Diana Rickard - 13 February 2014
Dear John Lawler,
Let me first make it clear where I come from. My grandmother and mother were strong Communists in Victoria (before my mother was re-educated as a teacher) and I was brought up to believe that all people are equal and entitled to share in the Common Wealth. I am deeply concerned that an inquiry focussing purely on the Stella Maris lease arrangement can be construed as neo-1950s' McCarthyism and anti-communism at its worst. I am equally concerned that it can be used to further harass Australians not toeing the Conservative line. I was very little when BA Santamaria conducted similar witchhunts against left-wing unions and unionists but I still remember when a brick was thrown through our window with a note attached (my mother kept the note) saying 'next time, it'll be your kids, commo bitch!'. When I became politically active in Darwin - as a Labor Party member and union organiser during former CLP government days - I had a similar note sent to me. I've kept the note.
I came to Darwin on 17 January 1974. My son, Sam and I lived in a beautiful old elevated house in Woods Street that has now been demolished and made into a high raise commercial building. We went for walks ( well - I piggy-backed him more often) everywhere - rain or shine. We annoyed the railway workers (Sam being 2 and a half years old and loving trains) and we annoyed the wharfies and seafarers - for similar reasons. When I say 'annoyed' I'm exaggerating. I'm a life-long trade unionist and I loved tossing around ideas with feisty members of the railways, shipping and wharf unions. I also loved going to the Stella Maris Club. It was rough and ready but was the soul of old Darwin. My mother was a teacher in Darwin and also an active unionist. She lived in the government flats Cnr Smith and Daly Streets. I worked for a time for the Miscos in their old house at 38 Woods Street. My mother and I alternated between the Workers Club and Stella Maris for good solid political fun. The Workers Club is gone, my mother is gone but the old Stella Maris Club still stands. I'd like it to continue to stand - as a landmark to railway, wharf and seafaring workers.
I'm pleased that Unions NT has a lease on it. I think it appropriate and I believe they'll appreciate it for its historical significance.
I'd like to mention a notable handful of corrupt government dealings from my Darwin past:
- Darwin Primary School was still functioning when I lived down the road from it before Tracey. It wasn't sold because there used to be a Workers Education Association Campus next to it - that was sold. Community arts people rallied to have the primary school kept as a community arts centre where classes could be held for adults.
- But then came Doctors Gully. The Lands and Planning Minister bought the lease from the old man who used to feed the fish there. The lease became freehold. The minister's family made a fortune from it.
- When I moved from Wood street, I moved to Tiwi - across from Tiwi Primary School - where my son could walk to school easily and not feel held back by his sight-impairment. He went to this school for all of his primary school years. The CLP government got rid of the school and SOLD the land to Masonic Homes - against great public outcry. Tiwi voted predominantly Labor so the CLP had no qualms sending Tiwi children to two other overcrowded schools - Nakara and Wanguri - across major roads - even though new subdivisions on Defence land were being mooted. Another extremely corrupt dealing and uncalled-for cashing in of a much-valued public asset!!
- My best friend sent her son to Essington School. I picked him up from there when she couldn't get time off work. He told me that he didn't like sitting outside of the school because older kids from Nightcliff bullied him telling him that he'd pinched their school. I don't condone bullies but I explained to him how it was Rapid Creek Primary School until the CLP SOLD it to private school investors. Another corrupt CLP selling-off of public assets to fund corporate welfare.
- More recently, we find out that there is a 5 year lease on public seafront at Nightcliff. Wow! Now we can't even share the waterfront with our children and grandchildren. Halikos Island indeed!!
There are many more cases of non-accountable and non-transparent transfer of crown land to CLP members and cronies but - enough said.
In the case of Stella Maris, I believe the former Henderson government made a calculated but prudent move. The land still belongs to us and the union movement has a strong, communal connection to that land. It's a bit like native title but doesn't go back quite so far.... This is community land. It can be shared with several other community groups respecting the heritage of a fine old building and needing the scope of the property to enhance the altruistic goals of members and supporters.
What does the CLP want with Stella Maris? Will it be conserved? Has it been promised to wealthy corporate investors at minimal cost? Is a former Minister - or two - now richly endowed through public property divestment waiting in the wings to receive this golden nest egg?
Nasty, underhanded bullying, bigotry and arrogance with little or no open and honest public consultation reflects the governance of ultra-conservative, fascist governments. Without reasoned evidence, it also reveals governments with utter contempt of trade unions, trade union members, the history of the labour movement in Australia and overseas and the many Australian people who believe in healthy egalitarian societies and Keynesian mixed economies.
Holistic responses are needed that enhance the reputation of the Australian labour movement and its proud history - not a groundless witchhunt that plays on the basest instincts of the brute lying low in our society.
I trust your vast experience and common-sense for a well-rounded, holistic response to this wicked problem of union-bashing.