Leading article Australia

Burkean activism

20 September 2014

9:00 AM

20 September 2014

9:00 AM

‘For those who are political advocates within Palestine itself, I will never know the bravery that comes with putting your life on the line and at risk, in engaging in politics in different ways,’ said Labor frontbencher Tony Burke to a packed Australia Palestine Advocacy Network Fundraising Dinner recently. Perhaps we can help Mr Burke out and illuminate him as to what some of those ‘different ways’ of ‘engaging in politics’ by ‘putting your life on the line’ can involve. One of the most popular is setting up a missile launcher in a school or hospital yard, and firing it willy nilly into neighbouring Israeli suburbs, knowing full well that the predictable and entirely justifiable retaliation – whilst not necessarily harming yourself – will almost certainly lead to the deaths of others less swift of foot and more vulnerable. Children and the elderly, for example. Not really so ‘brave’ after all. Another ‘different’ yet life-threatening way to involve yourself in the political process – very popular up until a few years ago when a wall had to be built to prevent it – was strapping a suicide vest onto yourself, or even better, coercing a gullible loved one to do so, and then merrily heading into a crowded Israeli public space to cause as much death and mayhem as you could. Or how about the more expedient method of kidnapping a group of foolhardy teenage boys (are there any other kind?) who are out hitching a ride and then butchering them? As a means of ‘engaging in politics’, certain members of Hamas appear to have found this hands-on approach more eye-grabbing than handing out leaflets at the local shops. Another effective method of ‘political advocacy’ that Mr Burke might also care to familiarize himself with: in August, Hamas’s official TV network cleverly utilized a cuddly bumblebee on a kid’s show to encourage impressionable young minds to aspire to murder when they grow up. Prompted by this adorable character, a young Palestinian girl proudly declared ‘I will shoot all the Jews!’ Could there be a simpler way of ‘advocating’ that innocent children join your death cult, er, sorry, political campaign? In his speech, Mr Burke explains how ‘Israel has changed’. (Hardly surprising.) He goes on to cite a meeting when he was Labor’s Minister for Water, where he was told that a group of Palestinians ‘had their drinking water trashed by a settlement upstream’. He also endorses Bob Carr’s assertion that ‘all Israeli settlements are illegal’. Fair enough. Given the size of the Muslim vote in his western Sydney electorate, it is laudable that Mr Burke be an advocate for political decisions and issues that concern and possibly affect the lives of individuals or their relatives within his electorate. But unless he unequivocally withdraws or convincingly explains how his sinister remarks are not in support of or inciting the terrorist activities outlined above, he is unfit to serve any role in any future Australian government.

Scottish lessons

If there is an immediate lesson to be learned from the impassioned Scottish referendum, it is that you meddle with the existing machinery of social cohesion at your peril. Obviously, established bodies and instruments of governing should never be above questioning, but deliberately forcing change carries enormous risks. As with the decision to allow the Scots their vote, the debate surrounding amending the Australian constitution to ‘recognise’ Aborigines is fraught with danger. The motivations from most stakeholders towards this goal are pure; the desire to right an ancient wrong and step forward into an harmonious new landscape is understandable. But just because the effort is worthy does not necessarily make it worthwhile. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is to be praised for his imaginative and determined commitment to improving the lot of Australia’s indigenous communities. The week in Arnhem land was a great idea, and hopefully will bear fruit into the future. But the ‘recognition’ campaign risks becoming another lengthy emotional distraction – along the lines of Mabo, ‘sorry’, tent embassies etc – that only serves to obfuscate and delay the genuine economic and social reforms that could allow Aborigines to reap the benefits of being part of the mainstream. To be blunt, a couple of touchy-feely lines whacked up the front of the constitution is probably a good idea. But allowing such words to devolve genuine political power along racial lines (indigenous senate seats, for example) will make the Scottish fracture seem like a friendly family tiff.

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