Local passions run high from public morality to human rights

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By KIERAN FINNANE

 

The public gallery was unusually full at last night’s Town Council meeting, not packed, but well attended. Public question time soon revealed the visitors’ purpose – and an interesting glimpse into the range of views held in the community.

 

Some were concerned about the upcoming FABAlice Festival, promoted as a three-day “rainbow festival in the beating heart of Australia”, with “spectacular drag, comedy and cabaret performances and events”.

 

These will include “a Drag Crawl, Painting of the town, a Festival Pageant, Drag Races” and more.

 

Others were focussed on the fate of Julian Assange, Australian citizen, publisher and whistle-blower, facing extradition proceedings which commenced yesterday in the UK. The application comes from the USA where Assange would face trial on a range of charges under the Espionage Act, carrying penalties of up to 175 years in gaol.

 

The numbers fell roughly evenly, with four people from each camp coming to the microphone to express their views and ask council to respond to them.

 

In the middle of all that, and most unusually, an Aboriginal man who seems to be sleeping rough in town, also came to the microphone to ask about council rangers taking blankets from campers (a practice that attracted a storm of controversy in town and around the country in 2009; see our archive for multiple articles, including here.)

 

For this man, the rangers are “doing wrong”, some people are sick, it is a “worry when they have nowhere to stay”.

 

It’s “Aboriginal land and white people’s land too, that’s true”, he said more than once; we are “living together on Alice Springs land, Aboriginal people and white people”.

 

Council’s communications officer took his details for the CEO to follow up with him.

 

The CEO would follow up also with those who are worried about FABAlice and object to council’s support for the festival.

 

One young man said he was concerned about the path it leads our community down “in confusing children and families” and “dividing families”.

 
Left: FABAlice posters are on display in many locations around town.
 

A woman asked why council is using ratepayers’ money to expose young impressionable children “to this overly sexualised parody of women in the form of drag queens”.

 

Her concern was particularly about a parade featuring such performances.

 

The Alice Springs News has contacted the festival organisers to ask whether drag queens will feature in a public parade.

 

A man asked whetherFABAlice could be contravening council by-laws about offensive and indecent behaviour.

 

Another man asked whether any commitment had been made to readings by festival participants in the public library.

 

Acting Director of Community Development said an approach had been made to the library but a response had not been confirmed. (The News will also follow up on this.)

 

Members of the Julian Assange Supporters Alice Springs (JASAS) action group were keen to make the case supporting their petition, a motion about which council would vote on later in the meeting. 

 

The petition asked council to write to the federal government, urging them to demand the release of Assange and arrange his repatriation to Australia.

 

It is a human rights issue, one man argued.

 

Council has confirmed its support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as reflected in its policy 114. Supporting the JASAS petition would be consistent with that policy and a “demonstration of humanity and goodwill”.

 

Other councils have supported actions in support of Assange, he said.

 

A woman wondered if council had thought about what Assange’s situation means for freedom of speech and journalism as well as his human rights.

 

Another woman pointed to the impact of his having released information on Wikileaks about war crimes in Iraq.

 

Many governments don’t want the truth released, she said, but it is important for all of us as citizens in a democracy.

 

If Assange came from Alice Springs, she wondered how councillors would vote. Many have said he is a difficult person, but he’s “our difficult person and we want him back”.

 

Founder of JASAS, Margaret Richardson or Mags as she likes to be known, referred to the prosecution of  American whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Charges against him were dismissed (in 1973) when it was revealed that illegal evidence gathering against him (the Watergate scandal) had “incurably infected the prosecution”.

 

She said similarly the case against Assange should also be dismissed and in this light she hoped council would carefully consider support for the JASAS petition.

 

When the motion relating to the petition came up for debate, Cr Eli Melky again left the room, due to what he sees as a  conflict of interest – he has American clients.

 

Mover Councillor Jimmy Cocking said the petition was not anti-American (as Cr Glen Auricht had contended at the committee meeting), it was rather pro-Australian.

 

Assange is a whistle-blower and such people are important, he argued, for Australia and the international system of laws and rules to which we subscribe.

 

He thanked all of the supporters who had spoken and had been active in raising awareness on the issues – it was “inspiring to hear” from them.

 

He said support for Assange had crossed political boundaries in Australia, with both the independent MHR Andrew Wilkie and the LNP’s George Christensen visiting him at Belmarsh prison in the UK.

 

If Australia sits on its hands on this issue, it will set a “dangerous precedent” for all journalists and truth-tellers, he argued. Supporting the motion, on the other hand, would send a message to all whistle-blowers “to stand up and tell the truth”.

 

Americans would stand up if Assange were their citizen, Cr Cocking suggested.

 

Cr Jacinta Price, attending the meeting by phone,  spoke against the motion, saying she was “fed up with things being brought to the chamber” that were not going to benefit the community. She spoke of a cousin presently in a coma because of domestic and family violence; there are “issues under their noses people are prepared to ignore”, she said.

 

There were heckles from the gallery to which Mayor Ryan responded with a stern warning: they would be asked to leave.

 

Cr Marli Banks seconded the motion. Her concern is with Assange’s rights to natural justice and unbiased processes.

 

Cr Auricht said he respected the petitioners. He also acknowledged that Assange is “suffering” and that he is a a whistle-blower. That was “all well and good for what he did expose” but he got his information by illegal means, which is why he is being prosecuted.

 

(Chelsea Manning was prosecuted for leaking the information, jailed and later pardoned by President Barack Obama; Assange as publisher did no more than many a reputable news organisation has done – putting information in the public interest, including from Wikileaks, into the public domain. It is arguable whether that is anything other than a political offence, which is why the extradition proceedings might founder, as the extradition treaty between the US and UK excludes political offences.)

 

It was also Cr Auricht’s opinion that in publishing the information, Assange had put lives at risk.

 

More heckles and Mayor Ryan told the heckler to leave the gallery. She did not.

 

Cr Cocking said he understood the concerns of Crs Price and Auricht that council has more immediate issues to deal with, but urged their support for writing a letter as a form of advocacy, as council has done on many issues.

 

The motion was put to the vote. Only Crs Cocking and Banks raised their hands in support.

 
 
 

5 COMMENTS

  1. “Council has confirmed its support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as reflected in its policy 114. Supporting the JASAS petition would be consistent with that policy and a ‘demonstration of humanity and goodwill’.”
    The Alice Springs Town Council (ASTC) has absolutely no legal obligation to abide by any of their “policies”.
    This was recently stated by the ASTC or its in-house legal representative in a recent response submission to the Ombudsman.
    Not sure too many others would be aware that all of ASTC’s own “policies” aren’t worth the paper they are written on, as ASTC can chose at their own discretion which ones to follow, or not, at their own volition or whim.
    Apparently this is based in the NT Local Government Act!

  2. Simon Pettit, I cannot let you hang in there on your own.
    Your comments and likely knowledge add clarity to the legal ramifications of Town Council Policy and the Local Government Act. Thank you.
    It would be remiss of me not to comment on the meeting I attended to support the motion on behalf of Australian citizen, Julian Assange.
    We all still have a right to voice our opinions, as did Cr. Jacinta Price, on the phone, during this meeting which as I said, I attended.
    Cr. Prices’s comment that she was “fed up with things being brought to the chamber, that were not going to benefit the community” were, to say the least, astonishing.
    This remark reminded me of one of the ‘things’ the people of Alice Springs who elected Cr. Price would like to see being brought to the chamber – herself.
    Cr. Price is being recognised as merely one of the “faceless people” of Alice Springs Town Council.
    All that is being asked is “bring yourself to the chamber or resign”.
    We, the ratepayers, are paying for Cr. Price’s absences or apologies and in all honesty Cr. Price is doing little to demonstrate her future responsibilities when asking the people of Alice Springs and the Northern Territory to once again elect her to represent them either at Territory or National level.
    As I stated before, please start by bringing yourself to Council Chambers.

  3. This letter refers to ASP council meeting on the 24th February 2020.
    The accusation that Assange had knowingly put the lives of US informants at risk, by dumping un-redacted files on line, has been disproven, long ago.
    The Pentagon’s General Robert Carr, who was assigned to look at their impact, admitted under oath, in the trial of Chelsea Manning, that the US government had not been able to find any such incidents.Therefore, it is false and defamatory for Cr. Auricht to suggest that Wikileaks publications have caused deaths.
    .
    To say what Wikileaks did was illegal, shows a deep level of misinformation, and is also false and defamatory. A free media is fundamental to our democracy. Without it, none of us are free.
    This is why Assange’s freedom, is paramount, and why we must all stand together to defend him. He was given the information, and like any decent journalist, he published it . This is journalism and journalism is not a crime. He did this in the interest of humanity, knowing that he would be “hunted down ( Julian Assange) for this heroic and selfless act. He has suffered immensely and has been psychologically tortured for a decade.
    He revealed the truth of WAR CRIMES, and of USA and corporate corruption, at the deepest level.
    The ASP council have been offered a chance to join other councils who have passed a motion of support on behalf of the community, and to secure democracy for the present and future generations. There are over 200 signatures from local people who support council passing a motion, to free Assange and drop the trumped up charges against him.
    Disappointingly, this has not occurred. The majority of Crs (barring 2, wonderful and highly principled Crs ) preferring to support the USA and Australian alliance, and to maintain the status quo of Alice Springs. “Let’s not upset the Americans” is the message.
    Cr Auricht made a statement that Assange is suffering. Can I point out the reason behind Assange’s persecution is about WAR , and the need for the elite 1 percent to continue with illegal wars, to make huge profit. That is the reason for his persecution, and the USA’s 10 year vendetta against him, and the reason Assange is facing an extradition “show trial” in London.
    Democracy and freedom are at stake here and if we allow this extradition process to run its course, we will all be suffering, for decades to come.
    I was the person in the room “heckling”.I was in fact correcting the misinformation, and did so without interrupting anyone.
    Assange has been and continues to be persecuted to within an inch of his life, literally, and I will not quietly sit by and hear the continuation of that persecution.
    He is in immense danger of death, due to his despicable, inhumane treatment, which has resulted in terrible health problems. He is a courageous hero of our time. As is Chelsea Manning.
    I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jimmy Cocking for his immense support in getting this motion to council and his continued and fierce efforts in getting the motion passed. His noble comment that he would do the same as Assange if given the same information is commendable.
    Thank you Cr Marli Banks, for seconding the motion.
    If only there were more highly principled Crs on ASP council such as these two.

  4. @ Margaret Grace Richardson (Mags): You omit to mention that General Robert O Carr was one of Obama’s strongest supporters and a true believer Democrat. CEO of a billion dollar company. Obama had him appointed to the US National Infrastructure Advisory Council.
    Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning. So Carr giving that convenient evidence fitted beautifully with Obama’s agenda. And endeared him to Obama.
    There is a significant body of legal opinion as well as family accounts of disappeared American operatives to suggest very strongly that Manning and Assange’s “honest journalism” contributed to their deaths.
    Anyway, this Alice Springs News article is about the council departing from its charter responsibilities to engage in virtue signalling causes which the rate payers did not vote them in for.
    I am pleased that the Council voted to leave this issue to the proper channels.

  5. Mr Bell, The US Senior Counter Intelligence official, Brigadier General Robert Carr, who led the Pentagon review, swore under oath.
    Disappeared American operatives means what? What does that prove exactly?
    There is no proof any disappearances or deaths were attributed to the leaked cables, and if there were the Guardian, The Washington post and other such MSM news outlets, that released the cables, before Julian Assange had an opportunity to redact the information, are to blame.
    If you wish to talk about deaths.
    How about the thousands and thousands of innocent lives lost, during the illegal wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and other such illegal wars on the Middle East?
    How about the thousands of severe injuries inflicted on innocent lives, and the thousands of orphaned children?
    See the true visual and “secretive” horrors of war in collateral murder before speaking about disappearances and deaths.
    What would you do Mr Bell, if you were the observer of such horrendous war crimes?
    The council is there to represent the people of this town.
    The activities of JASAS Action Group, show that many many people in this town are against the illegal incarceration of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning.

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