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Senator Lee Rhiannon

About Senator Lee Rhiannon

Lee Rhiannon is a senator for New South Wales, elected at the 2010 federal election, representing the Australian Greens.

Senator Lee Rhiannon has taken umbrage with the Federal Government’s “Radicalisation in Australia” booklet, stating that it undercuts our democratic process.

The Federal Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism and Radicalisation in Australia booklet purports to promote social cohesion and safer communities. Disappointingly, many parts of the booklet represent a continuation of the fear mongering we saw under former Prime Minister Abbott. It discusses “violent extremism” in broad terms, while claiming, “Australia has enjoyed a peaceful history, relatively free from violent extremism” – a huge insult to those who were violently dispossessed and killed after the British invasion in 1788.

The booklet explains that “ideologies are only concerning if they advocate the use of violence or other unlawful activity.”

One fictional case study – about “Karen” – suggests that environmentalism and civil disobedience lead young people down a slippery slope towards violent extremism.

It is a sad reflection of the Government’s attitude towards public debate, and towards views and beliefs that sit outside those of the establishment.

On page four of the booklet, a photo of citizens at a protest against shark culling sits above the heading “What is radicalisation?”. They explain:

“When a person’s beliefs move from being relatively conventional to being radical, and they want a drastic change in society”.

A community rally against the needless practice of shark “catch-and-kill” is not dangerous radicalism, it is democracy in action.

The Greens have roots in environmental and community activism, stretching back to the 1970s. Throughout the 1970s the Green Bans in NSW changed the political climate in NSW. A chorus of unionists, environmentalists, students and resident groups agitated for change and managed to curb overdevelopment on heritage sites and some areas of urban bushland, and stop the demolition of low cost housing.

At a time when political and police corruption was rife, and in the absence of heritage and environmental protection legislation, those Green Bans paved the way for the progressive planning and heritage laws introduced throughout the 1970s.

The Sydney Greens, a collection of inner city activists devoted to grassroots organising, environmentalism and nuclear disarmament, formed in the 1980s. The Australian Greens formed the following decade. Its founding members signed on to four key principles of the German Greens – ecological sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy and peace and non-violence – at the suggestion of young radical Tony Harris. Our members continue to be guided by these principles today.

Direct action, civil disobedience and other forms of activism play an important role in our society. Acts of civil disobedience are, by definition, illegal. But these acts, carried out in good conscience and with the view of protecting the environment, human rights and workers rights, help build movements and drive progressive change.

Many of our members are activists, unionists and environmentalists; what the Liberal-National Government would describe as “radicals.” I appreciate their contributions to the party and for their hard work to effect positive social change.

Through my work as a Greens spokesperson for tertiary, technical and further education I have been deeply inspired by student activists who have taken to the streets with banners, locked on to Vice Chancellor’s offices and dropped banners on live television to defend public universities. Last November students from Monash University took part in direct action protests against the Coalition’s plans to deregulate universities. Five were arrested. I applaud their commitment and courage.

In my work as the Greens spokesperson for Animal Welfare, I am fortunate to regularly meet with people campaigning for animal rights. Many engage in acts of civil disobedience to expose the torture and cruelty animals are subjected to. Their stories are inspiring.

Without the visual evidence collected by courageous activists, whistleblowers and independent investigators, no one would know of the systemic animal abuse happening behind closed doors. The evidence they collect helps to assist legal prosecutions and investigative journalism, and to shine a light on instances of inhumane animal abuse.

We should thank whistleblowers and animal rights groups for exposing the horrific brutality suffered by livestock in our live export chain. Without their images, Australians would not know of sheep being trussed and thrown into car boots or buried alive; or of cattle cowering under the blows of sledgehammers, or having their throats sawn, tendons slashed and eyes gouged.

We would be ignorant to the cruelty of the greyhound racing industry, which is propped up by State governments and the gambling industry. Each year thousands of healthy greyhound puppies are deemed unfit to race and promptly slaughtered. The ones that do race are killed at “retirement,” usually before they are five years old.

High-risk investigations have uncovered footage of terrified rabbits, native possums and piglets tied to lures and mauled to death by racing dogs. An inquiry into the greyhound racing industry has found that up to nine in ten trainers in NSW have used live bait to blood their dogs.

Evidence of abattoir workers punching, kicking and decapitating live turkeys; of hens cramped in filthy dark cages; of pigs in metal crates with barely enough room to lay down; of ducks being forced to sit in their own excrement without adequate water; of joeys being swung by their tails against the back of utes – is crucial to fighting for animal rights.

These activities are not dangerous radicalism. These are responsible people taking a stand for progressive causes.

We should work hard to ensure that the bold work of whistleblowers, activists and investigators is not done in vain, or condescended to by a government hoping to frame activism as something to be feared and avoided.

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