"Don't Be Bush-Whacked"
It is just three weeks to George Bush's visit to Australia. And while the Howard Government is preparing to greet and grovel at the feet of this international terrorist and warmongerer, peace activists and other progressives are preparing a different sort of reception. Andrew Jackson spoke to Hannah Middleton, President of the Communist Party of Australia and co-convenor of the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition. Andrew Jackson: George Bush is coming to Australia — what kind of welcome are we planning for him? Hannah Middleton: The situation is this — we know he is coming to Australia sometime in the week beginning Monday the 20th, but we don't know which day or days. It is rumoured he is going to go to Canberra and that there will be a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament for him to address. It is also rumoured that he may come to Sydney as well but we don't know how long for, it could be possibly only as short as two hours. This is why we have decided to organise the main protest — "Don't Be Bush- Wacked" — on the Sunday before, which will give the maximum number of people the opportunity to come to Prince Alfred Park and say what they want to say. And what we are trying to use is satire, contempt and ridicule and other forms of humour to make our political criticism. We'll have two serious speeches but the rest will be fun activities, for example, the longest protest line-dance in the world. We are going to give prizes for the best display for adult and school student category, and the best placard or banner. We are encouraging people to be creative but have a serious content to the fun, so it's not just comedy, it's satire in that tradition. I was watching on ABC television last night the program about Charlie Chaplin making the Great Dictator and how that had an enormously strengthening impact for many people. I saw it when I was young and my parents took me, we were in London. People would go and see it during the blitz and would come out going "(gesture) to you, Mr Hitler!", because they really felt empowered by this send up. So we are hoping we can do that, that we can make people express their anger and their criticism of the USA and the Bush Administration and imperialism is doing to ordinary people in the world, but do it in ways that are satirical and abusive and funny. AJ: And George W is certainly a wide target! HM: Yes! There is already that iconic one from February the 16th of Bush with a Howard-face dog moving along behind him and every now and then its nose would touch Bush's bottom, which everyone remembers. One or two of the people in the Coalition felt it was a bit rude about the institution of Prime Ministership. I didn't agree but we decided as a matter of consensus not to use it on the poster. AJ: So what is Bush's agenda on this trip? HM: We're assuming some things: certainly one will be to strengthen the link between to our two countries and drum up political support. It's unlikely — but not impossible — that the US will request that more Australian troops should go to Iraq. Although the Howard Government has already said it's not going to do that, that it's already stretched to the limit with our current presence in Iraq, with the Solomons, (with Bougainville next), and our current commitment in East Timor and all the other things we're involved in. But there are other ways I'm sure John Howard is willing to help — with rolling out the so-called "war against terrorism" in our region. Bush will also want Australia to spend more on the military and that will definitely include paying for two new vessels which will be used off West Australia for theatre missiles. And then of course there's all the further expansion of Pine Gap for the US missile defence which of course is being called "astro-imperialism" — a phrase I like — but what is essentially the militarisation of space in order to further dominate the globe. I'm sure all those "security" issues will come up. I'm sure the establishment will be fawning on him, and at the joint sitting of Parliament everybody will cheer — which we hope at least the Greens will boycott. AJ: And free trade? HM: Well, whether they will let Bush say anything about the Free Trade Agreement while he's out here, well, we know he's not that brightb& I'm assuming that that's going to be talked about those talks are ongoing. It doesn't look as if enough has been finalised for him to sign anything with a flourish alongside Howard. But they may be able to cook up some sort of preliminary statement of intent or something like that for a photo opportunity and some political gain. But there's a still a lot of work to do on that. There are still some worries amongst sections of the ruling class, even about the free trade agreement and what it may do, apart from massive opposition amongst large sections of the community. But I'm sure he'll have an entourage with him who will carry out the economic discussions as well as the security/military. AJ: October 25 is being publicised as another international day of action. HM: What happened initially is that some of the Trotskyist groups in the USA called for the October 25 action but there's been quite a delay on more groups coming on board in the interim. Some American groups were worried because there was going to be a trade union conference on peace held on that weekend too. The Peace and Justice Coalition — to which the CPA is affiliated — decided they wouldn't take on October 25 at any early stage. The Sydney Stop the War Coalition, which is the ultra-left coalition that came out of the peace movement split here in Sydney, thought they would go with it. It's my understanding now that they've instead decided to also protest against the Bush visit by calling a rally at 5pm at Town Hall Square on the day that Bush comes to Sydney. So rather than the international action on October 25 we will be focusing in Sydney on October the 19th. AJ: What demands will be made on that day? HM: We've been a little careful about that because we wanted to emphasise the satire aspect, but the overtly stated political demands will be brought out through the two speakers. Firstly, we need to bring about an end — an immediate end — to the occupation of Iraq. Some form of transitional authority must be organised by the United Nations that will very quickly — the speed is a very important element — bring about full restoration of Iraqi sovereignty with democratic elections. AJ: The USA has long said that the long time-frame for holding elections is necessary to enable an extensive consultation process prior to the drafting of a constitution. HM: One of the things that has come up in our meetings is that when the United States had "pony express" mail they still managed to produce the American Constitution in a very short time, a matter of weeks. Yet we are told it is going to take many months to produce a constitution for Iraq, and the lead-up to elections must take even longer. This is nonsense. It is just the United States making sure they have a complete strangle-hold on the political process, who will get elected, which parties and candidates they'll fund and also control over the economic levers of that country. And once they've got that all sown up — which they don't seem to be doing very successfully — then of course they'll allow a form of elections into which they'll pour a great deal of money into their candidates. AJ: You mentioned Pine Gap earlier, and Australia's support for US "astro-imperialism". What does that involve? HM: The Anti-Bases Coalition is going to have a "For heaven's sake speak out!" forum on the United States missile defence and weaponisation of space, which will have a couple of speakers informing us about what exactly the US will be putting up in the sky. Bob Hunter who is the National President of Scientists for Global Responsibility is a great speaker who doesn't make the science too difficult. He's quite scathing about the United States. And then Mike McKinley from ANU why the Americans are putting weapons systems up there. And then we can all have a drink and a talk about it. We are calling the campaign "For heaven's sake: against the weaponisation and militarisation of space". (See ad at bottom of page). However there are lots of other smaller peace campaigns going on all over the country at this time. People have become much more optimistic about these local campaigns this year, they are excited that they can build campaigns that will educate people and get them into activity. I think that what's happened is that the strength of the campaign against the invasion and occupation of Iraq has actually regalvanised the peace movement.
* * *Continued next week: Hannah Middleton discusses the Sea-Swap campaign, the new campaign on land mines, the role of the United Nations, and tasks of Communist Party members within the peace movement.