Bob Brown advocates a global parliament: "I have trust in the common sense of seven billion people on the planet."
This week's interview is with Bob Brown, former senator and former leader of the Australian Greens. Bob was elected to the Australian Senate on the Tasmanian Greens ticket, joining with sitting Greens Western Australia senator Dee Margetts to form the first group of Australian Greens senators following the 1996 federal election. He was re-elected in 2001 and in 2007. He was the first openly gay member of the Parliament of Australia. To promote Green and environmental issues, he established the Bob Brown Foundation last year.
In October 2003 Bob was a subject of international media interest when he was suspended from the parliament for interjecting during an address by US President George W. Bush. Bob is a long-time supporter of a global parliament and a UN Parliamentary Assembly. In a prominent speech in June 2011 he suggested that Australia should take the lead in the efforts for global democracy.
Audio transcript of the interview
Today I'm very honored to speak to Bob Brown, former senator and leader of the Australian Greens. Bob was in office for nearly 16 consecutive years in the Australian Senate. Welcome to the audio blog, Bob!
Thank you Brian, nice to be here.
So I'm going to kick straight into controversial stuff here! I read that you were suspended for disrupting George W. Bush's address when he was addressing the Australian Parliament? That struck me as an act of genuine global politics; can you maybe tell us a bit about that?
In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, George Bush was addressing the Australian Parliament and I simply stood up when he got to Iraq and - very directly but politely - informed him that if he was to abide by international law, the world would respect him and that, secondly, there were two Australian prisoners in Guantanamo Bay at the time and that he should have them released to the Australian jurisdiction; as he had the two U.S. nationals taken from Guantanamo Bay to be dealt with by the U.S. courts.
That caused a great deal of pandemonium and they tried to suspend us, and actually physically blocked me and my fellow Greens the next day from entering parliament, and that was quite unconstitutional. If it had been challenged in the High Court it would've been found to be illegal.
What were the reactions like afterwards?
Hostile. My staff met me after I'd spoken to Bush and said that the phones had been in melt down and very, very hostile with a lot of right wing commentators and so on saying that I should be "punched in the face" and "taken out the back and thrashed" and so on; but after the usual lapse of a few days, it turned around and very soon we were getting 90% support. I think there is no other issue in the parliament which has been a continuing source of people coming up to me in the street and saying: "Good on you that you stood up against George Bush when he was in parliament!" So, very tough at the time, but the feedback has been tremendously rewarding.
There is a difficulty sorting out the the difference between the office of President of the United States - or any other country - and the person who occupies it and when George Bush came into the Australian Parliament you could have heard a pin drop; there was just an extraordinary reverence - which was and is accorded to the office of the President of the United States - but the incumbent happened to be a belligerent person who - as we know since - broke the Geneva conventions and international law and has left a trail of great pain and suffering around the world in his wake. I was aware of that at the time, and prepared to take the consequences, because it was an opportunity that required some action and I took it.
So you're a strong advocate of "one man, one vote," and you are also a strong advocate of a global parliament, and I'm sure you've encountered resistance to this idea - the idea of "one man, one vote" at a global level - and it usually takes the form of "You don't want the Chinese to run the world, do you?" or "The developing world will criminalize homosexuality! Is that what you want?" so how do you counter that kind of fear?
The fortunate thing is that the logic is with the argument of "one person, one vote, one value, on one planet." So one simply has to have faith in the logic of the argument. In much the same as the suffragettes were right when they advocated the vote for women even though they were spat on, vilified and treated very poorly by other women! The ultimate argument, the reasonable argument, was on their side, so it is and always has been with extending the franchise to everybody. Extending democracy is the same. The argument for democracy has a number of very eminent and wonderful people in China at the moment in prison, if not in the Gobi desert breaking rocks in labor camps. The argument is with them, and ultimately will be won, and there will ultimately be a broader democracy in China, but not yet.
The same argument I've been dealing with in Australia - about the idea of a global democracy based on "one person, one
value and one vote" - the strongest opposition to that comes from people who are in support of the global market, removing barriers between countries when it comes to trade, but the very same people want to increase barriers when it comes to the movement of people! It's very discriminatory and sometimes has a racial basis as well. We have to be aware of that and that the future of the world depends on us treating each other with respect, with equal respect, no matter where we come from or who we are; and yes there is always the argument that a global vote - for example to decriminalize homosexuality - might go the wrong way but you either believe in democracy or you don't.
I think there is a very strong argument that if people were given the vote we would have a much better world than the one we have. I always cite the argument that if for example one 10th of the spending on arms each year could be diverted to giving children food, and water, and a school to go to, it would end the dire poverty which so many millions of children live in around the planet and I'm sure people would vote for that; but under the current system, when we have defacto global governance, most powerfully used by multinational corporations from all the countries who have power around the world, well, I just think it's no substitute for the idea that people should be enfranchised.
So, basically, what you're saying is that we essentially have global government, we're already there, it's just not democratic, it's not transparent, is that what you hinting at?
Absolutely! The World Trade Organization is often cited, it has an enormous bureaucracy, it hosts talks aimed at removing trade barriers, its reach is global; as is that of the World Bank; so is the global reach of Rupert Murdoch's News corporation which has news interests purveying a one sided view of the news - and a very opinionated view of the news - right around the world. Many other corporations, Coca-Cola, Exxon, just to name a few, have global reach and are much more powerful than many single governments around the world and nobody seems to complain about that. So we have, if you like, privatization of global governance and it's high time it was made a public institution as any democracy would have it.
So we have a situation where we actually do have a kind of global governance just not one that most people are conscious of. Whats your take on an incremental approach to a U.N. parliament? What are the steps and the time-frames you favor or consider workable to get us from here to there?
I think incrementalism is one way of going at it and I would never oppose it and that's why I moved in the senate to support the idea of the People's Representative Congress at the United Nations. The United Nations is the best representative - it represents countries even though it's not democratic in the idea of people voting for those representatives - it's the best representative body we've got, but it's way short of a global parliament elected on an equal franchise and I think while we should support incremental moves we must always have at the forefront the goal, the ultimate goal, which is a global parliament based on an equal vote of everybody on the planet which deals with international issues while leaving domestic issues for each domestic jurisdiction to deal with.
One last question for you then. It may seem an odd question but it's relevant I think. In the U.S. tens of millions of people subscribe to a religion or theology that sees global governance of any kind as a prelude to the end of the world or believe that global governance will be run by evil people, controlled by evil powers; this concept - the concept of global government or a global parliament in any event - is quite a tough sell in those quarters. So has the concept been a tough sell in Australia? What are the reasons for that if that is the case?
Well, I was quoted as promoting "one world government" by a right-wing think tank in an Australian newspaper just last week and I had to correct it - in the Financial Review - I've never used that term because it's pejorative. But I'm not concerned about people from a religious point of view. It's always been that there have been people who have quoted from the Koran, or the Bible, or the Talmud, or whatever scripture in every religion for and against something; I think that the better minded majority will ultimately win out in the end. We only have to go back to the civil war in the United States - to the Gettysburg address in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln - where he was under fire from people in the South quoting the scriptures to say that slavery was ordained by God. Ultimately it was illogical and is now not supported in the general view of people right around the world.
Lincoln, by the way, did speak up for democracy in his Gettysburg address - the war was in defense of democracy - so that it should not be extinguished from the Earth, he used the term "from the Earth" at the time because he thought the United States was a stronghold of democracy which was a very fragile thing.
Who knows whether the United States will take up the lead role in promoting global democracy? One tends to think that it will come from elsewhere; because it does take people who have suffered the threat of having it taken away from them or who have never had it. But, we don't know. All I have is trust in the general common sense of seven billion people on the planet; that we have to live together, with each other, or we ultimately have a nasty future in front of us. We can have a very great future but we have to be able to settle the great global questions through the ballot box; it is democracy or guns and any right thinking person will opt for democracy in those circumstances.
And we see it growing around the world; it is far from perfect but it's the best option we have and the unarguable logic is that ultimately global democracy is the best way for we human beings to secure the future of the planet.
Listen, Bob that's all I had for you!
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much for taking my call, much appreciated.
Well thank you for the work you're doing, and I wish you every success!