The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group has published a statement on the Michael Schmidt matter. In part it reads:

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group is studying these documents and has not yet reached any conclusions. If the allegations against Michael Schmidt are true, he should be expelled from the movement and treated as both a serious danger and a thorough scoundrel. If they are false, he has been appallingly libelled and he deserves public exoneration – and his accusers are guilty of, at best, reckless behaviour.

We believe that a tribunal, composed so as to hold moral authority in the Anarchist movement, should be established to investigate the allegations thoroughly and impartially according to the principles of natural justice and to publish a report of its findings. The Anarkismo Network, to which the MACG belongs, is pursuing an initiative along these lines. The MACG therefore appeals to the Anarchist movement to withhold judgement until such a time as either the tribunal reports, or it becomes clear that the attempt to form a credible tribunal has failed.

I have a lot of time for everyone in the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group, but on this issue I think they have it wrong.

In 2015 the nature and political content of anarchism is hotly contested by increasingly incompatible anarchist tendencies. This conflict over the soul of the anarchist movement is playing out in disputes on the Michael Schmidt matter.

In this context, there is no possibility of forming any tribunal, or any other body, that was “composed as to hold the moral authority of the Anarchist movement”. The disparate political and ideological tendencies that consider themselves the anarchist movement today do not have the degree of political or organizational cohesion required to undertake such a task. Any body established by or out of one tendency or group would be condemned by all of the others.

If there ever was an organization that was broadly held in sufficient esteem to undertake such a task, it was the AK Press collective. They have already, in a manner, assigned two people to conduct and investigation and publish a report. The articles by Alexander Reid Ross and Joshua Stephens have been greeted in much the same manner that any report by any “tribunal” would be.

In practical terms, any tribunal established amongst the Anarkismo network will leave groups and individuals wishing to understand the Michael Schmidt matter with roughly the same task. Approximately a hundred thousand words have been spilled on the Michael Schmidt matter in the past two months, most of it speculation, assertion, or “evidence” which defies verification. Anarchists will have to take a look at what Michael Schmidt admits he has written, make a judgement on it, and act accordingly.

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Returning YPG volunteer Ashley Dyball has now beenreunited with his parents at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.

Dyball was released at Melbourne Airport just before 3am this morning, after four and half hours questioning by AFP. He has not been charged with an offense.

For anyone interested, I joined the group of friends, family, Kurdish community and other supporters who gathered to greet Ashley at Tullamarine aiport this evening.

A selection of tweets and photos from the evening is available on this Storify page, ‘Ashley Dyball released without charge’.

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I’ve finally gotten around to listening to Dave Eden’s excellent podcast, Living the Dream, and in particular an October episode on conspiracy theory entitled ‘Everything You Know is Wrong’.

Dave advances a few ideas about the nature of conspiracy theory and reasons for its current prominence. In particular the podcast is commenting on the growth of conspiracy theory in broadly ‘left’ movements (Occupy, opposition to the TPP, etc) where before such ideas would be rejected.

These are all issues worth considering, but after listening to the podcast, something else struck me.

I’ve spent the better part of the year involved in the campaign against the Reclaim Australia phenomena and its various offshoots. An understanding of the growth of conspiracy theory is directly relevant to understanding the Reclaim Australia phenomenon.

A Definition of Conspiracy Theory

Dave Eden proposes that conspiracy theories:

attempt to explain the world, the broad situation of the society we exist in, as a product of the action of a coherent determined group. So it’s not simply that there are conspiracies, but that the social order can be explained as a conspiracy.

And that there are a variety of common characteristics to conspiracy theory:

This conspiracy is usually described as being alien and outside of the norm, an external force that has impregnated and infiltrated the social order. However it is simultaneously dominating and everywhere. … Linked to this, normally, the vast majority of people are described as being asleep and brainwashed … and the conspiracy theorists themselves often understand themselves as being “the only sane man in the world”, simultaneously not being believed and in danger.

In terms of both of these elements, the idea of ‘conspiracy theory’ is directly relevant to Reclaim Australia and it’s offshoots.

For the anti-Muslim racists of Reclaim Australia, Islam is an “external force” that is presently infiltrating the social order. Refugees, mosques, and halal food are all seen as elements in a progressive campaign to Islam-ify Australia, impose Sharia law, and subvert the existing white Judaeo-Christian social order.

The power that Reclaim Australia supporters attribute to an Islamic conspiracy varies. Reclaim Australia and it’s offshoots are attempting to establish street movements, micro-political parties and alike to ‘resist’ ‘Islamization’. They clearly do not think that the power of the conspiracy is total.

However, every setback their movement faces is explained in terms of an Islamic conspiracy in league with the forces of the state. In Victoria, the decision of the Bendigo City Council to grant a planning permit for the construction of a small mosque was explained as the result of a corrupt nexus between the business interests of Bendigo’s Mayor, the Islamic community, and the federal government.

When an appeal against planning permission for the Bendigo mosque failed at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, the conspiracy theory expanded to include court collusion. The looming failure of ‘Rights for Bendigo Residents’ in the Supreme court will doubtless be explained in the same way.

Dave Eden argues that:

Conspiracy theory, linked to this model of understanding the world, is reactionary in both content and form. … They are often tied to some formal of formally fascist or libertarian politics, explicitly anti-marxist, explicitly anti-feminist, explicitly seeing ideas of white middle class subjectivity under attack. They are normally deeply racist… and you often find a deep anti-environmental element too.

The more obviously fascist wing of the Reclaim Australia milieu publicly advances all of these ideas, but they are present throughout the entire Reclaim Australia movement.

As the year has progressed, explicitly anti-communist and anti-left ideas have come to the fore of the Reclaim Australia movement. The Melbourne based neo-Nazi offshoot, the United Patriots Front, is spending far more time talking about the evils of “contaminated” “cultural Marxists”, whilst including plenty of white supremacist, anti-feminist, and anti-queer rhetoric to boot.

They have recently decided that the current Victorian Premier is a communist who has been orchestrating the street based responses to their organizing efforts.

Dave Eden talks about the impact that conspiracy ideas have on the capacity of the left when he says:

The vision of the world they present, forecloses the possibility of collective agency. How’s it possible to transform the world when the world is so dominated by this conspiracy? And in practice the dissemination of these ideas further produce disorder, disorganization, lack of confidence amongst us as a class. These kind of ideas increase our feelings of powerlessness and paranoia.

In terms of the far-right, the conspiracy theory plays a somewhat different role. The idea that the conspiracy exists, but that it can be resisted by courageous ‘patriots’, has been the basis upon which the Reclaim Australia movement and its offshoots have build.

That said, in terms of their affect on the working class, the problem is the same. Islamophobic conspiracy theories have provoked wider class division and disorder.

Prevalence of Conspiracy Theory

Dave Eden argues that conspiracy theory has become the “default framework for a critique of the world”.

It’s difficult to assess the extent to which the prevalence of conspiracy theory is increasing. My personal experience backs up what Dave Eden argues. Conspiracy theory is increasingly predominant in spaces where I would previously have expected left anti-capitalist ideas to be totally dominant.

There isn’t a great swath of polling on conspiracy theory over time, and what polling exists obviously has some problems in terms of the contested definition of conspiracy. That said, what polling that does exist suggests that if conspiracy is a “fringe”, it’s a damned big one:

28% of [United States] voters believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government

In terms of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, I can’t readily find accurate polling. Last year approximately one in four polled reported “negative feelings” towards Islam or Muslims. I’d be interested to see how that has changed after this years events.

Anti-Muslim conspiracy theories are the dominant idea in the Reclaim Australia milieu (assuming their online communications are representative of the movement as a whole), but they are not necessarily the entire movement.

There is an overtly fascist core at work in the likes of the United Patriots Front. For many of these actors anti-Muslim racism appears to be the tool of the day rather than a sincerely held position. The likes of Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson (and a few others I can think of) have made the transition from anti-Semitic neo-Nazis to anti-Muslim defenders of the State of Israel a little too quickly for any reasonable person to believe that their surface politics are sincere.

That said, the rise and rise of anti-Muslim conspiracy theory has created the environment in which these fringe players have been able to reach a much wider audience.

Explaining the growth of Conspiracy Theory

Dave Eden presents two concurrent explanations for the rise of conspiracy theory on the Australian left today.

The first is a bit tangential to any discussion of Reclaim Australia. Eden proposes that past defeats (in particular the failure of the movement against the Iraq war in 2003) taught a whole generation that they were powerless.

The growth of conspiracy on the left is evidence of it’s powerlessness, the failure of the Iraq War movement taught a whole generation that collective action (in particular a rally strategy) didn’t (or no longer) worked, and the left currently does not offer credible alternatives to either apathy or conspiracy.

The second explanation draws directly on Marx. We’re witnessing the massive growth and output of capitalism, whilst experiencing less and less control over our own lives. In terms of the far-right, I’d propose this is the more interesting area of investigation.

The growth of anti-Islam conspiracy theories and alike has a lot to do with the current situation in capitalism.

The weakness and disorganization of the workers movement is relevant to the rise of the far-right. The conditions of the whole working class in Australia are under attack, and are progressively being eroded. However the white working class faces something of a double attack on their position.

The white (male) working class in Australia has long enjoyed a position of relative privilege within the wider working class. This relative position is being eroded, in particular by the casualization of labour, the erosion of the social wage, and the erosion of real wages. In 2015 the Australian working class is experiencing an income recession.

The elements that make up the Reclaim Australia audience feel their their ‘rightful’ relative position of privilege is being undermined. At the same time that the position of all workers is being eroded, the racist sees their status being reduced to that of non-white workers.

Dave argues that conspiracy (and perhaps by extension racism) leads to passivity and paranoia. The thing that has characterized Reclaim Australia is they have successfully gone beyond this; Reclaim Australia has been an active outburst.

The particular form its taking is an outburst in response to the erosion of a position of relative privilege.

What’s the Solution?

I have spent the bulk of the past year involved in the campaign to oppose Reclaim Australia and it’s various offshoots. The campaign has focused on disrupting specific attempts by the far-right to project power on the streets.

What we don’t have is a wider plan, idea or practice for addressing the growth in racist conspiracy theory.

If you boil this down … conspiracy theory is the logical outgrowth of a life without power. So the alternative to conspiracy theory is the collective development of power.

As much as I hate to admit it, Dave is right in his assessment of the current strength of ‘the left’:

The left as it exists, very marginal, very small … does not currently have a practice that can manifest power.

But I am skeptical of any position that argues there is a “starting point” in the realm of analysis.

Sure, we need all of these things:

We would need to start with an analysis of capitalism today, how does it actually work, develop a series of strategies about what concrete groups of people can do in this concrete conjucture to shift the balance … and then manifest tactics to allow that.

But, how is any analysis of capitalism today ever formed? How are strategies about concrete groups of people developed? How are tactics that actually convey power projected?

And even if by some magic wand an individual or small group suddenly discovered the answers to these questions, how would such ideas actually transmit from this small group to theorized groups of people?

Meaningful strategy has to be a responsive process developed in practice. Effective tactics will only ever be discovered by experimentation in practice. A commitment to practice is the only way to begin to develop groups that would genuinely have the capacity to transmit this practice (through their engagement and action with) to larger concrete groups of people that could develop the capacity to change society.

The starting point is not an analysis of capitalism today, it’s a commitment to practice that reflects, experiments, and recognizes and learns from mistakes. More than anything else this requires that people committed to libertarian emacipatory politics come together in groups and organise for a concurrent process of action and analysis.

Conspiracy theory as a broad scale social phenomena is not something one can argue away. … What gives it life is the palpable absence of the class movement itself.

On that I agree.

Living the Dream, ‘Everything You Know is Wrong’:

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In a move that will make criminals of every hippy with a bookshelf, the Andrews’ government is amending the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances act 1981 criminalize simply possessing “a document containing instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence”.

That’s right, they’re coming for your grow guides!

The proposed amendments represent a significant uptick in Victoria’s war on drugs; simply having the wrong book could land you five years in prison.Watch movie online John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Under current legislation, the possession of a drug manual is only prohibited if you intend to use it. The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act states:

A person who, without being authorised by or licensed under this Act or the regulations to do so, possesses a substance, material, document containing instructions relating to the preparation, cultivation or manufacture of a drug of dependence or equipment with the intention of using the substance, material, document or equipment for the purpose of trafficking in a drug of dependence is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).

The proposed amendment creates a new offense of possessing without intent:

71E Possession of document containing information about trafficking or cultivating a drug of dependence
(1) A person who, without being authorised by or licensed under this Act or the regulations to do so or otherwise without a reasonable excuse, possesses a document containing instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a penalty of not more than 600 penalty units or level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum) or both.

This amendment is a significant increase in the state’s power to criminalize “things” associated with drug production that are not actually drugs or drug production.

Our totally trustworthy government will insist this legislation is only intended to ‘catch’ would be Walter Whites, presumably before they had setup their epic drug laboratories. In reality, the scope of this amendment is far wider.

Every kid who downloads a copy of the misnamed Anarchist Cookbook online will be liable for five years. Heck, the definitions of ‘document’ and ‘possess’ are such that you’d better not be cruising 420chan or one or any number of popular forums.

And what about things that are not obviously titled drug manuals? When the crime is possessing a “document containing instructions relating to” stripped of all requirement to establish intent, all manner of different books, articles, and Encyclopedias become potential causes of long term incarceration.

A further amendment criminalizes publishing a “document containing instructions”, and again, the test of “intent” connected to drug production is missing:

71F Publication of document containing instructions
(1) A person who, without being authorised by or licensed under this Act or the regulations to do so or otherwise without a reasonable excuse, publishes a document containing instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence—
(a) with the intention that the instructions will be used by another person for the purposes of the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence; or
(b) knowing or being reckless as to whether the instructions will be used by another person for the purpose of the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence—
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a penalty of not more than 1200 penalty units or level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum) or both.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), it is irrelevant whether the document or the instructions contained in the document actually work to traffick or cultivate a drug of dependence.
(3) For the purposes of this section, publish includes sell, offer for sale, let on hire, exhibit, display, distribute and demonstrate.

So be careful what you put in that Wikipedia article.

Every year that the drug war is allowed to continue, the powers that the state claims in order to prosecute this war increases at the expense of what little remains of individual autonomy.

Bonus!

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So who saw the story about “Sovereign Citizens” on ABC’s 7.30 tonight?

The ABC program reported that a “NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics command assessment” has unveiled a shocking new terrorism threat!

“Sovereign citizens are in Australia and both their numbers and the threat they pose, are growing”

The ABC would have us believe that the US militia movement of the 1990s was about to break forth in Australia:

Police records show the number of Australian sovereign citizens in NSW doubled from 2009 to 2011 and nearly tripled from 2009 to 2012.

Interactions with police increased 50 per cent in 2011, with a “notable increase in threats of violence”.

In the United States, domestic anti-government extremists have murdered 32 law enforcement officers and the Department of Homeland Security now says they’re the number one domestic terrorist threat.

The truth is a little more mundane.

Australia’s sovereignty cranks are more likely to be engaged in banking frauds than armed violence.

Much more likely. In the ABC’s report a NSW Police spokesperson concedes that the sovereign citizenship movement has not in fact been associated with any substantial acts of violence in Australia:

Australia had not experienced any of the high impact violence resulting in death or casualties associated with the movement overseas

Sovereign citizens might annoyingly drive around “displaying homemade registration plates”, but they are not the US militia movement of the 1990s. So why the terrorism beat up?

Detective Superintendent John O’Reilly is the commander of the Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Operation Group for NSW Police.

He said…

“Sovereign citizens are people that don’t buy into our legal framework, our system of government,” he said.

“They consider themselves individuals and operate outside the law and outside our tax system.”

Wow.

I’d be really keen to read the NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics command assessment in question. Who else do they consider potential terrorists?

How about land rights campaigners? An increasing number of Aboriginal people take the slogan “Sovereignty Never Ceded” seriously.

Are First Nations Liberation, Black Nations Rising, or Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance included on some list of potential terrorists?

What about anarchists? (I ask rather self-interestedly!) Or communists? Or Socialists? What about the growing elements in the environmental movement, trade union movement, or anyone else who has come to see in whose interests our government governs?

Sovereign citizens are cranks, but within Australia they have always been harmless cranks. The idea that Australia’s sovereign citizen movement is capable of anything more than vexatious litigation and creative financial scams is patently absurd. The fact that NSW Police classify them as a terrorist threat is just more evidence of how widely the Australian state is now casting the terrorism net.

Related:

The Monthly, 6 Sept 2014, Freemen movement targets Indigenous Australia.

Living the Dream, 12 Oct 2015, Evereything You Know is Wrong – Conspiracy Theory (podcast).

Cartoon by Randall Munroe, xkcd.
Cartoon by xkcd.

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TD;DR, Use of a standard hashtag for tracking ticket inspectors, and specific hashtags for routes and stops, would improve the level of information available to commuters on social media.

Approximately 5.9% of public transport users fare evade. I’m surprised it isn’t higher; there are plenty of good reasons people fare evade.

Consider the rate of poverty; 13.7 of Melbournians live below the Henderson poverty line. All of the current welfare payments fall below the Henderson Poverty line. If you are on any form of welfare payment, you’re likely subsisting on <$20/day after rent. A concession myki daily in zone 1 is $3.76. Everybody need some basic access to transport, and until there is some form of free public transit, a sizable minority of public transport users will be forced to either fare evade or walk.

I am surprised that so many living on so little scrape together the payments demanded by the private operators of our supposedly public transport system. But then, consider the level of policing. As a recent report in The Age highlights:

“More than 13 million tickets have been checked since October 2013, with authorised officers checking around 400,000 more tickets per month than the same time a year ago,” Mr Fedda said.

Fare evasion peaked in 2011, during the transition to the myki smartcard system, when 12.7 per cent of passengers fare evaded. Since then the number of fines handed out has soared 46 per cent, with 158,000 infringement notices issued in 2013-14, Mr Fedda said.

The daily experience of ticket inspection has been one of harassment, intimidation, and more than occasional violence.

Whether it’s disgust at violence by inspectors, a $1.5 billion dollar ticketing system paid for with public money for the gain of private contractors, ongoing boycott in protest at the sacking of Connies, or the simple fact that we all need to travel whilst not all of us can pay – there are many good reasons to fare evade.

There are also many good reasons to want to know where the “chaps” enforcing this farce are at.

* * * * *

Three years ago the Sydney tabloids breathlessly reported on a sinister new mobile app that was going to tell us all where the ticket inspectors were at. The Spector app hasn’t been updated since 2013 and receives little in the way of traffic.

More recently the Herald Sun and others have reported on Facebook pages warning commuters of the location of authorised officers:

THOUSANDS of Melbourne fare evaders are dodging ticket inspectors with the help of social media snitches that track their whereabouts.

More than 4700 people have liked a Facebook page that posts the whereabouts of inspectors and encourages others to do the same.

Two of the larger Facebook groups are Report Ticket Inspectors live and Where are our mates, Melbourne’s PT ticket wardens today?.

Both of these groups are interesting projects, but it’s a bit of a lucky dip as to whether you will find the information you want by trawling these groups when you are traveling. The same is true for information on twitter.

Public transport users interested in tracking, monitoring, or avoiding (for various reasons) Melbourne’s ticket inspectors need a more reliable system. My earth shattering proposal: basically what everyone is already doing but with some standard hashtags.

There should be a general hashtag for tracking authorized officers in Melbourne (as opposed to the generic #ticketinspectors, which whilst intuitive is just as likely to give you information about scum on the tube), and then specific hashtags for every tram, train and bus service.

For want of a better solution, I propose #AuthOffMelb. It’s a bad attempt at a bad pun.

I’d then propose that all reports of ticket inspectors locations include a hashtag for the service. For buses, #bus and then the bus number, eg. #bus903. For trams, #rt and then the route number, eg. #rt19. For trains, #[destination]line, eg. #WerribeeLine. If used consistently, this would give people the ability to check ticket inspector locations on their line.

It would also be useful to use standard hashtags for stops and stations. Stations are easy, #StationnameStation, eg. #FlemingtonStation. Both trams and buses have stop numbers, but I’m not sure how many people pay attention to either. It’s probably easier to encourage people to use the most common name for stops, eg. #MelbourneUniStop.

So the long and short of all that rambling: if people chose to Facebook and tweet reports on the location of ticket inspectors in a standard format with some standard hashtags, more people might be able to make use of that information in various ways.

Examples (entirely fictional):

Chaps at #VicUniStop. #bus550 #bus551 bus#250. #authoffmelb pic.twitter.com/OOs0kba0T4

There are delightful people on #rt57 to city, just passing #ChildrensHospitalStop. #authoffmelb

The #CranbourneLine that just left #SouthernCrossStation is crawling with them. #authoffmelb

* * * * *

Attempting to avoid or track ticket inspectors is not a long term solution. Every person living here needs to be able to move about the city. Public transport is a public good that should be provided for all, yet at present we live in a city where hired goons extort money from public transport users who (where they are fare evading) largely can’t afford it. Public transport built and maintained at public expense has been contracted out for private gain.

In the long term we should demand free public transport. As an anarchist, another interesting question is that of direct action. How can public transport users take collective action to demand or create free public transport?

The basic idea that springs to mind is some kind of payment strike. Mass non compliance with ticket inspectors, perhaps backed up by the collective action of commuters to eject ticket inspectors from public transport vehicles, could render public transport fares meaningless. Any such campaign would have to involve both the majority of public transport workers and a sizable proportion of commuters to be successful.

A payment strike is not practical at this point. Until it is, we should continue to raise the demand that everyone has the right to move about this city, whether they have $3.76 or not.

Bonus!

Check out this handy flow chart, “Can I ride the tram?”.

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Six years after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, an estimated 650 Tamil political prisoners remain imprisoned in Sri Lanka, indefinitely, and without charge:

They are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allows the security forces to detain people for up to 18 months without bringing them before a court.

But some have been jailed since 1997.

The UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in a landmark report last month that the government had acknowledged holding 258 men and women under the PTA but only 54 of them had been convicted of anything.

Nearly 30 prisoners of varied ethnicities died in prisons during rioting in 2012. – BBC, 12 Oct 2015.

Expectations that Tamil political prisoners would be either released, or charged and tried, had been raised as a result of recent political changes in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s war time authoritarian leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost to Maithripala Sirisena in January elections in Sri Lanka:

“the country’s numerical minorities voted overwhelmingly for Sirisena during January’s presidential election” – The Diplomat, October 19.

With the war apparently over, it would seem reasonable to demand that war-time powers be repealed:

“A range of people and groups (both on the island and abroad) have been demanding that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) be repealed for quite some time. The legislation gives the country’s state security personnel wide-ranging authority to search, arrest and detain people; without a doubt, the law has had a disproportionately negative effect on the nation’s Tamil community” – The Diplomat, October 19.

After nine months of political inaction, Tamil prisoners began an indefinite hunger strike in early October. By October 12 President Sirisena had promised to address the status of Tamil prisoners:

Tamil political prisoners who began a fast unto death six days ago demanding their release, suspended their protest temporarily yesterday after receiving a written assurance from President Maithripala Sirisena to solve the issue of their detention prior to 7 November. – Ceylon Today, 18 October

It now appears that the Sirisena government has reneged on it’s commitments to address the status of Tamil prisoners:

The Srisena regime has announced that it will not release most of the Tamil political prisoners who have been languishing in the jails and detention centres in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe announced on Friday only 32 prisoners will be released by 9th November.

Reacting to the announcement from Colombo, Tamil political prisoners said to Ceylon Today:

“We shall launch another ‘fast unto death’ if the President fails to adhere to his promises, as mentioned in the letter, before 7 November. This is the only way we have chosen to find a solution to our burning problem. President Sirisena will be held accountable for our deaths during the hunger strike. President Sirisena will be responsible for our vital organs. He should take responsibility to donate our organs.”

A large number of the Tamil political prisoners have been kept in prison for over two decades without charge or trial by the Sri Lankan state through emergency powers granted to its security forces in the Prevention of Terrorist Act ( PTA) and Emergency Regulation Laws. Majority of the prisoners have experienced torture and been subjected to human rights violations by the Sri Lankan police and intelligence. Some of the prisoners have revealed their stories of sexual torture.

The Tamil Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, C.V. Vigneswaran, in a press release, emphasized that good governance cannot be implanted from the outside; the government has to prove it by actions. He also said that the release of Tamil political prisoners has proven to involve no risk for the state as those released under the previous regime caused no violence. He also pointed out the discriminatory logic of the government, which provided amnesty to the Sinhalese insurgents of the JVP during the 1970’s and 1990’s while refusing it to Tamil political prisoners:

“In the time of the JVP, everyone was given unconditional general amnesty. To say that there are obstacles and delays is surprising for us. It is only by accommodating such small requests that the rhetoric of good governance can have some use, but to maintain such policies, and chanting ‘good governance’ is obsolete.”

The Srisena Government’s reluctance to release Tamil political prisoners and maintain war-time emergency laws exposes their intent to continue with the genocidal agenda of the successive Sri Lankan Governments, Tamil Refugee Council said today.

“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the Tamil political prisoners, unlawfully incarcerated by the occupying Sri Lankan forces and its state in official and undisclosed detention camps and prisons.” Said Tamil Refugee Spokesperson Aran Mylvaganam.

“We demand the Australian government and it’s allies, who proved their influence in the island by instigating a regime change earlier this year, to wield the same power in pressing the Colombo government to immediately grant general amnesty to all Tamil political prisoners. The incarcerated Tamils are not criminals, and cannot be subjected to the criminal jurisdiction of the Sri Lankan state. They are rather political prisoners and Prisoners of War.”

“The western governments cannot conceive or expect a cessation to the refugee crisis, involving Tamils, without solving the political situation in their homeland. It is the Sri Lankan state terror and military occupation of their traditional homelands leads to Tamils fleeing persecution and impoverished lives towards countries like Australia” – Tamil Refugee Council Press Office, 9 November 2015

The campaign for justice for Tamils on the island of Sri Lanka continues. Within Australia I strongly encourage comrades to support the work of the Tamil Refugee Council and Tamil Fightback. You can follow Tamil Fightback on Twitter, Facebook and on 3cr Radio in Melbourne.

Additional

Update

Trevor Grant has published a new piece on the ongoing genocide against Tamil people in Sri Lanka:

The Sirisena regime says in one forum they are going to release all prisoners, then, in another, denies there are any political detainees. The end result is preservation of the status quo, except for a few token releases designed to silence continued demands from Amnesty International and other well-informed, respected human rights groups to free these people and investigate the 146,000 reported Tamil disappearances, along with the many mass graves that have been uncovered in recent times.

Check it out.

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It’s a case of “much transparency, such openness” from the Australian Greens.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has reshuffled the Green’s party room, but you wouldn’t know it from him. There hasn’t been so much as a media release or statement about the reshuffle from Di Natale.

Instead, the Greens have simply updated the portfolio responsibilities list on their website and issued an updated contact list to journalists.

How the Greens see fit to notify people about changes to their Parliamentary team.

How the Greens see fit to notify people about changes to their Parliamentary team.

The only public indication from Greens’ federal parliamentarians has been this brief statement from Lee Rhiannon.

The content of the unadvertised reshuffle further demonstrates that the Greens are a party lurching rightwards.

Lee Rhiannon and Janet Rice have been stripped of key campaign portfolio responsibilities, on the same day Richard di Natale has indicated he will work with the Liberal party on refugees and marriage equality.

Lee Rhiannon’s work in higher education, especially in the critical and much neglected TAFE sector, has consistently won kudos and respect from officials in both of the major education unions. Lee Rhiannon is also publicly identified as the most consistently left wing Greens parliamentarian.

The portfolio reshuffle sees responsibility for higher education go to South Australia’s yet-to-be-appointed replacement for Penny Wright, Robert Simms.

Robert Simms has also picked up responsibility for the LBGTI and Marriage Equality portfolio from Victorian Senator Janet Rice. Within the Greens this is a key campaigning portfolio; its move away from someone associated with the left based in Melbourne to an Adelaide based newcomer is significant.

In a sick twist sure to disappoint Greens supporters in the education sector, new Tasmanian Senator Nick McKim has been given the “Schools” portfolio.

In 2011 McKim served as Minister for Education in a Tasmanian Labor dominated government where he oversaw significant cuts to public education funding in that state. The appointment of McKim to this role is unsurprising given their new leader. Within the Greens Di Natale is said to oppose the Greens’ longstanding commitment to free tertiary education.

The Australian Greens under Richard di Natale are continuing their trajectory to the right. If those who identify as ‘the left’ within the Greens do not successfully fight this trajectory, they will have become little more than window dressing for a right wing party in much the same fashion as the Labor left.

Assuming they have not already.

Updates

Nick McKim has now released a presser celebrating his new portfolio responsibilities. It includes the following:

“I will work with my colleagues to champion entrepreneurship and the collaborative economy, which will be real economic drivers into the future.”

“I will be a fierce advocate for small business, and will continue the great work done by Senator Peter Whish-Wilson to ensure they get a level playing field to compete with the large corporations.

“The Greens will present an alternative vision for the economy that looks to the innovators, small businesses and entrepreneurs to generate sustainable wealth and prosperity in the 21st Century.”

The NSW Young Greens have posted a statement on their Facebook page which includes the following:

The NSW Young Greens object to the decision to remove the Higher Education portfolio from Senator Lee Rhiannon.

This decision will hurt the entire education movement across the country. Activists, students, NAPU and NTEU & AEU members have relied on the support of Senator Rhiannon for many years, and have developed a strong working relationship with her. These close relationships, and the actions Senator Rhiannon has taken, have allowed the Greens to be at the forefront of the campaign against deregulation, and together we have played a key role in defeating it. This decision will, in many ways, alienate thousands of young people and union members from the Greens.

The NSW Young Greens would also like to object more broadly to the manner in which portfolios are chosen in the Australian Greens Party Room.

The Sydney University Education Action Group has posted this:

Chris Pyne losing the Education portfolio is an unsurprising attempt by the Turnbull government to save face in light of failed higher education reform. In the midst of the shambles of Federal politics, we’re devastated to hear that the The Australian Greens have inexplicably replaced Lee Rhiannon as their higher education spokesperson, in what many are interpreting as a rightward lurch.

Further Update:

Sky News posted Greens reshuffle while all eyes on PM late last night:

The Greens have reshuffled their party room in a move overshadowed by of Malcolm Turnbull’s first day as prime minister.

New South Wales Senator Lee Rhiannon lost the higher education portfolio, while Victorian Senator Janet Rice is no longer the spokesperson for same-sex marriage and LGTBI issues.

The move is likely to further anger certain sections of the party’s membership already concerned about the lack of transparency and consultation shown during May’s leadership spill.

Meanwhile others have been wondering what on earth Di Natale was doing at this last week.

Wednesday Updates

New Matilda running with Anger In NSW After Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon Loses Higher Education Portfolio:

Despite playing a prominent role in the push-back against Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s attempts to deregulate the higher education sector, Rhiannon has lost the portfolio to New South Australian Senator-designate Robert Simms, who has also received the high profile LGBTI and Marriage Equality roles.

New Matilda understands the ultimate responsibility for redistributing portfolios lies with Greens leader Richard Di Natale, and that MPs were informed of the final changes at a party room meeting on Tuesday morning.

Green Left Weekly has picked it up with Federal Greens leader sidelines two popular Green MPs.

Thursday / Friday Updates

Crikey ran an article (paywalled) on Thursday entitled Greens’ sneaky portfolio reshuffle upsets NSW branch.

A couple of of commentors in the thread below have pointed to this blog post by Richard di Natale on the Greens magazine website. Apparently it proves the Green’s total openness, transparency and lack of a rightward shift.

See Also

New Matilda, New Greens Boss Richard Di Natale Forced To Clarify Israel Stance.
SBS, Pension Changes to Pass with Greens support.
Kieran’s Review, 5 reasons the Greens aren’t good enough on asylum seekers.

Giveaway iPhone 7 Plus

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A few rough thoughts on Saturday’s counter demonstration against Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front.

1. A defeat for the far-right

Shermon Burgess and the United Patriots Front wagered their grouping’s credibility on a successful #July18 rally in Melbourne.

The UPF called for a total mobilization of right wing forces to converge on Melbourne. Their propaganda claimed that the rally in Melbourne was basically a matter of life and death for the far-right (and by extension in their world view, Australia). ‘The left’ had to be defeated on this day or ‘Australia’ would be destroyed.

There was talk of buses and planes bringing in ‘patriot’ support from all over Australia and even the world; every angle that could get racists out from behind their keyboards and onto the streets was pursued. Burgess went to so far as to announce he would quit ‘the movement’ if this one rally did not succeed in defeating Islam and ‘the left’.

Burgess repeatedly claimed that an awe inspiring coalition of far-right forces had been forged to support this rally. Dissent was not tolerated, when one far-right grouping dared disagree with Burgess the UPF denounced the evil splitters. Monika Evers and Julie Kendell of ‘Reclaim Australia Rally – Melbourne’ were described as “traitors” who Burgess would “kick in the c-nt”. Anyone who attended anything other than the official UPF rally was warned they would likely be bashed by ‘feral lefties’, as only the UPF had the muscle and the preparedness to use violence required for the right to rally in Melbourne.

When measured against their rhetoric and stated aims, the UPF failed on Saturday, and they failed miserably.

Despite an extra month of propaganda and organization, the UPF contingent on Saturday was smaller than their showing on May 31 in Richmond. In May they mustered approximately seventy supporters for an aborted March on Richmond Town Hall, on Saturday they mustered maybe sixty.

Burgess and friends claimed they would bring the muscle required for a fascist rally; “1pm Parliament steps, be there”. In practice, they were forced to skulk in under police escort at midday.

It is doubtful the UPF agitators believed they could smash the left on Saturday. Their real hope would have been to speak to, perform for, and hopefully recruit from the wider layer of racists that attended the April 4 rally in Melbourne. On this count also, the UPF failed miserably.

Due to the opposition of anti-racists, the UPF had to join the Reclaim Australia Rally under police escort and after a significant degree of secrecy. They result was that the few individuals who did turn out from the wider Islamophobic milieu were excluded from the UPF/Reclaim Australia rally.

Saturday’s rally also marked the effective end of the Reclaim Australia grouping’s Melbourne arm. On April 4, Reclaim Australia attracted perhaps a thousand people to its rally (even if only a few hundred made it through anti-racist lines to the rally kettle established by police).

On Saturday less than a hundred people gathered for the 11am rally announced by RAR-M’s Monika Evers. The planned bus of racist supporters from Bendigo simply did not materialize. A significant portion of the rump that did attend the RAR-M gathering were people mobilized by Danny Nalliah’s cult, rather than the Reclaim Australia grouping.

As a mobilizing force, the “Reclaim Australia” brand is utterly spent in Melbourne. Evers could barely muster some Facebook re-posts in the aftermath. The United Patriots Front fair little better in terms of mobilizing ability, but it seems likely their core group of agitators will continue churning out militaristic hate videos for some time yet.

2. Police violence and pepper spray

The Melbourne Street Medics Collection have released a statement about the police pepper spraying generally and the assault on their first aid triage point in particular:

Amongst those affected by the OC Spray was a casualty who began to experience respiratory distress, a not uncommon side-effect of OC spray and other such “less-than-lethal” chemical weapons. In the course of attending to this casualty and decontaminating others who had been affected, members of the Melbourne Street Medic Collective (including one pregnant woman) were attacked by police with OC Spray and kettled in a small space at the top of Little Bourke Street.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support has also released a statement on the police tactics on Saturday:

According to Legal Observers present the OC foam was not directed towards individuals who were threatening police or engaged in violence but instead was directed over and onto the entire crowd of people present. For this reason the MALS Legal Observer Team identifies the use of OC foam in this circumstance as indiscriminate and therefore unlawful.

A comrade from Anarchist Affinity has also written about the issue of police violence on Saturday:

Many people see the police through the traditional liberal lens- that they exist to protect society from crime. For the many people who copped pepper spray, saw the police pepper spray medics, took random punches to the face and received cursory “fuck offs” from the police yesterday, that notion is not going to gel particularly well with their feelings at the moment. Marxist or Anarchist theory will point out to you that the police exist to protect private property and the state, and little else.

There are a couple of remarks I want to add to the above.

It is clear that the police planned for the liberal use of pepper spray against the counter-demonstration; the Public Order Response Team personnel all used far more pressurized OC foam than they would ordinarily carry.

The police tactics were not a response to an unpredictable situation, they were a planned and prepared course of action. Somebody made the decision to have the Public Order Response Team repeatedly attack the counter demonstration, liberally distributing pepper spray in all directions. As the MALS statement points out, this is of course unlawful.

Whilst I was shocked by the brazen use of pepper spray on Saturday, the presence of police violence is never unexpected.

In the lead up to Saturday’s rally, the police made clear that it was their intention to facilitate the fascist demonstration. The UPF and Reclaim Australia were going to engage religious and racial vilification on the steps of Parliament House (the supposed home of democracy in Victoria), and the ‘job’ that he police were ‘just doing’ was ensuring that this could occur.

By counter-demonstrating we were announcing that our aims conflict with those of the police. If we’re serious about denying racists space on our streets we will have to contend with the force and violence of the police.

Yet I did not expect the level of police violence that occurred.

The state and the police have an interest in maintaining the legitimacy of their monopoly on the lawful use of violence. For this reason, I normally expect the police to use the minimum necessary violence to achieve their ends. I doubt the mass use of pepper spray was required to protect a small coterie of fascists, but the police clearly saw it differently. We could consider that a compliment.

Over the past three months counter-demonstrators at far-right rallies have developed confidence and capacity. At Federation Square on April 4 counter-demonstrators maintained a strong picket. In Richmond on May 31, counter-demonstrators pushed aside a police line in order to block a fascist march.

The police may want their violence to appear legitimate, but if it is a choice between appearing legitimate and maintaining control, the police must maintain the appearance of control. On May 31 the actions of counter-demonstrators briefly defied the police with little in the way of repercussions. I suspect that decisions around police tactics were in part informed by a desire to make a point about who runs the show.

The appearance of pepper spray at one demonstration should not dissuade people from attending these kinds of anti-racist actions.

Whilst police violence is distressing to experience, in these contexts it can be mitigated against by those prepared to contend with it, and largely avoided by those who wish to contribute to rejecting racism and fascism without copping a face full of weaponized pepper.

There are all manner of roles that people can and should play in contested street demonstrations that do not carry a risk of pepper spraying. The biggest restraint on the use of violence by police is the size of the demonstration they are contending with, the more outnumbered they are, the more restrained they will be.

3. Masked demonstrators

Blah blah blah, protestors wearing masks were violent hoodlums, blah blah blah.

I expect this kind of garbage in the mainstream press and from the police, but it is disappointing to see these remarks attributed to :

He said this allowed a small group of people, who were wearing masks and balaclavas, to take attention away from the hundreds who were there to peacefully take a stand against racism.

None of the groupings planning Saturday’s rally intended to be passive, and it’s disingenuous of Steve Jolly (assuming the quotation is accurate) to claim that his organization did not intend to defy police and attempt to block access to the far-right demonstration. I applaud them for their organizing work to that end.

There are a whole bunch of reasons people might wear masks in the context of Saturday’s counter-demonstration. The far-right seek to identify their political opponents, there are various websites and Facebook groups dedicated to “exposing” the opponents of racism in Australia.

For other people attending the rally appearing in media coverage was both likely and an unacceptable risk; medical professionals volunteering in the Street Medics Collective, for example, may mask up to avoid flak at their day jobs.

But the most obvious reason to mask up is that sometimes you need to push back. On Saturday we were seeking to picket and prevent a racist demonstration. A good segment of the people seeking to attend that rally were violent fascists, and some of those people had to be frog-marked, pushed and at times more forcibly ejected from space held by the counter demonstration. Individuals who entered the counter-demonstration space looking for a brawl had to be ejected, and many of the people who took it upon themselves to do the ejecting prefer not to be identified.

I think I should make it absolutely clear, the groupings organizing the counter-demonstration on Saturday had no intention of getting involved in individual brawls with individual fascists. The groups who gathered aimed to picket, disrupt and prevent a far-right rally.

Which is what we did.

Other / Updates

Yay! The Puf Gang!

Yay! The Puf Gang!

Comic is by Shermi and the Puf gang, with permission.

I’ve changed which Puf Gang comic appears on the post after receiving some critical feedback from comrades, feedback I accept.

To end, here is an elderly Italian priest waiving a red flag and singing Bella Ciao!

Header image credit Wardenclyffe Photography.

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There has now been extensive media coverage about Saturday’s events, almost all of it rubbish. There was stiff competition, but Andrew Jefferson’s article in the Herald Sun by takes the cake for sheer factual inaccuracy.

Jefferson faithfully reports the police line, even when (as he concedes here), he could see with his own eyes that it was untrue:

In an article full of howlers, Jefferson describes the forces arrayed against Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front as simply “Socialist anarchists”, and then he seemingly negotiates some kind of mega merger of the United Patriots Front, the Australian Defense League and the Patriots Defense League Australia to give us this amazing insight:

The Reclaim Australia protest was later boosted by the arrival of about 60 people from splinter group the Patriot Defence League, including many from interstate.

I expect bias, distortion, lies and propaganda from the Herald Sun, but Jefferson’s article just smacks of sheer laziness.

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