Interview: True Matilda
Politics: State of Play
Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Unions: Rhodes Scholars
National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
International: People Power
Economics: A Bit Rich
History: Mine Shafts
Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Organising: Building a Wave
Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Culture: The Word On The Street
The Locker Room
Co-operating At All Costs
All Good Except You
Interview with Peter Lewis
John, you were one of the driving forces behind the group of 43 who came out on the issue of truth of government, what motivated you to facilitate that?
There were three factors. The first is the general concern about truth in government from Tampa then on to Iraq where we've really been deceived about the reasons for a war and why we committed to war. The second major concern is the way that the American alliance is was being played politically. It was projected as the personal property of John Howard and George Bush rather than the relationship between the two countries and over a period Governments of both persuasions in Australia and America. The third reason was the concern that on terrorism Australian Governments had kicked an own goal and that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has greatly increased the terrorism threat to Australia. I think the evidence is overwhelming as a result of the occupation, the war in Iraq; terrorism is a much bigger threat than it ever was. I describe it as a home goal which John Howard has kicked on terrorism by being involved in the Iraq escapade. So they were the main factors behind the decision to see what we could put together, similarly in the US and UK and the response was very, very encouraging. It probably only took three weeks to put the whole thing together.
These are people that traditionally keep their own counsel so it must have been a bit of a step forward for a lot of them to sign up to such a political statement?
It was unusual but what clearly it shows the sense of anger that they have that truth is being trampled on. The people that signed that statement were most of them, I don't know what their politics would be, but most of them are professional people who believe in the Australian national interest. They believe that public service should be used professionally, but the military should not be used for political purposes. So it wasn't at all difficult to get them to sign: the strength of feeling on that subject about truth in government was very strong across the political spectrum in Australia.
In a way its almost a conservative statement that Government should take advice from Public Service and tell the truth. It's strange that Howard's calls himself a conservative. Do you take the view that he's probably more radical that a lot of left wing Governments?
Correct, John Howard like George Bush is a very radical Prime Minister; he has turned Government functions on their head. He has in many instances, compromised the public service. Increasingly public servants who don't join the team that the loyalty requires political endorsement or acceptance of this Government and its policies and its values pay a personal price. It's very similar to what's happened in the United States to George Bush. I think we've had a corruption of public life in Australia under this Government. A very radical Government by any standards in Australia.
I guess your critics though would say well you came from a Labor background; you were Gough Whitlam's Chief of Staff. Surely you were political in the way that you discharged your duties. What's different?
We've all got political views. I'd be very surprised if people don't and I think those who deny they have a political view are misleading themselves and others. I believe that we tried to be professional and honest and truthful in the advice we gave the Government. That is, I think the major concern that I have now. That the Government is not been giving professional and honest advice. Probably the most glaring example of the way the public sector is being used is about you may recall two/three months ago, after Mick Keelty, the Head of the AFP, made the comment that he thought that the occupation of Iraq had worsened the terrorist threat. General Cosgrove alongside the Minister for Defence publicly attacked Mick Keelty for his view. That to me is a very clear sign that a senior military person joining the team rather than giving professional independent advice. It's what I'd describe in the Defence forces as passing to the dark side of Government and not being professional.
But beyond the politics and the personality. What does the public lose when our public services are politicised. What's the cost to the public?
Its very hard for us, in the community to make judgements about what is important and what isn't. For example, the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Clearly the public was not given opportunities to see both sides of that case. The Government negotiated an Agreement and then uses its media spin opportunity, media management to produce a one sided case out in the community and unfortunately our media fails badly in the way it covers that issue. It became a very political issue of Mark Latham and the American Alliance, which was not the issue, it never really was. It was a political issue played by John Howard from the beginning. The public's interest, I think was lost as a result.
Now getting 43 former diplomats and military people to sign a document is the only work you've been up, you're launching a new political website 'New Matilda' were there similar motivations behind that?
There were certainly quite a number of common motivations. It stems from, well certainly from my point of view, I guess four main concerns.
The first is that issue we've spoken of, the lack of honesty in public discourse on a whole range of issues and has become I think a major national problem for us.
The second is what I describe as the lack of decency, a loss of soul on this important issue that and particularly on asylum seekers, refugees, where I think the fundamental decency of Australians are just put aside and for the most cynical reasons some of the most vulnerable people in the world were victimised described as terrorists, throwing their children overboard for cheap political gain. Every person I think has a darker side and a light side and we do respond at times to selfishness but we need leaders who will encourage what has been described as better angels of our nature and unfortunately on these issues, these political issues, the Government John Howard has been encouraging the darker angel of our nature. So there's a loss of soul I think in Australia, which needs addressing and 'New Matilda' will be doing that. Not just on refugees but on issues of reconciliation.
The third reason for launching 'New Matilda' is the concern about the lack of policy development in Australia and that includes all the parties.
No one I think can be excluded from it.
There is a major lack of policy innovation on education, health its not addressed adequately by the political parties particularly but I believe also the media's got a responsibility to bear for that.
The media is now under resourced. Journalism is under resourced. I think we've got a major problem in policy development in Australia from both political parties as well as the media so that's another major problem.
The fourth one is what we describe as alienation in Australia, that many Australian's feel that they are powerless. Institutions have the power, whether they're corporations, whether they're political parties or they're churches. Whatever.
They're run by insiders and that the health system is run by insiders, nurses and doctors. We're truly very largely excluded, we feel powerless, frustrated and we are determined that 'New Matilda' will address that issue how the community can be engaged in public processes, public debate and we're very much interested in what has happened in other countries.
Moveon.org now has over 2 million subscribers in the United States, people who are of a broad left disposition who feel that the media, liberal parties no longer really effectively represent them and so they have supported moveon.org and it has been a vehicle for activism whereby the subscribers, the members can vote as to what they believe the are the important issues, whether its media consultation, the Iraq war or those matters of employment and having decided on those key issues which the rank & file if you like, the activists, the subscribers support then the moveon.org provides the sources, information the kits for activists out in the community so that's probably going to be the big area where I believe that 'New Matilda' will be able to make a significant contribution because I sense there is a large number of people who are disillusioned, disenfranchised, alienated and feel powerless.
So you're talking about a website that has information and news but also campaigning tools off the back of it?
That's right. So what we're proposing is something quite ambitious. As I've said to others I don't lie in bed awake wondering whether I've been ambitious enough. We're trying something quite significant here.
It won't happen quickly and we need support financially and we need people but I believe that moveon.org and organisations of that style using the Internet could be a major vehicle for activism and empowerment trying to engage the community.
If union members are reading this and are interested in getting involved, what's the deal?
We've got to build up our subscription base first so we are sending e-mails to all the major unions around Australia asking them to subscribe either individually or as bulk subscription to distribute to their organisers and paid officials but also to use their networks to hand on 'New Matilda'.
Viral mareketing is a new term and we won't be marketing in the traditional sense - its too expensive but we will be e-mailing to a range of unions, NGO's, professional houses, friends that we be generally supportive of the position that we have on these matters.
Well knowing how difficult it is to get an internet publication up we wish you all the best of luck John
New Matilda is offering readers of Workers Online who decide to subscribe will receive a 20% discount if they quote the following promotional code 'workers' when subscribing
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online