Thursday, July 19, 2007

Australian Greens give protester the boot

Last Friday 30 activists turned up at Australian Science Minister Julie Bishop's office to deliver a letter calling for a halt to plans to turn an aboriginal community in the Northern Territories into a nuclear dumping ground.

After delivering the letter the Minister's office seemed like a new and interesting place to sing a few songs. Where's the harm in that you might ask. Bishop did not see the funny side though and the police were called.

It was at this point that things went a touch sour. In the shape of batons, the confiscation of cameras and five arrests, including one for assaulting a police officer - which all seems a bit of an over the top response to the fluffy Students of Sustainability who've just had a conference full of drum wrkshops, NVDA and Tai Chi.

Toby Lee said that "As I was leaving, I was directly sprayed with capsicum spray into my eyes 10 centimeters from my face without warning" and Natalie Wasley, another protester, denied the group had had any violent intentions saying "We didn't get a chance to leave peacefully. The police just started pepper spraying people, hitting them with batons and throwing them to the floor. It was absolutely shameful."

One of those arrested (but not charged) was one Nicola Paris a feisty young staffer for Green Senator Rachel Siewert. Now, when Siewert heard that Paris had been arrested you might imagine she immediately sent a message of support to her jail cell supporting her fight for aboriginal rights and against nuclear toxicity. Indeed part of her official response did read "I hope to speak with the Minister to personally convey my concern at the earliest possible opportunity."

But alas this was not to condemn Nicola's arrest dear readers. No, in fact Nicola was asked to resign her position because "Greens do not condone violence of any kind", even though she was a peaceful protester at a peaceful protest. Well, peaceful until the cops showed up and started hitting people with sticks.

The rumours are that Green Party leader Bob Brown put pressure on Siewert to turn her back on Nicola and issue this mealy mouthed statement to the press. After all Siewert actually spoke at the Students of Sustainability conference the week before on the subject of... wait for it... wait for it... silencing dissent! Presumably a how-to guide.

You can email Senator Rachel Siewert here if you want a little word in her ear. Message of support can be sent here.


weggis said...

I wait with eager anticipation for your take on yesterday's election results.

Jim Jay said...

Really... um... ok. I was disappointed by both results, although not surprised. In Sedgefield it did not take a genius to know that the host of minor parties standing were going to make it difficult for the Greens to stand out as something other than a very minor contender - which is a shame because I've heard the candidate is a very capable person. But they may just be a rumour :)

In Ealing Southall although I was still disappointed I'm still please that we came fourth above the rest of the field of also rans.

The main loser of the night David Cameron I think he's desperate to look like a winner - but unless he can prove it in practice he's going to have problems.

What do you think about it?

Jim Jay said...

My letter to the senator;

Dear Senator Siewert,

my name is Jim Jepps and I'm a member of the Green Party of England and Wales. I'm writing to express my concern about recent events that have led to one of your staff members, Nicola Paris, being asked to resign.

Whilst I have no wish to meddle in the affairs of a sister party, as a trade unionist it is difficult for me to stand by and watch as someone is effectively sacked for taking part in a political protest against the dumping of nuclear waste in the Northern Territories.

Nicola may have been arrested but as far as I'm aware she has not been convicted of any crime, let alone a crime that a radical politician could possibly object to. Non-violent direct action has a long and noble tradition in our movement and you must be aware as any of us of that the use of violence by the police is no sure indicator that force was necessary or justified.

Nicola has done nothing to be ashamed of and it behooves those of us who stand for a better society to stand by our friends and allies rather than throw them to the wolves when times get difficult. Nobody is served well by a fair weather friend and likewise it is important for those who share common cause to raise our concerns where they occur, with respect and an open mind.

We all make mistakes and though it can be hard sometimes to admit it to ourselves, let alone the outside world, it is not too late to try to repair some of the damage this decision has done and hold out your hand once again to Nicola Paris - someone for whom we owe a debt of gratitude for her courage.

Jim Jepps

weggis said...

Although the Greens lost a seat at the last GLA election, the overall result put the two that remained in a much more influential position, and it is showing. Jenny Jones was campaigning in Ealing and I suspect that having a relevant elected Green with a record helped quite a lot. I am optimistic for next May.

If Sedgefield is a mainly white, working class, trade union constituency then, were I a left wing socialist Green I would be having a serious think about the vote for the BNP.

Philip Booth said...

Here's my letter to the Senator - in haste:

I write regarding Nicola Paris who I understand is a member of your team. I understand no charges have been brought with regards to a recent incident and find it concerning that I understand you are inviting her resignation. I would welcome clarification as I am very concerned that this group of protestors faced some police brutality and it should in fact be them that face the criticisms.

I am sure you will be aware that renowned environmentalist Jonathon Porritt and Green party member in my area notes that direct action applied intelligently and effectively can strengthen conventional campaigns. He argues historically, non-violent direct action has always played an important part in the environmental movement and always will and that those who claim this undermines the credibility of mainstream environmental organisations are plain wrong.

Leading Green Member of the European Parliament, Caroline Lucas has been among many Green party members who have played prominent roles in direct action for peace and human rights. As Caroline says: "I don't think politics just happens in Parliament. It happens on the streets and in classrooms. Non-violent direct action is a legitimate form of political activity when traditional forms are blocked."

I hope you will be able to clarify the situation for me and if reports are correct reconsider Ms Paris' post.

Jim Jay said...

As an update people might like to know that Nicola refused to resign saying that they would have to sack her.

There are two very good reasons for this. One, she hasn't done anything wrong and shouldn't be giving her employer an opt out of the messy business of sacking someone unjustly.

Two, if you resign your job you have a very different status re claiming benefits etc than if you are sacked.

Philip Booth said...

Heres the statement they have put out:

Dear Fellow Green,

You may have seen recently the media surrounding Greens Senate staffer Nicola Paris.

We would like to assure you that despite some media reports, Nicola
hasn't been sacked, and is not accused of acting violently. We are working together to deal with the complex array of issues arising out of the recent action. This is a matter for us to resolve, as employer and employee, and we are confident that an amicable resolution will be reached.

It is important that members do not always immediately believe
everything they hear in the media. It is also important to remember that Rachel is an outstanding Greens senator with a remarkable history in our
party. Rachel and Nicola have maintained a constructive and supportive dialogue throughout this difficult time and continue to have respect for
one another. Nicola has always been a valued member of Rachel's staff,
and the activist community.

We are both incredibly proud of the Greens achievements at the Federal,
State and Local Government levels. We would ask members to remember that
we are all committed to playing a constructive role in achieving
progressive social change.

We are both deeply committed to the upcoming election campaign and
working hard to ensure we get another Greens Senator elected in WA. As
such we urge all members to throw their support behind the important
campaign to elect our Lead Senate Candidate Scott Ludlam.

Yours very sincerely

Senator Rachel Siewert and Nicola Paris

Jim Jay said...

Hmm yes the senator sent this to me direct too... however it doesn't square with what Nicola has been saying publicly nor what the students of sustainability who have been working with nicola are saying - nor does it square with the correspondence I've had with Nicola... if nothing else it will be interesting to find out how happy Nicla is with this statement.

watch this space as i go into journo-overdrive!

Jim Jay said...

well overdrive may have been an exageration but i do have news...

Nicola refused to be resigned as you know. Two months down the line after having been given unacceptable conditions for retaininng her employment and after having clearly lost the support of her employer (Siewert) she decided to resign - which to me sounds like constructive dismissal.

Siewert has consistently refused to tell the Oz Green Party any news of this leaving people under the impression that an amicable solution was reached rather than the truth - which is the green senator in a bid to be respectable turned into a bullying boss on the side of the nuke dumpers - unbelievable!