Ark Tribe for Australian of the Year
When the judges sit down to decide who should be Australian of the Year, they should turn their attention to a quietly-spoken rigger from Adelaide who last week showed how one person’s courage can make a difference.
Scientists, doctors, actors, singers, economists, entrepreneurs, sporting heroes and even the odd shonky businessman have won Australian of the Year. And - every year - you can mount a serious case that the honour should have been handed to someone else. But then again that’s sort of the point.
Australian of the Year isn’t about a unanimous choice for most deserving human in the country. It’s about starting a national discussion about who we are and what we value in others. So this is why I would like to see the next award handed to a type of Australian who has never taken the honour. An ordinary Aussie worker. Ark Tribe.
Ark, you may have heard last week, has become a cult hero – especially among those working in the construction industry.
For 18 months he has been dragged through our legal system, weighed down with the threat of six months in jail. Why? Because he stuck up for safety on his worksite.
Ark, a rigger, was working on a site at Flinders University in Adelaide when he noticed several serious safety breaches.
He made his fellow workers and management aware of the dangers and then went back to work.
Later he was approached out-of-the-blue by two officers from the Australian Building and Construction Commission and told he was to attend a compulsory interrogation.
The ABCC is a ‘watchdog’ established by the Howard Government during its final term in office - the term where it badly overreached in attacking the rights of working people.
Now an ABCC interrogation is no minor affair. In fact, these guys were actually given stronger coercive powers than ASIO.
The ABCC can prosecute workers for refusing to provide information on their workmates during an interview.
It can prosecute a worker for talking about what was said during an interview to his friends or family afterwards. And if a worker refuses to attend such a Kafkaesque process, well, they can prosecute then as well.
When Ark was approached by the ABCC he knew he had done nothing wrong by pointing out safety breaches on site. In fact, a subsequent government inspection found that every issue he raised was a genuine danger.
So he refused to attend the interrogation. He made a gut decision to stick up for what he believed in. And it cost him dearly.
The ABCC decided to use Ark as an example and went after him with everything they had. All up they spent around one million dollars of taxpayer money trying to stick an ordinary worker in jail.
In the end they were defeated by their own arrogance. Despite their enormous power, they still managed to illegally overstep their boundaries and on Wednesday, an Adelaide magistrate found Ark not guilty.
But let’s not fool ourselves. But for a legal technicality due to the ABCC’s incompetence, Ark could now be cooling his heels in jail. The unjust laws under which he was prosecuted remain in place, a potential trap for all other union members in the industry.
On the steps of the courthouse Ark addressed a crowd of thousands with a few simple words and then disappeared to celebrate with his mum, his sister and a few hundred mates.
Listening to him address the cheering masses I realised Ark is the best kind of hero – the accidental kind.
He’s not a freedom fighter. He’s not a superstar. He’s just an average bloke who found himself in extraordinary circumstances for trying to do the right thing. (And that’s basically the plot of nine out of ten action movies, if you think about it.)
While always shying from the limelight, his character and courage throughout the whole ordeal have made him an inspiration to other working people.
He embodies so many of the characteristics that we value and identify as Australian.
Now I’m aware there’s a minor technicality in that the award process has actually closed for this year. But is there any chance we can quietly slip Ark’s nomination under the door?
Australian of the Year reflects who we are and what we value.
An ordinary worker who stood tall on basic principles and inspired thousands in the process deserves a place on that list.
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