Civil Society in Katoomba
a report of the ALP Bill of Rights Community Forum
Katoomba, 25 May 2006


The ALP "Bill of Rights" Community Forum which took place in the Katoomba Civic Centre Saturday 27 May was civil society at its best.

There in a public hall a 100 or so good folk, young and old, talked freely about rights and political change in a manner peaceful and peace promoting. A senior government Minister sat at the table before us, no fear, no guns, not a security man or police officer in sight.

Recall the kind of democracy brought to Bhagdad by the invasion of the US military and know what a jewel like blessing this manifestation is.

Cyanide Watch had announced its intention to be present. Natalie Lowery of Blue Mountains Friends of the Earth and Vernon Treweeke, Blue Mountains muralist and Aquarian comrade, and me, foolish and passionate old man, answered the call.

Arrayed on the plaza out front the meeting room were the Cyanide Watch flags and "Cyanide Spills! Cyanide kills!" banner. No one objected. To the contrary all were curious including the Mayor who made sounds of incredulity when he learned for the first time of the 6000 tonnes a year Lake Cowal cyanide shipping through his City.

The Forum had been organized by young Katoomba ALP Branch members - good on them! The presenters were NSW Attorney General, Minister for the Environment, Minister for the Arts and Local member for the Blue Mountains, the Honourable Bob Debus, Ms Susan Ryan AO, chair of the New Matilda Human Rights Act Campaign, long time women's rights activist and former federal cabinet minister in the Hawke Keating government and Professor George Williams, constitutional lawyer and director of Gilbert and Tobin Centre for Public Law at UNSW.

The energetic and intelligent Professor George put the case for a legislated charter of rights and in doing so made clear that he did not have in mind a replica of the US Bill of Rights.

He told us he wanted a charter that addressed the needs of our times and for that reason, he said, in the course of his Charter of Rights road show, which has won such widespread community support across Victoria, he had been doing a lot of listening.

Australia is one of the few advanced constitutional democracies to lack a guarantee of rights and PM Howard in his policies of discrimination, militarism and workers rights repression has exploited this to the max.

Come discussion time I got up, introduced myself and spoke a few winged words for peace, for justice for David Hicks and for protection for the rights of future generations to clean water. I mentioned the transport of Lake Cowal cyanide through the Blue Mountains and finished with a heart felt plea to Debus: "Bob, Bob, ..."

Bob Debus responded to this in a good natured but odd way. He announced he wanted to answer a question with a question, one which some of the audience would understand.

"Are you Graeme Dunstan of Nimbin?"

I was thrown by this. Was it a salute or a dismissal, fame or notoreity? My Ratnasambhava meditations came to mind, same same. I pranammed to him in Asian fashion, a gesture of respect and humility.

"The same," I said. Which was not quite true because a more appropriate answer would have been: "Graeme Dunstan of Cyanide Watch, late of Nimbin."

Smiling warmly Bob then both affirmed and diminished the right of future generations to clean water by saying that environmental rights were included within economic rights.

I reckon Bob has got the cart before the horse. If you don't have clean water, you don't have economy and in the face of thirst, sickness and grief at the death of wildlife, children and frail folk, all other rights become meaningless.

But I had spoken my piece. No one took up the issue of intergenerational equity thereafter so I am supposing that the rights of future generations is too futuristic for this season's campaign for a Charter of Rights. Most of the rest of the evening was spent in the abstracts of lawyer talk. They mean well and I wish them well.

After the meeting, I got a few minutes alone with Bob Debus. He was aware of my meeting with his advisor Scott Cardamatis on the day before.

I told him that the resistance to the Barrick Gold mine at Lake Cowal was increasing and not diminishing as his advisors wanted to believe.

That Cyanide Watch was campaigning to make the passage of cyanide transports very unpopular for voters and very difficult for gold miners.

I said that Scott Cadmatis and Jeff Angel, Director of the Total Environment Centre, were activists of another era when it was thought engagement and negotiation with government and corporate miners was the best way. They had done best they could and achieved a settlement that had produced the "cleanest" gold mine yet in NSW and provision for wetland restoration.

But this turns out to be the worst thing they could have done because it has opened the door to more gold mines in wetlands and elsewhere, bigger pits, more cyanide and more permanently poisoned water.

I told him that that part of the environment protection movement which believes in direct action is determined to bring the Lake Cowal gold mine to a halt in the Land and Environment court and by squeezing off cyanide supply in the communities through which it passes.

In short I said, we are determined to bring Barrick's $400 million investment at Lake Cowal to ruin and make it the last cyanide gold mining venture in NSW.

I also told him that our Cyanide Watch concern was not just with the implicit hazard of hosting the passage of tens of thousands of tonnes of cyanide, it was the moral issue of allowing it and there by being complicit in the poisoning of vast quantities of the water of future generations.

We parted amicably with Bob promising a review. He is truly a good man doing the best he can too. That night he had begun effecting quiet gravitus yet he was somehow pompous and remote; he had finished the evening smiling and relaxed, a good man standing amongst his people.

May his big heart and sense of justice embrace the clean water rights of future generations.

For the Earth. To the dust!

Graeme Dunstan
8 May 2006 in Victoria Street Katoomba 30 April 2006

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