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Peaceful protests is a basic democratic right- even if you don’t agree.

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Article 20 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

Of course, as yesterday’s demonstration was not something I agreed with I wasn’t there. The information I got was from Twitter, which is a very unreliable.

Twitter is a very binary way of discussing opinion or ideas, and the opinions on the Victorian Premier is probably one of the best examples. For the most part there is the ‘IStandByDan’ camp which believes Dan Andrews is fantastic and its supporters attribute to him almost a deity standard, or ‘SackDan’ where the Premier is evil incarnate and an Aussie version of Augusto Pinochet.

Yes, you can disagree or criticise Dan Andrews and still want him as a Premier

Something happened somewhere when being critical of a political party or figure meant you were on the opposite side or a traitor.  I attribute this to two factors.  One is the advent of social media where people started getting information within their own bubbles, and in the Anglosphere of the UK, Australia and the USA the very partisan anti left campaign from the Murdoch media.

Let me hasten to add that I have no issue with Murdoch running this line.  He owns the papers and TV stations and he can do what he likes. However this has tainted the political discussion in the sense that non biased media has been influenced by Murdoch’s media narratives and this is a particular problem in Australia where in many cases Murdoch’ media is all there is.

This has polarised the debate no end.  Even a mild criticism of a Labor figure puts you from any social media lefty in the anti-ALP pro Murdoch camp.

I remember in the 80’s and 90’s when I was a member of the ALP that party members and supporters would be quite critical of the Hawke/Keating governments and here in Victoria of the Cain government.  This was seen as part and parcel of the democratic process.

Personally I think that the Andrews Government mishandled the Hotel Quarantine in March 2020 which was a major cause of the second wave and subsequent lockdowns in that year.

And after reading opinions from lawyers that know much more about the law than me.  Such as William Partlett
Associate Professor, The University of Melbourne or from a group of eminent QCs  I can see that there are issues with the Bill, and people have every right to be concerned and demonstrate against it.

The problem with open demonstrations. You get everything

One thing that it must be kept in mind is that open demonstrations will attract all types of people.  And this is especially the case in a demonstration like the one yesterday.  Probably the majority wanted to peacefully demonstrate against the Bill.  But then there were people who had a visceral hate towards Andrews.  Or people who are against mandates.  I remember when I attended left causes demonstrations that the media, or people against the cause would pick up someone with an extreme view, or someone who wanted to be violent.  It is important that we on the left don’t make the same mistake.  A couple of idiots with a prop with nooses is not an indication of what the majority of people there may be feeling.  Apparently one of the speakers started chanting  “hang Dan Andrews” and no one followed him and went back to the “sack Dan Andrews’ chant.

Overall I agree with what Paul Zauch tweeted to me yesterday during an exchange

Victoria a dictatorship? Let’s stop the Hyperbole

One of the claims that is repeatedly repeated by those against the proposed the proposed bill is that it would introduce a dictatorship style government in Victoria.  There hasn’t been a dictatorship past and present that hasn’t been compared to Victoria by those who are against Dan Andrews.  North Korea, China, Nazi Germany and the latest is from Peta Credlin about a ‘Latin American dictatorship’.  This stuff is patently absurd and I think it shows a lack of historical knowledge.  We don’t have the Sturmabteilung, to intimidate his political opponents with violence or Victorians been prevented from accessing the internet or international mobile phone services or people being thrown alive from planes.  There is no Enabling Act of 1933. Emergency powers enacted during the pandemic were part of legislation passed through a parliamentary process.  And even the current bill is likely to be amended in the Legislative Council – as it should – showing that the democratic system where the Legislative Council acts as the house of review is working as intended.  Dan Andrews will go to the polls and the people of Victoria will decide whether they want him back or want the Opposition to form government

And on a related matter on this, while as I said before there are issues with the Bill that need to be addressed the misinformation about the Bill abounds such as this one below

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When it only needs a bit of searching to find out this is not true.

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The danger of embolding the far right

While I do agree that most people yesterday were law abiding citizens expressing their democratic right to protest against a proposed bill in parliament there are also more sinister undercurrents.

The organised far right have been a major factor in these rallies against vaccine mandates etc. It has been proven that far right groups communicate through the encrypted messaging app Telegram and one of the largest channels behind the anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne is called “Melbourne Freedom Rally”.

So the risk here is that a legitimate grievance or disagreement can be used by far rights groups to piggy back and embolden their message. This is evident in some of the participants speeches, and some of the chants and some of the signs.

While, as I said before, this maybe a minority in yesterday’s protest, it is a factor that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

The issue is that so far those that agree with the Government measures are not going to gather in mass and demonstrate because it would go against the idea of gathering in large groups when there is COVID in the community.

However, the Campaign Against Racism & Fascism‘ has organised a demonstration next week. Despite being a group that comes from a political party much more on the left that I am, I agree with their slogan: ‘Pro-Vax, Pro-Union, Anti-Fascist’. I am definitely pro vax, definitely pro union, and I was born in the country that invented fascism (fascism is an Italian word) that suffered and struggled to get rid of it. I grew up in Italy where anyone who upheld democratic values was an anti-fascist, including Catholics who later formed the Christian Democrats.

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I have placed pictures supporting this demonstration on Twitter. because I am pro public health and pro vax. And I intended to go

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However it seems that the demonstration is turning from a Pro-Vax, Pro-Health measures one into a more anti-fascist one. Again as I said before the vast majority of people would be ‘anti-fascist’, however I am wary joining a demonstration that is not focused on the issues of vaccination and health, and maybe could have the potential for confrontation, considering there will be another anti-Bill/mandate protest in another part of the CBD.

It will be alright in the long run

The pandemic has created an extraordinary situation that have seen political shifts unknown in this living memory. But Australia has been there before. Conscription in the first world war. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20. The rise of the National Guard in the 30s. The Communist referendum in the 50’s. And everytime after the crisis subsided the nation was able to re-establish it’s natural dynamic equilibrium. And I expect to be so again. Every crisis does change each one of us and the nation as a whole. How this pandemic has done so it too early to tell. It will be up to historians in the next few decades to determine.

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