Deporting Dissent


I arrived late to meet up with Scott Parkin on Wednesday afternoon. While he was waiting he had received a phone call that would change his life. I wasn’t sure whether to believe him when he told me, slightly stunned so that it came out casually: ‘So I just got a call from ASIO’.

I asked him what they had said, trying to figure out why a relatively minor US activist would be getting calls from our top spy agency. All he had done since being in Australia was run a few workshops on peace activism and organise some street theatre outside the headquarters of US oil services and logistics company, Halliburton, in Sydney.

In the US, Scott, a history teacher, had been a key organiser for Houston Global Awareness, a peace group focussing on the activities of the giant Halliburton corporation. Halliburton, of which US Vice President Dick Cheney is former CEO, has received more than US$8 billion worth of contracts in Iraq, more than any other company. To a packed room at the Sydney Social Forum on 27 August, Scott passionately outlined Halliburton’s war-time profiteering, and the activities of his group in Houston, the site of Halliburton’s global headquarters.

Scott Parkin

Scott Parkin

On Saturday morning Scott was on his way to give a workshop at Irene Warehouse, a community arts and activist space in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, with local non-violence group Pt’chang and Friends of the Earth. The workshop, Bringing down the pillars: people power strategies against war and capitalism, was billed as ‘a chance for Melbourne activists to hear about and discuss international experiences, innovations and emerging trends in organising for grassroots direct action campaigns.’

Scott had asked me if I thought ASIO would turn up at the workshops and arrest him. I naively told him ‘no’, having heard of few such instances. The deportation of former Black Panther Lorenzo Komboa Ervin in 1997 sprang to mind, but Scott was small fry compared to Lorenzo. He was leaving Australia in two weeks in any case. Perhaps he’d get questioned on the way out of the country, but surely an activist undertaking peace training would not be seen as a big enough threat to justify detaining him. How wrong I was.

State repression of activists in Australia is nothing new, it just doesn’t often hit the mainstream radar. In 2001 “2 American activist Doyle Canning was forced to wait more than ten months before being told by Australian authorities that she would not be issued with a tourist visa on the basis that she would ‘incite discord in the Australian community or in a segment of that community.’ Doyle had previously come to Australia on a study visa and was assisted in the organising of the S11 protest against the World Economic Forum in 2000, passing on her experiences of the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. Like Scott, she had broken no law, and her exclusion seemed to be based entirely on her political beliefs and activism.

Scott Parkin’s detention and imminent deportation were made possible by laws that are already in place under the Migration Act, as was the banning of Doyle Canning. We might ask why ASIO’s beefed up powers under new anti-terror legislation are necessary given that the government already has the power to deport anyone who doesn’t share its world view – and has shown that it is prepared to use it.

The ‘competent authority’, to quote Phillip Ruddock, that informed DIMIA that Scott Parkin poses a ‘security threat’, is no doubt ASIO. The fact that ASIO spies on peace activists as part of the ‘war on terror’ might inform us more generally about the nature of this war, and in whose interests it is waged. In this war, peace activists are a threat to national security for bringing the corporate profiteering behind the war in Iraq to public attention.

As of 13 September, Scott is still in solitary confinement in the Melbourne Custody Centre. He sits in jail charged with no crime. It is unclear why he is not being held in Maribyrnong Detention Centre, the usual place for those detained on immigration matters, and where he might find some solidarity among other detainees enough perhaps to mount a legal challenge to his deportation.

As it stands, Scott wants to get out of Australia as soon as possible, and who can blame him? It’s becoming an increasingly repressive place. His lawyers, including QC Julian Burnside, say that by accepting deportation Scott doesn’t give up his right to challenge the decision – a decision that doesn’t just affect Scott, but local activists as well, and indeed anyone with a political opinion who visits Australia.

This new regime of power, this constant exceptionalism the government affords itself, must be widely challenged if real democracy is to be built and defended under the so-called ‘war on terror’.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.