by Kim Kelly



A few days ago, something scandalous happened in Australia. Our leading lady trade unionist, Sally McManus, said this dreadful thing:

‘I believe in the rule of law, when the law is fair and the law is right. But when it’s unjust, I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.’

The prime minister, whatever his name is, has now said he will not work with Sally in the future, remarking ruefully, ‘There’s not much we can do with her.’ His defence minister has called her words ‘anarchic Marxist claptrap’; his immigration minister has called her ‘a lunatic’; his employment minister has said she is ‘outrageous’.


Oh, and the leader of the opposition, who is hardly less forgettable and regrettable than the prime minister himself, has mumbled: ‘If you don’t like the law, change the government and change the law. That is the way to do business, not to break the law.’

Because it’s soooo easy for the poor, the powerless and discriminated against to get justice. Write a letter to your local politician, click your heels three times, et voila, democracy magic happens.

Obviously ‘business’ has written every word of the above socialist-bashing song sheet: the big end of business that wants to see annoyances like trade unions made illegal. Indeed, while we’re here, why should the ordinary have access to decent education, health care and laws that ensure a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work? The bludgers. What did the ordinary ever do for Australia?

Ermm. Everything? Look around you: your house, your laptop, your phone, your table, your teabag, all of it was made by ordinaries, and delivered by truckies and postmen. Should it be legal that the people who make all the daily wonders of your world have no right to be paid a wage that will enable them to pay their rent and feed their kids?

The people who hate Sally think so, and they’re getting away with telling lies about her and the rule of law because Australians are not only among the most politically complacent people in the world, we are out and out the laziest bunch of no hopers when it comes to understanding our own history.

Breaking the law has a long and proud history in Australia – and no, I’m not referring to the convicts shipped out here by a British government that couldn’t think of any more creative way to solve poverty at home other than by invading and stealing other people’s land.

Without civil disobedience – without people having the guts to stand against unjust laws and get arrested for their trouble – we would not have democracy in the first place. Eureka Stockade anyone? No, that bloody battle was not just about a bunch of whingeing miners with easy access to firearms. It was about men – ordinary men – wanting the right to vote, and a couple of years later they won it.

Without civil disobedience, Aboriginal children would still be barred from public swimming pools and homosexual people would go to prison; women would have no rights to financial independence and there’d be no such thing as a minimum hourly rate.

Without civil disobedience, Australia would never have witnessed the horrors of anti-Vietnam War mums protesting in the streets, as pictured above. Dangerous criminals, that lot.

Without civil disobedience, every card falls the boss’s way, the vulnerable are exploited for profit, oppressed so that the powerful remain powerful. So that the powerful can break laws with impunity: environmental laws, political donations laws, politicians’ codes of conduct, and pesky international rules that say we shouldn’t bomb other people’s countries without a good reason. Iraq anyone?

Without civil disobedience, authority becomes a beast, rather than a creature of our democracy helping and protecting us all.

Sally McManus has said no radical thing. She’s only stated the obvious. And the only truly frightening thing about this is that no mainstream journalist is sticking up for her or the principle that if injustice is to be exposed or overcome, then sometimes that will mean breaking the law.

Well, I’m sticking up for you, Sally – and for every man and woman who has fought against the law to make my world a better, fairer place.