Agent Orange Justice launched in Sydney
By John Percy
Agent Orange Justice – Australia-Vietnam Solidarity Network, has now been established in Australia. A very successful inaugural meeting was held in Sydney on June 1, attended by more than 40 people, with 20 new members joining AOJ.
Speakers were Mai Phuoc Dung, the new Vietnamese consul-general (whose speech is printed on page 19), Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, green bans activist Jack Mundey and Mike Karadjis from AOJ. We also showed part of a powerful 35-minute DVD on Agent Orange from VAVA, the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, based in Hanoi.
There was lively discussion and useful ideas thrown up on how to build the campaign.
The organisation has agreed on the following mission statement:
“Agent Orange Justice – Australia Vietnam Solidarity Network is a new organisation being established as the Australian section of the international campaign to hold the United States government responsible for the disaster it created for millions of Vietnamese people as a result of its 10-year spraying of Agent Orange – a chemical weapon – in Vietnam between 1961 and 1971.
“This international campaign is spearheaded by the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA), with chapters in many countries, and aims to pressure the US government, and the chemical companies which produced Agent Orange, to pay to clean up the toxic mess still contaminating parts of Vietnam’s environment and to provide adequate compensation to some 3 million Vietnamese who are affected by this chemical, especially in the form of horrific birth defects which now affect the third generation. To date the US has refused to accept its responsibility.
“In addition to this solidarity with this campaign, our organisation will also aim to raise awareness of the issue more broadly in the Australian community, pressure the Australian government to recognise its responsibility for this disaster as part of the US’s war on Vietnam, and link this issue with other anti-war issues, and do our own small part in raising solidarity funds for the victims.”
This organisation is long overdue. Australian activists have been aware for decades of the terrible tragedy of Agent Orange inflicted upon the Vietnamese people. Campaigns have been waged in other countries, in the USA and UK for example, but little has been done about it in Australia. A number of activists came together to get it off the ground.
In late 2010 the Revolutionary Socialist Party organised successful Vietnam seminars and poster exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Two of us had visited Hanoi in 2005 for the 60th anniversary of Vietnam’s independence celebrations, and participated in two conferences, and talked with people about Agent Orange. We visited Hanoi again early last year, meeting a range of people and groups, including VAVA, and visited two institutions caring for Agent Orange victims.
Two other supporters of the Vietnamese struggle had just returned to Sydney after living for 10 years in Hanoi, and two others had been in Cambodia for 10 years and were now back in Sydney. There were also initial supporters in other states and overseas. We resolved that a specific Agent Orange campaign group had to be set up, in the framework of solidarity with the people of Vietnam.
The inaugural meeting was built through multiple e-mailings, Facebook, articles in the left press, and leafleting and contacting at a range of events in the month before, such as the May Day rally, an exhibition of photographs by Wilfred Burchett of Vietnam in 1955-56, Australia Cuba Friendship Society events, an MUA retired members meeting and the funeral and wake of Bob Gould, who had been instrumental in building the campaign against the US war in Vietnam in Sydney.
A delegation from the Vietnamese consul-general’s office and the Vietnam Trade Office attended the meeting. There were also two journalists from the Vietnam News Agency, and their report has been carried in many Vietnamese papers and websites in Vietnamese and English.
A delegation of three attended from APHEDA – Union Aid Abroad, the overseas humanitarian aid agency of the ACTU. Executive officer Peter Jennings spoke in the discussion, and pledged that APHEDA will affiliate. Members of the Australia-Cuban Friendship Society also attended.
Activists from many other ongoing campaigns as well as former activists from the anti-war movement in the 1960s attended. Some participants of the Revolutionary Socialist Party’s Vietnam seminar and poster exhibition in September 2010 in Sydney attended.
An Adelaide radio station did an interview with an AOJ spokesperson.
The AOJ website is now up and running: <www.agentorangejustice.org.au> and already the site has been added to and improved considerably. The meeting proceedings were videotaped and will be made available on the website.
Future plans and possibilities
There were keen contributions and constructive ideas from many participants that include:
* Getting in touch with the Australian Vietnam veterans who had campaigned hard in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to win recognition and compensation from the Australian government for their cancers, their children’s deformities and other health problems believed to have arisen from Agent Orange. This is to find out the state of their campaign if it still exists (very little was known about the veterans’ campaign activities for many years).
* Link to campaigns against Monsanto, Dow Chemical and
* The production of a 10-minute Power Point presentation of the Agent Orange Justice case as a basic tool to take the campaign to a wider audience.
* If the rumoured visit to Australia of Henry Kissinger takes place, one of the architects of the war on Vietnam, then we should organise a protest directed at him.
* AOJ-AVSN should obtain high quality images of the AO victims and the AO campaign in Vietnam and possibly other countries such that they can be enlarged, laminated and deployed as tools to educate a wider Australian audience on the issue.
* Given the Casula Power House Museum had held exhibitions on the US war in Vietnam three times, AOJ-AVSN should explore possibilities of collaboration for some joint projects.
* AOJ-AVSN should mobilise more trade unions, environmental groups, student groups and non-government organisations to lend their support for this campaign, in the form of possible resolutions to be moved.
* AOJ-AVSN should endeavour to increase its public profile by taking part in public actions or meetings where the campaign might find a receptive audience.
AOJ quickly put this last suggestion into action with an intervention at the World Environment Day rally on Sunday, June 5. A group of us went along with the AOJ banner and a stall and leaflets and collected about 150 names and emails for the mailing list, donations and many words of solidarity and support.
Now that the Sydney group is established, we can start the first steps to get groups organised in Brisbane and Melbourne also. Possibilities have also emerged for activities in other places, with supporters in Tasmania and Canberra.
VAVA conference Aug 8-9
VAVA had held its first Agent Orange international conference in 2006, and has called a second conference for August 8-9 in Hanoi. They have invited AOJ to send a delegation, and two comrades will definitely be participating from Australia. They are Allen Myers, the assistant editor of Direct Action currently living in Phnom Penh, who attended the first VAVA conference, and Hamish Chitts, a Brisbane activist who initiated Stand Fast, an organisation of former military personnel opposed to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On his return, Hamish Chitts will be speaking at public meetings reporting on the conference, talking about the issues of Agent Orange, and urging people to build AOJ. His first meeting is scheduled for Sydney on August 24. Meetings will follow in Brisbane and Melbourne, and hopefully other cities as well.
The campaign has got off to a good start.
How you can help
Join Agent Orange Justice (AOJ). Membership fee: Individuals: $20 per year; $10 concession; $50 solidarity; small organisations: $50 affiliation per year; large organisations: $100 affiliation per year.
Take part in AOJ’s campaigning activities to raise consciousness about this issue among the broader Australian population.
Donate to AOJ. We need resources to reach people in Australia about this important issue with leaflets, posters, badges, DVDs, film showings. Any funds raised above our operating and publicity expenses will be sent to VAVA in Hanoi.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.