extend to the far greater number of refugees who would be left to die at sea, return to repression, rot in camps, or be exposed to exploitation, if all boat-arriving refugees are forced back. Nor does he consider how deaths at sea might be reduced if our navy was tasked with rescuing not repulsing refugees at risk. But perhaps “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” refugee suffering works as well for the Labor leadership as it does for Abbott and many other unthinking Australians. The Labor Party was doing well enough in the polls without this latest “flip-flop” which casts doubt on whether Shorten will ever implement the more principled ALP conference-endorsed policies on climate change and nuclear disarmament.
– Michael Hamel-Green, Coburg, Vic
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 1, 2015. Subscribe here.