Are there still fighters for justice around like former Victorian Democrat Senator Sid Spindler who died recently? It doesn't matter if you didn't know Sid. It's enough to know that if you were down and out, Sid was on your side.
When I look around the political landscape I can see a few champions for social justice: Tim Costello, Julian Burnside QC, Lyn Allison and Bob Brown. I also see young people coming through, often unheralded by the mainstream media, who have achieved more for their communities in five years than some MP's have done in 20 years.
By champions, I mean people who put their ideals and life on the line. You won’t see Rudd or Nelson do much about ending child labour or stopping the exploitation of outworkers in the textile industry, fighting for Aboriginal education or ending workplace sexual discrimination. They just don't appear on the agenda. They did on Sid's.
Rudd and Swan are going to use fiscal policy to stop the inflation demon. They'll cut Government spending on social services to try slow the economy down, when, if they had half a brain between them, as we approach “peak oil”, they'd fill the Federal coffers by taxing petrol guzzling four wheel drives off the road. Don't get me started.
Apart from a handful of people, the Australian political landscape is almost devoid of scrappers. Keating used to call them the “maddies” and we need them more than ever.
There’s “no fire in the belly” in today’s politicians, Sid said. They’re a bland, spineless lot. Whenever I hear the ALP’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith speak, I fall asleep. He's aural Serapax. Rudd's victory speech was one of the worst I've ever heard and I've heard them all since 1975.
Sid fled Germany as a boy. Like all young boys in Nazi Germany, he was a “wolf soldier” or in other words, cannon fodder for the Russian troops. “Stuff this” thought Sid and he hitched a ride on one of the last trains out of Germany heading west.
American fighter planes strafed the train and many people on the train were killed or wounded. Sid said it was ironic that the people he saw as his saviours were trying to kill him. His social democratic politics and strong sense of social justice were forged by war and later by working with Don Chipp.
I got lucky having former Democrat Senator Sid Spindler as my boss. I was juggling tutoring journalism at RMIT and working as a raw media adviser three to eight days a week in his East Melbourne office. There was no such thing as a part time job with Sid. It was total commitment.
The following story is one of many. It is not a comprehensive story but it is indicative of the man I knew.
The story starts on a Saturday in August 1993 at a public demonstration against racism outside the Brunswick Town Hall. About 50 members of the National Front (as we called them) were yelling abuse at the crowd, who comprised church groups, human rights groups, environmental groups and Sid. The demonstration had been called because “skinheads” at the Brunswick Baths were harassing Muslim women.
The National Front had been yelling “show us your tits” and “get out of our country” as the women were leaving the Baths.
Malcolm King was a former Media Adviser to Senator Sid Spindler (1992-1994).
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Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.