THE text below is the work of Wendy Bacon, who really is a professor of journalism. The commas (with which she has a real problem), the grammatical fixes and corrections of fact (the Silly headline is misquoted and there is no conjunction in ASIO's name) have been added at the Waterhole in the interests of building bridges, reaching out and perhaps helping the over-promoted to try at least as hard as a very nice, six-figure salary might suggest.
Some might say that Bacon should be ashamed of herself, even that the parents of her students might want to consider bringing suit. The real shame belongs to those in government who fund institutions where the incompetent and otherwise unemployable are rewarded by their mates with comfy sinecures.
The additions and fixes are in red, the tautologies and ambiguities struck through. There will be no apology if readers notice sins that have been missed. Bacon's column is so ugly, so inept, it would have been torture to read it more than once.
Last August, Lee Rhiannon, after 11 years in the NSW Legislative Council, was elected to the Senate. Even before her election, the attack on her character had begun.
Her sin: her family’s membership of the Socialist Party of Australia, which continued to support the Soviet Union after its 1968 invasion of
what was thenCzechoslovakia. All of that happened more than 40 years ago.
This attack smacks of McCarthyism, the 1950s
periodphilosophy named after the right-wing US Senator Joe McCarthy. During this period, people were demonised if they weresuspected of having beingbeen associated with communism.
The attacks on Rhiannon were partly fuelled by
the publication ofMark Aarons’ bookThe Family File, a book about his ownfamily, its role in the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and the voluminous intelligence files kept on its members by the Australian Security and
Aarons included an account of his friendship with Rhiannon, who, like him, was a child of communists. His point was that, when the CPA split in 1968, Rhiannon’s parents and the young Lee
herselfjoined the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA), which continued to support the Soviet Union. Aarons’ father was a leader in the more progressive CPA. While Rhiannon eventually ended up in the Greens, Aarons went on to work for NSW Labor government ministers.
Holding someone accountable for the crimes of Stalin because they did not in their youth
publiclyrecant the ideology inherited from publicly theira family upbringing is like holding ex-Catholics responsible for child-abuse crimes inside the church.
There are many
people who have contributedcontributors to public life who havehad past associations with socialism, from its far-left anarchist strains to the various strands of Marxism-Leninism. Socialists played a role in getting women the vote, early struggles for Aboriginal rights and equal pay, just to mention a few achievements. My ownbrother, Jim, who was a popular Labor premier of Tasmania, never made any secret of his early association with Maoism.
Like any other politician, Rhiannon should be
held up to scrutinyscrutinsed. So what is her political record over the last 15 years, and what connection might it reveal to attitudes associated with Stalinism, such as secrecy, cover-ups, authoritarianism and the persecution of political opponents?
Before being elected to parliament, she was one of two founders of Aidwatch, an organisation set up to scrutinise and make transparent Australia’s aid delivery. As the only Australian organisation dedicated to such purposes
,it continues to have relevancebe relevant.
After she was elected to the Legislative Council, she helped found Democracy for Sale, which charts the influence of financial donations on NSW politics. This work led directly to many reforms aimed at reducing the corrupting influence of campaign
financedonations. It is to be hoped this push will becontinue din the NSW and federal parliaments.
She took up the case of Roseanne Catt, who was campaigning against her 10 years' wrongful imprisonment in NSW prisons. As a reporter, I was aware that neither major party nor the NSW government would assist in re-opening the case.
She worked to improve our pathetic Freedom Of Information law. Public transport and public schooling were also on her agenda.
Thus far, her campaigns appear to have opposed cover-ups and supported transparency, rather than the opposite.
Recently, Rhiannon has attracted attention for her continuing support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the regime in Israel. Like them or not, boycotts are non-violent
forms ofprotests more often associated with civil rights movements and Gandhi than authoritarian rule.
It has also been suggested that she is not a true environmentalist. Again the evidence shows she qualified as a botanist and was writing about global warming and the environment long before most of us had heard of climate change.
So what of her parents, Freda and Bill Brown? Should she
morepublicly reject her heritage? Her mother’s Sydney Morning Herald obituary ‘Rebel with many causes’Rebel with plenty of causes, published after her 2009 death, placed her in a radical tradition of women described by Marxist historian Stuart Macintyre as “warm, human people”. Freda Brown received an award from the South African government for work opposing apartheid. She very activelycampaigned very actively for the rights of women, including the right sof Afghan iwomen to educationbe educated, and did so during a period when feminism was off the agenda. (ed: huh???)
Let’s go back to the 1930s, the Great Depression and her grandparents who lived in Newtown, a suburb then famous for its support of the unemployed
.The Browns held campaignmeetings for the unemployed in their house.
In her 1999
inauguralmaiden speech in1999, Rhiannon acknowledged the contributions of her parents and also ofother relatives who hadworked as wharfies at Walsh Bay in Sydney’s Rocks. At the time, parts of West Circular Quay were being privatised for the exclusive developments where the rich now live. At the time she spoke of how the NSW government’s system ofplanning system rode roughshod over people. In identifying planning as a key electoral issue, Rhiannon showed prescient judgment inforeshadow inged a key issue in the 2011 election.
Rhiannon makes no secret of her family’s political history. She condemns the appalling crimes of Stalin while remaining proud of her
politicalfamily's for their work for peace and the rights of theirfellow citizens.
Could the real problem with Rhiannon be that she is an effective politician and, therefore, a threat?
need tomust be able to stand up totough public scrutiny, but criticism should deal with contemporary politics rather than the ideological failings of millions of people on both sides of politics during the Cold War. The recent attacks on Rhiannon are character assassination - yet another tool of Stalinism. Fortunately, and perhaps in part due to her roots, Rhiannon appears to be made of steely stuff and is unlikely to be deterred.
Rhiannon is soon to join the Senate. Whether or not you voted for her, if she continues to work for freedom of information, reform of political donations, access to public transport and policies to reduce global warming, our democracy will be better off.
Wendy Bacon is (improbably) a Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney.