You mentioned previously that you used to work for Amnesty Australia and Greenpeace. Could you tell us about that?
‘I first started volunteering in ’91, it was just typical volunteer work with Red Cross, Salvos [Salvation Army], that sort of thing. I went from there to do voluntary work with a disabled children’s school.
It was a very strange time, and a very busy time. I was finishing school, working at the disabled children’s school, I had my job as a thief, and I was working for somebody else at the same time, as well as extracurricular activities and sport. It was really exhausting, I didn’t get much sleep. Working at the disabled children’s school was one of those moments in my life that changed me.
Many years later an ex suggested I join her and volunteer with Amnesty. I thought eh, okay, they’re just another big organisation like Greenpeace, some big ideas but with very little impact on my life. When I first started working there, I was looking for the catch.. that piece I wouldn’t agree with. But as I became involved, I realised that their statements and beliefs, their views and what they were trying to achieve were almost exactly those conclusions that I had come to: how the world needs to be as opposed to the way it is.
[Initially] I fell into a lot of debates at Amnesty but eventually I realised that where there was a difference of opinion, I was wrong.
For example: as a teenager I thought that in a criminal justice system, an eye for an eye made sense. If a thief steals something, they should lose something of equal value in return, if a murder kills someone, well they’ve set their own punishment for themselves. As a teenager it made sense, and it’s something that can be easily grasped by people.
As I aged though, and thought about the world, I realised that view was wrong. The state needs to set a better example, it needs to be that thing which other people should aspire to. There’s no point in bringing people down to your level, because they won’t encourage change, you want to bring them up to a better level. This is where the state can’t have capital punishment, because you’re saying that killing is okay.
Along with that was the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights: the bare minimums which we should expect from each other, anywhere in the world, before we even try to achieve anything. The ability to live anywhere you want, the ability to marry whomever you want, the ability to not feel under threat at home or work.
They had discussed these ideas as part of the evolution of their ideals and moved past it. I was still holding on to old, childish ways of thinking.
Because of my experiences, living on a farm as a child, facing certain situations, I could face certain things and engage in certain work that others couldn’t.
My dream job would probably be to work as a Human Resource Manager for Amnesty Australia. Why? I could be the guy helping other guys, helping other guys save the world. As a job description, that’s pretty cool!’
Does any particular campaign stand out? Something you were proud to be involved with or especially passionate about?
‘Growing up, my father was quite an abusive man, my mother took the brunt of that. One day my friends at Amnesty told me that there was a team of people that needed somebody involved who had first-hand experience with [domestic issues], so I joined, hoping to help.
It was the Stop Violence Against Women campaign and 90% of those involved in it were women. Immediately they wanted to know why I wanted to be involved, as a male, the very thing they were trying to protest against.
I said, ‘Hang on a second, you don’t know anything about me, you don’t know my story,’ and so I told them about my father, my depression and anxiety, my mother feeling suicidal and going to the doctor with bruises, court cases.. in the end they were like “OK! You can join!”‘
Even in an organisation like that sometimes people lose sight of what they’re doing, they might have the right idea at heart but they miss that their actions run counter to what they’re trying to accomplish.
We went on to national meetings with representatives from the government, business leaders, corporations, industry members who were involved in the community, which led to changing the law. All very exciting, flying all around Australia. Some of them I already knew from working with the Department of Economic Development here in Tasmania and those connections served me well. So that was one of my successes, going from being on the backfoot coming into the campaign to helping change the law.
The way we changed [domestic violence law] is not sexist at all, by the way. It’s very much about humans, the same rule can be applied to men or women, there’s no gender bias. A lot of meninists rant “Agh you’re giving women too much power! How are we supposed to date women, we’re already in trouble with them?” Read the rules, there’s no gender bias. You can have complete role reversal and still apply it.
The other success came from manning a stall at the Falls Festival, down here in Tasmania. We just had petitions for people to sign, items to give away, t-shirts and stuff, but a lot of people down there of course just want to see bands, get drunk and party. They didn’t want to be bothered by big questions suggesting the world’s getting worse, and so there were pretty much ignoring the stall. I got very frustrated at this, but by arguing with the Falls Festival committee, I had access to bands, and by speaking with them, I got bands like Regurgitator wearing Amnesty shirts and promoting us on the main stage. At that point it became trendy to have Amnesty stuff and EVERYBODY was at the Amnesty stall.
For the next couple of days we took the national record for the number of signatures for that type of event in that year. Most of the bands from that point were either wearing Amnesty stuff or promoting them from the stage. it was really cool seeing bands go on.. “Amnesty! Save the world! Sign some Amnesty stuff..” being part of that, it was fun. That just came from getting off my ass and doing something because I was frustrated..’
I find that’s what a lot of people lack, including me. Sometimes you might conceive of how something might be improved or.. say someone working with you might have thought ‘Hey, what if we could get the bands to wear our shirts?’, but they wouldn’t go and make it happen.
I’m just saying that I don’t think a lot of people would, because they lack the initiative or..
‘Because they’re too embarrassed or something?’
Or they doubt their capabilities.
‘When it comes to asking questions, there’s no harm in trying.’
Exactly! But a lot of people don’t..
‘I’m still extremely lazy! When it comes to observing patterns, seeing inefficiencies in the way people are working, seeing that one thing that could be changed which would make a huge difference. Most of the time I don’t act on that. I basically act on it when it’s annoying me so much that I have to fix it.
People look at me and go: “Oh, you’re so motivated!” 80% of the stuff I’m not doing! If I’m only solving 20% of the problems I see, what’s your problem?
I don’t hold myself very highly or have a particularly big opinion of myself at all, yet other people do, at times. The question is not how have I done things better, or my successes and so forth, that’s not the question.. the question is: why haven’t they?
I’m no better or worse than anybody else. So when you ask me what made me get off my ass and speak to those bands, to me the question isn’t: why I’m special, it’s what was stopping the 3 or 4 people working with me?’
I think people accept limitations because they feel they’re supposed to, or because at some point they’ve internalised the idea of a personal limitation, regardless of their ability.
‘Because society has shaped them to be as limited as they feel they should be? Why? How is that good for anyone?’
I agree, I’m just saying that’s what happens.
‘”Stick your head in the sand, it’ll be safer.” No, you’re no safer, you’re just blind to how unsafe things are!’
[laughter on both sides]
‘Be your own hero, be whoever you want, I really don’t care, but we’ve got an amazing world, we could be amazing people..
It’s particularly important right now that we stop seeing things as other people’s problems. People are like: “Oh, I like this government right now because my investments are doing well.” That is a very selfish, single-minded, pointless, useless point of view. It’s so frustrating.
I find it amusing when I get involved in debates and the other party is like: Wait, why are we even talking about this, it’s not like it effects either of us. On a bigger level, these issues affect all of us, there’s an essential human decency to strive for in the world.
‘Not only that, but we’re all interconnected now. People go: Oh, American politics, whatever, it’s irrelevant to us. Not at all, American politics affects Australian politics. Everything they do affects us! Who America chooses as their next President? It’s effectively like choosing our own President! The amount of impact it has on us is actually quite significant.
So things like that first meeting at Amnesty where I was questioned for being male.. I could have turned and walked out.’
But then you wouldn’t have changed anything.
‘But then I wouldn’t have changed national law, which made things better for everyone. Sure it wasn’t just me, but we are all part of that bigger picture, and that picture affects every part of our lives.
This is particularly important right now because, like the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”, these are the interesting times. Things are happening so fast on such a dramatic scale that it’s frightening. The only reason we don’t realise how important this time is, is because we’re in it. It’s always hard to see the impact and the shape of a situation while you’re in it. Someone standing on the outside can see the solutions, just like that. We need to step back. I can’t let it go.’