David Hicks - A tale of political cowardice
David Hicks' decision to plead guilty to terrorism charges on 27 March 2007 should be an affront to every person with an interest in justice. When you consider the privilges given to wife killers it's astounding that a man who fought against the Milosevic forces in the Balkans and against the US invaders in Afghanistan should be forced to plead guilty to get out of Guantanimo Bay.
In February 2007 I wrote the following article for the Melbourne Herald Sun. How true it is:
Few people, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, would be surprised to hear me say I think his government’s position on David Hicks is gutless and driven by political interest at its crudest. I remember Downer striding into the aisle of a Qantas jet and greeting me with the sarcastic ‘Hello Gerry’ in 1994. I’d caused a minor stir a few nights earlier in the Great Hall by interjecting on visiting Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds with a request that he acknowledge Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams’ role in the ceasefire in Northern Ireland. Adams is not one of Alexander Downer’s heroes.
Four years as an independent in the federal parliament left me acutely aware of the shortcomings of our political institutions. As good and idealistic as many members are, independence is a rare commodity. Who could believe the majority of members of the parliament aren’t outraged by the treatment of foreign combatants, otherwise known as inmates, at Guantanamo Bay? Can it be true they don’t feel belittled by the US administration’s decision to arrogantly delay Hicks’ trial for more than five years? If our politicians are happy to be treated as underlings and have no issue with the bullying, brutality and torture at Guantanamo Bay then it’s my view that they don’t deserve to sit in the federal parliament,
So why don’t those members who hate what is happening to Hicks, vent their spleen publicly? Because they are scared of the political ramifications - not from their electorate - but from the warlords within the party who control pre-selection! Only occasionally, invariably when they think a voter backlash might cost them their seat, do backbenches speak out against the party line. For all the bravado they display when running for parliament most politicians are quick to dispense with idealism once they’ve tasted the comfort of the leather seats in the big house on the hill.
This political malaise is not confined to members of the government. After all, the government in waiting has little to be proud about when it comes to Hicks or independent thinking. All the ALP has offered Australians during John Howard’s ten year reign is boring compliance. The great irony is that for all his sins Mark Latham had the guts to question the US alliance, argue for a more egalitarian Australian society and rattle the political cage. Desperate to ape John Howard’s perceived relationship with middle Australia the ALP warlords wouldn’t have a bar of Latham.
This desire to walk in John Howard’s footsteps explains why the ALP only really spoke out against the war in Iraq and Hicks’ captivity when the polls told them it was an electoral winner. Even so, the ALP’s position on Iraq and Hicks’ captivity is hardly bold or independent. ALP leader Kevin Rudd’s response when asked to comment on Muslim ‘cleric’ Sheik Hilaly’s alleged ridiculing of Australia while overseas was indicative of this lack of independence. Without even speaking with Hilaly or verifying the translation of his comments Rudd said the Sheik shouldn’t come home. If I’d closed my eyes I’d have thought it was one of John Howard’s foot soldiers playing the jingoism card.
Last Saturday morning I stood outside the gates of the former Pentridge Prison, where people had gathered to remember the failed campaign to save convicted killer Ronald Ryan from the gallows in 1967. As a 14-year-old boy I’d walked with my dad from our home in Coburg and joined the protest outside the gaol the night before the hanging. When Ryan fell to his death through the trapdoor at Pentridge the next morning I was on the Sydney Road tram passing the very spot where he’d been accused of shooting dead prison warder George Hodson during that fateful prison break-out. It was a profound event in my life.
Although Ryan was no saint, the failure of our parliament to save him from the gallows remains an indictment on the institution and those who refused to stand up to pugnacious Victorian premier, Henry Bolte. Despite the crude political expediency that underpinned Bolte’s pathological desire to hang Ryan only one member of his government, the member for St Kilda, Brian Dixon, was prepared to throw expediency to the dogs and publicly support Barry Jones and the anti-hanging campaign.
Forty years on it seems little has changed in the way politicians respond to human rights issues. Only now that the public mood has changed are they taking the first steps towards saying what we’ve all known since day one, the Hicks case is, to quote the Victorian Attorney-General ‘a national scandal’. The hanging of Ronald Ryan, the exploitation by lawyers of the defence of provocation to protect wife killers, and now Hicks; we’ve had our share of national scandals. If only we could say it had been our parliaments that had led the campaigns to rectify the scandals.
Dear Phil Cleary,
Thank you for your publicly expressed opinions regarding the awful neglect of David Hicks to an horrific punishment in the Guantanamo bay torture network. I feel frustrated as I continue to write to unhearing PM Howard and AG Ruddock. I was relieved to be able to join other as Coburg's dinner reception for Terry Hicks last Saturday night.
I was tempted to contact you recently as my daughter's male friend tried to strangle her but when she blacked out he called the police knowing her he had gone too far and she does not want to press charges for a host of reasons. But I have followed your advocacy for your sister and for the safety of other women in violent relationships so thank you for helping to keep that on the agenda as well.
As a now old person and taught by Irish nuns and priests in Queensland in the 1950/s and early 60/s I am always sympathetic to matters Irish and am surprised that Northern Ireland is still so UK bound. And Ronald Ryan seems oh so close as I drive round Pentridge to my daughter's in "Resi". may he rest in the peace that Bolte did not want him to experience.
Again thank you for your public writings