Public servants attacked over open letter opposing Israeli arms trade

More than 2000 public servants have signed an open letter since 30 May, condemning the Australian Government for its complicity in the Palestinian genocide.

Addressed to the Prime Minister and all MPs, the letter notes: “Aside from the dishonour of assisting what the Commissioner General of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] has termed ‘a war on children’, Australia may now be violating international law and complicit in criminal warfare.”

The letter ends with a call that the Australian Government immediately:

  • cease supplying all military parts and weapons to Israel, including components of the F-35 supply chain, and impose a two-way arms embargo on Israel
  • cease providing reconnaissance support from the Pine Gap facility, from which the USA shares surveillance data with Israel
  • cancel all contracts and cooperation with Israeli weapons suppliers, including its $917 million contract with Elbit Systems to supply components for the Redback Infantry Fighting Vehicles
  • disclose all information relating to the sale of military export licences to Australian companies supplying weapons and weapons components to Israel directly and/or indirectly.

The letter raises issues affecting public sector workers and it can be signed by any government workers, including contractors and those who are retired.

Public sector workers can sign the letter here.

In an outrageous attack on public sector workers’ civil and political rights, Liberal Party senator Dave Sharma raised a serious attack on federal public servants’ rights to criticise government policy on Gaza.

On Friday 31 May Sharma, distributing and quoting from the open letter at a senate estimates hearing, raised the issue of possible breaches of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct and Public Service Values.

All public sector workers have rights as citizens and employees in Australia, according to employment and human rights legislation.

There is clearly an attempt to intimidate concerned public sector workers and silence them.

Strong views

Rank-and-file members of the union covering Commonwealth public servants, CPSU (PSU Group), acted to defend the letter and promote it immediately. From 30 May, the number of signatures rose quickly from 300 to more than 2230 on 5 June.

The CPSU union officialdom has also stepped up.

It drew attention to a recent resolution of its governing council which supported the ACTU policy calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and opposition to arms exports to Israel.

And the union published a statement on social media affirming its support for public servants participating in political activity.

Other public jurisdictions are affected. At 7pm on 31 May, some NSW public servants received a warning email from the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.

It said it understood that “many people hold strong views on this matter” however “core public sector values require us to be impartial”.

Further, it said: “The reputations and authority of our public institutions cannot be used for political advocacy, lest trust in Government is put at risk.”

There are thousands of public sector workers employed at federal, state and local levels of government and many are members of unions. Many rank-and-file members have been active in groups such as CPSU for Palestine since October.

It is important that the union movement supports workers’ rights unconditionally to participate in political activity, protests and public discussions.

All pro-Palestinian and civil rights activists should push back against the bullying of the likes of Sharma and the NSW state government by supporting the open letter, by publishing it and sharing it with friends and workmates and signing if appropriate.

CPSU rank-and-file members are organising around Palestine and will take action to defend any worker targeted for signing the open letter.

CPSU for Palestine members in Melbourne have called a public forum for Monday 24 June. Follow the group here for details or to get involved email [email protected].

By Judy McVey, CPSU associate member

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