Wikileaks Party candidate Binoy Kampmark on why he took the leap from writing to politics
Binoy Kampmark was on the path to a career in academia, studying international law, politics and history, when the Tampa affair exploded onto the political scene in 2001.
The Howard government’s controversial decision to deny asylum on Christmas Island to 438 refugees divided opinion world-wide and inspired Kampmark to write an opinion article questioning the legality of the move. In doing so he sowed the very first seeds of his political life.
Now, almost 12 years after the Tampa incident, Kampmark is a well-known international affairs commentator, author and researcher with a PhD in history from Cambridge where he was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, and a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University.
“Once I started writing for the public I became very acutely aware of how these issues matter,” said Kampmark, who was born in Malaysia and now lives in Melbourne with his wife.
“I started receiving correspondence from readers who have been affected. This is very moving – it’s the sort of thing that certainly does inspire you to do something about it. When you hear someone’s personal experience it is very hard to ignore it,” he says.
In July, it was revealed that Kampmark had made the move from commentary to politics as a candidate for the WikiLeaks Party in Victoria.
The WikiLeaks Party has been grabbing headlines world-wide since its founder Julian Assange first announced he planned to run for the Senate in March.
The party was officially launched on 25 July with Assange beaming in via video-link from where he is currently holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, having fled there after Sweden ordered he be extradited to face sexual assault allegations, which he denies.
Kampmark said he was tempted to join the party, which has a total of seven candidates running for the Senate in Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales, after he was approached by Assange’s father.
“I thought the opportunity was too good to resist,” says Kampmark, who writes regularly for the commentary and news websites such as Counter Punch, Dissident Voice, Scoop Media, Independent Australia and Online Opinion.
“I had thought about it [entering politics] before, but having seen it, seeing how the political machines work put me off. What I find so refreshing about the WikiLeaks experiment is that it resists the idea of a machine politics, in many ways it actually creates an alternative,” he says.
“It’s an attempt to bring an idea of openness and transparency into the political scene,” he adds.
Assange is no doubt the most well-known person in the WikiLeaks Party but Kampmark says it was the less famous candidates that attracted him to the party.
“The candidates really impressed me,” said Kampmark.
“None of them have been political at all, they’re all activists and academics, so it’s a party of experts,” he adds.
Kampmark said WikiLeaks is aiming to win the balance of power in the Senate in order to scrutinize the government’s moves, saying a new political watchdog is needed more than ever.
“It is a fundamental problem in Australian cultural that people think the government is there to be trusted,” he says.
Kampmark says the jailing of Sydney Airport security whistleblower Allan Kessing and detention of Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef, who was accused of aiding terrorists, was evidence the executive had grown too powerful.
“One of the WikiLeaks Party’s key features is to correct and challenge this growth in executive power that has gone unchallenged in Australia for so long,” he says.
Analysts are mixed as to how the WikiLeaks Party will fair in the election on 7 September.
Political expert Nick Economou says that as a minor party, WikiLeaks would not poll more than two percent unless it was endorsed by one of the main parties.
“There is nothing to say about the WikiLeaks Party. They are trying to exploit an issue that is already well covered by the Greens,” says Economou, who is a senior lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University.
“Like all micro parties, the Wikileaks party will not poll enough votes (4 percent) to get their deposits back. Indeed, I predict a vote for them of less than 1 percent,” he says.
A Morgan Research Poll in June found 21 percent would consider voting for WikiLeaks, including 44 percent of Greens supporters and 26 percent of Labor voters.
Kampmark appears quietly confident, saying the party’s first public address in Melbourne at the Fitzroy Town Hall on 8 August was very well received.
“It was a packed house. People were very enthusiastic, the questions were engaging. People are really fed up. They do want to see other options. People would like to see a party of review — it [the WikiLeaks Party] doesn’t have any intention of being the next Labour party or next Coalition but the party of review,” he says.
He also said the party had a very distinct platform from the Greens, which currently holds the balance of power.
“Wikileaks is very clear on where it stands on whistle blowers and open government. The Greens want to become one of the major players — WikiLeaks wants to stop secret deals,” he says.