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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mark Seymour: 'We must protect our democracy' by Miriam Gravino

Green Left Weekly 18 January 2007


Mark Seymour (left), Martin Kingham and Dona Jackson launching the musical We Built this City, which commemorates the 8-hour-day victory.photo by Bindi Cole/Melbourne Workers Theatre
One-time Hunter & Collector, and now solo performer, MARK SEYMOUR has often taken part in political rallies, as well as performed on the stages of Australia’s premier rock venues. At times his music and ideological stance have seemed as one. Recently he spoke to Green Left Weekly’s MIRIAM GRAVINO.

As one of Australia’s most highly regarded songwriters, do you feel a responsibility to comment on political issues of the day?

I feel compelled to comment on Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war for the simple reason that the invasion wasn’t necessary, and if John Howard had made an honourable choice at the beginning of 2003, my country would not now be perceived as supporting an incompetent and unjust invasion which has led to the death and suffering of thousands of innocent people.

The sheer scale of the catastrophe is a telling reminder to us all that we cannot place unconditional trust in the judgement of our leaders, regardless of the fact that we live in a democratic country. The outcome of Howard’s decision in this case is utterly immoral, and he stands condemned for making it.

Has activism and consciousness-raising died a death in rock music?

We should not judge too quickly the apparent lack of political comment from songwriters today. In the past, artists were buoyed by the momentum generated by the Vietnam War. Its impact was felt for many years after we’d disengaged.

The draught and the loss of our own soldiers’ lives gave far greater weight to the argument that the Vietnam War was wrong than the debate surrounding Iraq. And we must accept that until our own begin to fall in battle it is much harder for young people to relate to the suffering and carnage taking place in a foreign country unless they feel the very real threat of getting caught up in it directly, as many of our boys did in the late ’60s because of national service.

Do your anti-war sentiments and your stance on social justice stem from your upbringing?

I missed out on the draft by one year. The Vietnam War was a generational issue. My parents had lived through World War II and although they were fiercely opposed to national service, they struggled to accept that the anti-war movement was not being manipulated by extremists.

In the end it was a generational conflict. At the time I was finishing high school and facing the decision as to whether I would register and refuse to go, or simply avoid the draft altogether. In either case I couldn’t have claimed to be a conscientious objector, as I believe that warfare is justified under certain circumstances. The consequences of my actions, had I been forced to take them, would have changed my life forever. Needless to say, I was very young as all military recruits are.

Why do you think the Australian government so slavishly endorses US policy? You are very specific about this on your website.

Australia’s endorsement of US foreign policy is entirely a question of interpretation. We happen to have a government which lacks a globally based foreign policy of its own. Foreign policy should be based on a cut and dried appraisal of our national geo-political interest. Diplomacy and military defence must share the load. Our decision to go into Iraq alongside the US made no sense in either case.

I have no problem with the US alliance as such, but in this case I don’t think it was relevant. I believe we went there because of the personal relationship between US President George Bush and Howard. I don’t believe the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq was a real test of what that alliance means.

Is there a connection between the government’s re-writing of industrial relations legislation and its championing of globalisation?

There is maybe a relationship between the IR legislation and globalisation. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is the survival of collective bargaining as a means by which employees can negotiate and guarantee fair working conditions and fair pay. There is nothing wrong with collective bargaining. It guarantees a safe and motivated workforce.

The IR laws are a calculated attempt to marginalise, once and for all, the trade union movement. Globalisation is the icing on the cake, so to speak. Work Choices is quite simply about reducing the cost of labour. It’s always about the workplace. Always, always!

You’ve spoken out and played at various rallies. Would it bother you if people absorbed your political message and neglected your music?

I’m happy to keep playing music. Politics is about being smart about your country and its leaders. By expressing my opinion occasionally I simply want others to think. They don’t have to agree. It’s really important to be seen to be thinking. We must protect our democracy. It’s a precious thing.

[Visit http://www.markseymour.com.au. Mark Seymour will play at Oceanus Restaurant, City Beach, WA on January 25.]

From: Cultural Dissent, Green Left Weekly issue #695 24 January 2007.

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