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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
Eye witness reflections on massive anti war, anti Howard rally Feb 2003 in Sydney
Topic: aust govt

We started our day backpacking into Town Hall Square in the Sydney CBD which was a gathering point for a march to Hyde Park.

We laid out a cloth and displayed various peace related T-shirts and badges like Globalize Love and other idealistic slogans. These were produced by a long time environmentalist Peter Schnelbogl based in Lismore. As the numbers in the square swelled it became clear this was a melting pot of Sydney's multicultural people of all races, colours and creeds..

Mothers and families shopped at our display and in less than an hour the stall was sold out, especially as our prices were nice and low. Then we packed up for the march to travel a few city blocks. The feeling against an Iraq war against the UN weapons inspection advice, and contrary to known causes of the attack on the World Trade Centre, was very obvious.

The march was too big to conceptualise from within. Later on it was estimated at possibly 250,000 or even 500,000 in size. We are indebted to SydneyIndyMedia for several archival photographs appearing in this article. (Not so easy to access as they added the ".au" to their links since 2003, so we added it to the original URL cross references - from yet another community site - and voila. The 360 degree panorma above is exceptional, most likely by Peter Murphy, local photographer.)

What we know is that we spotted an information stall allocated in the park to apolitical green groups. I was a little sceptical of how this related to a peace rally but it was such a big event it made sense to have some alternative flavours in the content to keep the interest of the crowd. A witty greenie had constructed a banner for the stall "The Bush worth saving" meaning our Australian native forests always at risk of logging for woodchips for paper production. A war literally on the environment.

Picture: As reported by News Corporation here in Sydney around November 16 2006 this car was burnt out before forensics could take evidence, the suspicion being that a Howard press conference about a NSW Police operation tipped off the alleged terrorists, currently facing court.

It was perhaps about 2 hours into staffing the stall that I became aware of the true immensity of the crowd against PM Howard in his own home city. Having done stalls of various kinds since 1992 for big and small events I soon realised this was something different. The crowed swelled and grew and available space shrunk and shrunk in this central Sydney Park. There was only standing and breathing room and the sense of solidarity was tangible. Like a storm flood meeting a king tide the people filled the air from ground to 6 feet or so high. We no longer had a stall as you would conventionally understand it.

The usual division between public and staff over a table top had evaporated. People who might be facing me browsing at stickers, petitions and what-not were now standing next to me facing toward the sound of the speakers 200 metres away. Mind you it was impossible to hear the speech, or see the stage. At one point I edged amongst the throng and climbed a fat squat Sydney Fig Tree. Still it was impossible to get a line of sight of the speakers. And trying to move through the crowd was out of the question.

Later that day we saw the tv footage of outrageously graphic life size puppet figures of John Howard like a poodle kissing Goerge W Bush's backside. This was a big favourite with the crowd.

At this stage Simon Crean was still (somewhat interim) leader of the ALP Opposition after Kim Beazley's latest election loss to "man-o-steel" John Howard surfing a global lurch to the Right after the WTC attack. Crean was seen as struggling too. But he did take one profoundly significant decision which possibly preserved his future ministerial career today, and provide a seriously important plank for eventual election of Kevin Rudd over Howard in November 2007. Crean went after ascendant PM Howard for deciding to go to war in Iraq 'in secret' by mid to late 2002. Howard denied it. Crean said the ALP were against the war as it contradicted UN weapons inspection processes.

Howard, Downer, Hill and range of others in the Govt didn't give a fig about the UN. They hardly cared about a huge peace rally. (Though we suspect Howard held a grudge even as recently as the APEC event in Sept 2007 hoping for a 2nd round with the protesters.) A month later March 2003 Australia under Howard joined the COW - Coalition of the Willing - along with the conservative Spanish Govt in the bombing invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam.

Saddam possibly sealed his fate by promising from memory US$25,000 payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers against Israel. Certainly a very nasty piece of work, but then it was his population that would bear the brunt of the attack based on Howard and Bush's sophistry about WMD.

It was still a year or two before we learned that the traditional agri industry supporters of the Howard Coalition Government were paying $300M bribes to Saddam's henchmen literally as the loyal Australian soldiers were preparing the invasion. Also another year or two before the USA President Bush and PM Howard admitted there was no WMD to find ... just as Hans Blix and the others as UN weapon inspectors had advised in early 2003.

Ali Ismaeel Abbas, 12


Howard's fate as PM was sealed by the no WMD report. Going to war on false intelligence. Causing perhaps a million deaths in Iraq. Debasing the US Medal of Freedom awarded today by George W Bush 5 days before he hands over to President Obama.

Here is the text of that brave speech by Simon Crean then leader of the ALP Opposition who without doubt boosted Kevin Rudd's election prospects on a change of foreign policy platform, similar to Obama in 2008:

Text of address by Simon Crean to parliament on Iraq

February 5 2003

This is the prepared text of Opposition Leader Simon Crean's speech on Labor's position on Iraq to parliament.

The statement by the prime minister is his argument for war, not a plan for peace.

It only took the prime minister until only the second page of his statement to conclude that the only possible outcome is war.

There are several things on which we agree.

Our total support for the brave men women of the Australian Defence Forces and their families.

Non proliferation is a critical security issue.

Saddam Hussein must disarm.

The issue of Iraq cannot be seen in isolation from the broader security issues that confront the Middle East, particularly the need for peace in Israel and Palestine.

The Authority of the UN must be upheld.

But this statement is a justification for war, not a plan to secure the peace, and it is on this point that the prime minister and I fundamentally disagree.

And this explains the prime minister's actions to date.

Two weeks ago, prime minister, you committed Australia's young men and women to a war not yet declared, knowing all along that you couldn't pull them out.

You committed them without the mandate of the Australian people, the Australian parliament or the United Nations.

You committed them solely on the say so of George W Bush.

You committed them to a command structure you can't withdraw from if George Bush decides to go it alone and pursue a military solution regardless of the UN.

You have done all of this but you haven't told the Australian people.

You haven't had the courage or conviction to tell them what you have done.

Here we are finally with the chance to debate the troop commitment in parliament, and you still haven't told them.

You go to media conferences and tell them you want peace but you have committed the troops to war.

Not with any UN mandate but through a US request.

And now you are going to the US.

The pity is, prime minister, that you won't be here to answer questions in this parliament.

My question for you - and the question the Australian people want answered is this: when you go to Washington will you tell George Bush that no Australian troops will be involved in the war in Iraq without a UN mandate?

You must insist in your discussions with George Bush that no troops should be sent to war without a UN mandate.

I will keep asking my question because it's the question the Australian people want answered.

It's your obligation as the prime minister to do the right thing by the troops you've committed to war.

You say that the US alliance requires you to respond to all requests from the US.

It does not.

The very first clause of the ANZUS treaty makes it clear that all alliance decisions must be in conformity with the United Nations.

This clause commits all presidents and prime ministers, but you haven't fulfilled it.

This alliance has stood the test of time and it should be honoured fully.

There is no graver decision that a prime minister can take than sending men and women to a war.

And there is no greater breach of trust than committing them to war without telling them the full extent of your commitment.

You have breached the trust that exists between a nation and its leader.

You claim that you have committed our troops to bring the maximum pressure to bear on Iraq to dispose of its weapons of mass destruction.

You claim that if there is no UN mandate for military action, you can bring the troops back, even if the US decides to go it alone.

You've said that you would withdraw Australian forces if there was a possibility that nuclear weapons could be used.

But where's the guarantee? How do you propose to achieve this? What assurances have you personally sought from the Bush administration?

You had the chance today, perhaps your last chance, to tell the Australian people the truth.

But you chose not to.

I believe - and the Australian people believe - that you've already made the commitment to war.

You have no credibility with the Australian people on this issue.

Members of your own party know it. Members of your backbench know it.

We believe that Australian troops should not have been sent in advance of a UN mandate.

We believe the weapons inspectors are still doing their job and should be given the chance to finish it.

We believe in the authority of the United Nations Security Council to deal with issue of disarming Iraq.

And we have repeated this since April last year.

You haven't consulted the Australian people.

You haven't consulted your party.

But you have consulted President Bush.

You said you were sending these troops because it was in the national interest.

I want to know, prime minister, which nation?

Let's not understate the size of the con that's being played on the Australian people.

We are sending more than 2,000 troops.

For a nation with a military the size of ours it's an awesome commitment.

It's twice what we committed to Afghanistan.

And three times what we committed to the Gulf in 1991.

This is the largest single commitment of combat troops since Vietnam.

Such a decision should only be established once a just cause has been established.

That has not yet happened.

No link has yet been made between Iraq and al-Qaeda, although we are waiting for Secretary of State Colin Powell's report to the Security Council later this week.

The weapons inspectors have not been given the chance to complete their job.

It has not been authorised by the United Nations.

You said yesterday that you are going to Washington to inform George Bush of the views of the Australian people.

Well let me tell you what those views are.

The Australian people don't want peace at any cost, but they don't your war at any price.

The majority want to see Iraq disarmed, but they want it done under the mandate of the United Nations and with the authority of international law.

That's the position that Labor has been consistently arguing since last April.

You're not going to the US to tell President Bush what the views of the Australian people are. You're going to get your riding instructions. Everybody knows it.

Let's look at the government's flip-flopping on war on Iraq.

Last year, when Labor released its detailed policy statement on Iraq, the foreign minister and the treasurer said we were "appeasers" and we were "talking like Saddam Hussein" because we wanted the issue to go back to the UN Security Council.

The prime minister spent half the year constantly saying that if he received a request from the US to participate in a war against Iraq, he would consider it.

No mention was ever made of the United Nations.

No attempt was made to convince the Americans to take the issue back to the Security Council.

But in September when George Bush decided to address the General Assembly the prime minister changed his tune.

Suddenly the prime minister was saying the UN should be the vehicle to disarm Iraq - six months after Labor first articulated that exact position.

Even then, the prime minister refused to be honest with the Australian people because he continued to say that he had not yet made a commitment to war because it was hypothetical.

But behind the scenes he was actively planning to deploy Australian troops.

The government's rhetoric has now finally come around to what Labor has been saying since April. But not it's real intentions.

The people know that you don't mean what you say.

They can sense it in the mealy mouthed way you claim that our military commitment is really a peace mission.

They can sense it in the way you avoid answering the question: if the UN doesn't back the war, will you bring the troops home?

You are treating the Australian people like mugs. And they don't like it.

The prime minister is playing on the fear of Australians - the fear of the threat of terrorism.

By threatening war alongside George Bush he isn't addressing the fear, he's adding to it. He is heightening the risk.

He is increasing our vulnerability.

He is adding to the instability in our region - an area his intelligence shows us is increasingly vulnerable to that threat.

This premature action taken by Australia comes at the expense of our more immediate and critical concerns about terrorism in the region.

Only three weeks ago the Singaporean government released a paper showing the extent of terrorist networks across the region - they are much greater than previously thought.

But we hear nothing from this government about dealing with these more immediate threats.

Our strongest defence against regional terrorism has always been the joint commitment we hold with countries in the region to pursuing common goals and cooperative outcomes.

The best way to combat terrorism is to work closely with the police and security agencies of neighbouring countries. But the prime minister hasn't done that.

The prime minister should do more than offer his thanks to President Megawati, he should discussing with her how to strengthen the fight against terrorism in our region.

Several months ago I called for a regional summit of leaders to tackle terrorism. I urge the prime minister to convene such a summit.

But the prime minister undermines this with his talk of pre-emptive strikes and his support for action outside the authority of the UN.

The path to security is not unlilateralism but multilateralism.

It's a complex issue that no one country can solve alone.

The issue of Iraq, perhaps unlike any issue of recent times, defines the differences between the two major political parties in this country.

This difference comes from a fundamental divergence of principle.

Labor has always supported the role of the United Nations and the rule of international law.

We helped create the UN out of the rubble of the Second World War. That attempt to settle international disputes through peaceful means was the great tribute our nation paid to the men and women who died in World War Two.

It's one of the proudest pieces of our history that a Labor foreign minister, Dr Evatt, was the founding president of the General Assembly.

But while we always support the role of the UN, the Liberals always support their "great and powerful friends".

The parallels between Howard and Menzies are there to see: cow-towing to London and Washington, the constant sojourns at the Savoy, the nod and wink in support of military action - even if it doesn't have legitimacy.

That is the Liberal's political tradition.

The Liberal Party has never had the courage to state an independent foreign policy that is in Australia's interests.

It's only ever asked: what's in the interests of the US?

Labor supports the US alliance, but we want a mature one, not a toadying one.

The US alliance has endured for over 50 years.

It has always had bipartisan support.

But it does not mean that we have to agree with every policy position of every US administration.

We have had our differences in the past but the alliance will endure, because Australians and Americans believe in the same things - democracy, freedom and respect for the rule of law.

Why is the UN so important?

If the US flaunts the decisions of the UN, it sends a signal to other nations not to be bound by its decisions.

It is in the interests of nations the size of Australia for the rule of international law to be strong.

A strong UN can ensure that nations disarm and can stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction to our region.

The prime minister says that his main reason for deploying Australian troops to Iraq was to stop the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

But what has his government done in seven years to strengthen UN arms control?


He has remained silent on the Canberra Commission Report.

The Canberra Commission said it clearly - "The possession of nuclear weapons by any state is a constant stimulus to other states to acquire them".

Where is John Howard's brave new initiative to push forward on nuclear arms control?

Labor has called for the Canberra Commission to be re-convened, with a new mandate to decide what steps are needed to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles.

The prime minister has been unable to convince the US government to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty - which Foreign Minister Downer has called "a major milestone" and said "will bring the nuclear arms race to a definite end".

The prime minister said nothing when last year the US government walked away from negotiations towards a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention which would have provided transparency and confidence that all countries were working towards eliminating these terrible weapons.

The prime minister says he's been told that nothing in US preparations for war with Iraq include the possible use of nuclear weapons.

But the White House spokesman admitted that 'all options were on the table'.

And the Bush administration has made it clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force - including through the use of nuclear weapons.

The prime minister has made a great mistake in committing our troops ahead of the UN.

Labor does not support that decision.

We do not support the deployment of Australian troops in advance of any UN authority.

I took my case directly to the troops themselves on the HMAS Kanimbla.

I had a difficult decision to make about what to say to them. But I knew what the right thing was to do.

I was truthful with them in a way the prime minister was not.

I believe that political leaders should always tell the truth. This is especially so when committing troops to war.

The prime minister failed that test.

He treated the Australian people like mugs and he continues to do so.

And what of our security now?

The prime minister has taken his eye off the ball in the fight against terrorism in our region.

He has failed to adequately prepare our defences against terrorism and neglected regional security measures. He is instead sending our forces overseas.

He has divided our people, alienated our friends, sent our best anti-terrorism troops ten thousand miles away.

He expects those of us left behind to defend ourselves with a fridge magnet.

The prime minister must stop treating the Australian people like mugs.

Only Labor governments have been prepared to tell our allies no when it's been in our national interests.


Posted by editor at 8:21 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 14 January 2009 1:37 PM EADT

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