Australians say no to war

Judy Davis: 'Mr Howard, we don't support your war with Iraq'
National weekend of action against a war on Iraq
Nerrissa Bradley

Tens of thousands of people across the county joined marches and rallies against Australian involvement in an attack on Iraq on the weekend of November 30. Protests happened in every capital city and some regional towns.

On Saturday, in Sydney, 20,000 joined the Walk against the War from Town Hall Square to the Domain. Actors Judy Davis and John Howard joined famous journalist John Pilger in condemning the drive to war.

"What has Iraq done to Australia apart from buying a great deal of our wheat ?" Howard asked. "What is our fight with the Iraqi people? What is our fight with Iraqi children? We are partly responsible for the deaths of half a million Iraqi children because we are part of the blockade of that country that is denying them medicines and equipment."

Davis told the crowd war was the ultimate failure in communication, but the West has long believed it had the edge on civility. She said the majority of Australians remained unconvinced by the Howard government and did not want their country responsible for any further misery and death in Iraq. "I don't believe the current fear-mongering campaign run by the government and the media will succeed," Davis said. "I believe the majority of Australians are indeed peaceful, tolerant people, that the stigmatising of Islamic Australians appalls us, that John Howard's vision of the future is utterly alien to our beliefs."

Australians were being told a war would be against the Iraqi regime and not the Iraqi people. Davis challenged the Prime Minister to revise his views on refugees and justify his government's treatment of Iraqi asylum seekers. "Is it possible they're still being told to go home - have we fallen into such a moral abyss?" she said.

The Labor Party also came in for some flak, Davis calling on politicians within its ranks to be courageous, show moral courage and to stop wasting their energy second-guessing the public and relying on opinion polls. Davis said the problem with Australia's politicians was that they believed Australia no longer had the freedom to act independently. They believed Australia's economic survival depended on "a full commitment to the American world vision", Davis said. "But we will not slide into the moral abyss, with blood on our hands," she said. "Mr Howard, you haven't presented us with a single compelling reason for the further slaughter of innocent people. We do not support your war in Iraq."

Author and filmmaker John Pilger said that the Australian Ggvernment is "extremist" in its pro-US stance on Iraq. Mr Pilger told the crowd their stance marked them as moderates. But he said the government's enforcement of sanctions against Iraq and its willingness to join a war against Baghdad make them extremists. "They have to be extreme to attack, unprovoked, a country that offers no threat to Australia, with whom Australia trades," he said. "A whole people held hostage to a medieval embargo, as well as to their own dictator."

The rally was also addressed by Australian Council of Trade Unions leader Sharan Burrow, the Auxillary Catholic Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Pat Power, Sheikh Taj Aldin Al Hilali, Rawan Abdul Nabi, Dr Susan Wareham of MAPW, and performer Jenny Morris. No war contingents travelled from Newcastle and Wollongong to join the march.

In Hobart despite a rainy day over 400 joined the Rally at Franklin Square and marched, the fourth demonstration of its kind in the past three months. Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown addressed the crowd, calling on world leaders to remember the lessons learnt during World War II and strive for peace. "How much better if instead of war they remembered back that half century and brought in a Marshall Plan, not for reconstructing Europe but reconstructing our planet to bring fairness, education, opportunity, food, shelter to the dispossessed millions of people who are our brothers and sisters on this planet," he said.

In Adelaide almost two thousand joined a march. The protest was twice the size of a rally held earlier this month and included grandparents, children and families. Professor Ian Maddocks, founder of Medical Association for Prevention of the War, said he was frightened about the health consequences of a military attack, in light of what happened during the 1991 Gulf War. "From the point of view of the Americans, in particular, there were relatively few casualties and everything went very nicely indeed," he said. "But as far as the Iraq people were concerned, there were over 100,000 military casualties and there were almost as many civilian casualties immediately after that war. "It's very important we try to get before our leaders the realities of this war."

Canberra saw over 600 people join the noon rally at the US Embassy and marched to the Prime Ministers residence at the Lodge. Local organiser and spokesman for ACT Network Opposing War, Dr Rick Kuhn, told the crowd not to expect war until January because United States President George W. Bush would hate to jeopardise the Christmas shopping profits. He said it was impossible to justify the death and bloodshed that would be triggered by the invasion of Iraq. The war would be funded by ordinary Australians and Americans through increased taxes or cuts to social services. It was also creating an atmosphere of fear and paranoia and turning Australia into a police state. "This government is trying to create a paranoid atmosphere in Australia ... terrorism is being used as a basis for dividing us up, making us distrustful and depriving us of our civil liberties," Dr Kuhn said. Other speakers included federal Labor backbencher Harry Quick, ACT Greens MLA Kerrie Tucker, and leaders of indigenous, religious and union groups.

Ms Tucker said of the 21 countries the US had bombed since World War II, none had achieved a stable, democratic government or a situation where human rights were now observed. There was no evidence to suggest bombing a country achieved what the Howard or Bush administrations claimed to be striving for. She suggested Australia adopt the European Union's response, which involved prevention of conflict through peaceful means.

In Launceston many people joined the annual Christmas Parade wearing white armbands as part of a peace float with anti-war slogans. In country centre, almost two hundred Alice Springs residence held at protest, Later in the day a candlelight vigil was held gates of US Pine Gap spy base. Rallies were also held in Ipswich, Taree and Lismore.

On Sunday, the streets of the centre of Melbourne came to a stand still as 15,000 people joined a march from the State Library to the Treasury Gardens. Federal Labor MP Harry Quick said US leaders were hypocrites and war would mean the death of thousands of innocent Iraqis: "Why should we follow blindly the US, a nation that has torn up more international treaties and disregarded more UN conventions than the rest of the world has done in the past 20 years?"

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said that if the US was serious about bring change it would back the equivalent of an anti-apartheid movement for democracy rather than bombing Baghad. Spokeswoman Michelle O'Neil accused the US of wanting the war to try to control the Middle East and its oil. "This is about people who have a right to a safe life, about people who have a right to a country that is not invaded when they have not taken action against the US," she said. The rally was also addressed by Randa Abdel Fatah, lawyer and Palestian activist, Bilal Clelland, Islamic Council, Jacob Grech, Leigh Hubbard, Victorian Trades Hall Council, Secretary, Vanessa Hearman, Socialist Alliance, and entertained by the Bloody Marys and Peter Coombe.

Hundreds joined the Brisbane Candlelight Gathering at King George Square. Democrats Leader Senator John Cherry told the crowd, "The government has failed despite all the rhetoric and all the visits to Washington - failed to win over the public, and I think public attitudes are hardening against war in Iraq. Not just in Australia, but in the United States and Europe as well," he said.

Over 200 joined the Darwin march to the Rapid Creek Market. A peace picnic was held in Perth and a rally and march is planned for Dec 8 at 12 noon, Stirling Gardens.


This report was compiled by Nerissa Bradley on behalf of the Victorian peace Network from online news reports and reports from organisers around the country. If people have more information and reports please email: info@vicpeace.org or phone 61(0)3 9659 3582. Visit the Palm Sunday website. Image of Judy Davis from her 1991 film Naked Lunch, courtesy Baback Moghaddam.


See also:

Suggested citation
Bradley, Nerrissa, 'Australians say no to war', Evatt Journal, Vol. 2, No. 8, December 2002.<http://evatt.org.au/news/australians-say-no-war.html>