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Labor for Refugees and the War in Iraq

Speech delivered at the March 18, Stop The War: Troops out Now Rally on March 18th, 2005 Melbourne. Due to time constraints parts of this were not presented or were abridged at the actual rally.

Labor for Refugees was formed on the eve of the Tampa. Over the past few years we've succeeded at having ALP policy changed to abolish mandatory detention and temporary protection visas at every State Conference and came close to changing policy at the National level. By any criteria, that is more than a modicum of success and we'll keep going until we've changed the national ALP policy and seen it implemented through a national Labor government.

But in a strange way, there is a similarity between Labor for Refugees and the Howard coalition government. You see, like John Howard and Amanda Vanstone, Labor for Refugees doesn't want refugees coming to our shores. The difference is, whilst Howard and Vanstone are prepared to punish those who have the gall to seek a life without fear, Labor for Refugees wants to remove the conditions that creates refugees in the first place. We want a world where no-one is living in such conditions that they fear for their lives. We want a world where people can live in peace and with enjoyment of the bountiful gifts of nature.

This explains why we are here today. For apart from the rare natural disaster, the cause of refugees in this world is war and despotism. So whilst Labor for Refugees will do everything possible to ensure the rights of asylum seekers coming to Australia, we will also do what we can to abolish the very conditions that creates refugees.

Look at the regime in Iran! Do you think we support for a moment a government that applies the death penalty for apostasy? Of course not! Do you think we support the despotic government of China, where thousands of individuals are imprisoned, many without the semblance of a trial, for having a political difference with the government? Do you think for a moment, that supporting the withdrawal of the invading and occupying forces Iraq means supporting the former regime of Saddam Hussein? Or the implementation of a fundamentalist religious state in Iraq?

Of course it doesn't, and don't let those who support the invasion and occupation kid you otherwise. The peace movement has been utterly consistent when it comes to Iraq. It has been pro-war organisations, like "The Australian" newspaper which keeps on changing its mind. If it takes your fancy, take a walk to the library archives and have a look what The Australian said about Iraq in March 1984. They couldn't stop their praise! When peace activists were trying to tell the world about Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas, they ridiculed as fake.

First they claimed that it was actually the Iranians dressed up as Iraqis. Their key witness being an Iranian refugee in Paris. (26 March, 1984). Obviously that story didn't stick. So then they used an excuse that it was actually not mustard gas but rather the effects of a giant swarm of defecating South-East Asian honey bees (March 30, p7). Take the opportunity to walk in the building behind you [the rally was held in front of the State Library] and read how The Australian, the most pro-war of the mass media used to glorify the Hussein regime.

Those of us who are observant will already know the litany of double-standards and lies which vested interests use in their campaign to kill for profit. It's been a long path watching first the attempts to somehow link the toothless Hussein regime to the September 11 terrorist attack. We've watched the fruitless search of weapons of mass destruction that were long gone and listened to the claims that Iraq could launch an attack in forty minutes. We know that these things are false. So too were the claims by Tony Blair that 400,000 bodies had been discovered on Iraqi mass graves, victims of the Hussein regime.

More recently the excuse has been that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has brought democracy and freedom to that country. What fine principles and what a complete failure in implementation! Is it possible to talk about a democratic elections when a country is under foreign military occupation and those who oppose the occupation are barred from participating? Can one seriously talk about a legitimate and representative government with such low levels of general participation and virtually zero from a major ethnic group?

If one genuinely wants democracy in Iraq, and rest assured we all do here, then surely the most critical question, the quest most important to the lives of Iraqi's, should have been polled - whether or not the invading foreign troops should remain! That was the essence of the referendum in East Timor in 1999, less anyone be so foolish to make the comparison that Australia's intervention there is the equivalent to the one in Iraq. In one situation it is abundantly clear, without any ambiguity whatsoever that we were more than welcome - in the other it is equally clear that we simply should not be there as invaders and occupiers.

What are we to make of all this?

The first thing that we must be aware of is that only some people are influenced by moral reasoning and empirical facts. They can be conservatives, or liberals, or reformist or radicals, but it is only some people. Hopefully they are the majority! Among such people we can point out the contradictions, the errors and lies and the terrible, terrible loss of life and limb. We can build a movement against the war and the occupation that is solidly based on truth and is not afraid of taking the high moral ground - which is very good ground if you can hold it. Who knows, if the movement builds sufficiently it may even become fashionable to use truth and moral reasoning in all aspects of society - imagine that for a moment!

But there is another type of person in this country. Usually these people are groveling ideological servants or a master with very strong vested interests. These are people who have no care or concern of moral reasons or empirical facts. These are people to whom it is quite a waste of time trying to appeal to their better nature or their sense of truth. They don't have a better nature or a sense of truth! The only thing which these sadly pathological individuals understand is _power_. They worship it, they constantly seek to obtain it, and they are terrified of other people having it. So go empower yourselves; create a situation where the Iraqi people themselves can decide whether or not they need foreign security forces independent of that nation's control. Because until then, the Australian government is an invading and occupying force, causing death, the loss of limb, turning people to terrorism as a solution and, with the grim manner that irony often reveals itself, creating a future where there are more and more refugees coming to our shores seeking asylum.

Lev Lafayette
President, Labor for Refugees (Victoria)

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