SlutWalk Melbourne – 28 May 2011

Part of the crowd at State Library

Around 3000 people attended Slutwalk Melbourne last Saturday. Given the amount of media coverage it is probably unnecessary to detail the background to the event, and there is detail on the Slutwalk Melbourne website and blog. Although the declared purpose was to reclaim the word itself, it was obvious that most of those attending took a wider view, with placards and banners, not to mention slogans, focussing on sexual assault and issues of consent, gender equality, work safety (a prominent contingent of sex workers) and more. The reported comments of two young men watching the march (see The Age 29 May – there is a report also in The Australian) seemingly expressing disappointment probably reflected the feelings of any others who might have been hoping for titillation, although there was no shortage of colour in spite of the wintry day. There was certainly anger and determination in the speeches, and some of what was said was not easy listening, and there were grim faces too in the crowd, but many were also clearly enjoying the chance to make a public statement in such positive company – something that has also been strong at rallies for equal marriage rights.

Photos from the rally and march (the event continued with more speeches and some theatre in the Treasury Gardens, but we were not able to stay):

Women in Lycra posing for photo

Banner from SeCasa - sexual assault survival centre

Placard - My Body is not your Battleground

Placard from victim of rape

Bear (?) in bra and panties

Women holding placard - Don't hate (crossed through) label me 'cos I'm beautiful

Placard - men and kids get raped, were thier (sic) tits showing too?

Leslie Cannold speaking

Sex worker speaking

Cody Smith speaking

Another speaker

Another speaker

Dog waiting for march to start

Organisers head for start of march

Banner of  Australian Sex Workers Association

Placard - I Might be asking for it, but not from you

Placard - A dress is not a Yes

More placards - My outfit has nothing to do with you/ Just coz I'm fat does not mean I'm easy

Woman in 'nurse' uniform and friend give thumbs up for photo

Male and female with placard, his reads - She shouldn't have to hang out with me just to feel safe

Young woman with 'slut' patch on  back

Placard - Don't  blame the victim/ Blame the system

Dog with multi-coloured (rainbow) ruff at end of march

This dog was not surprisingly a favourite among photographers on the day

These photos and others can also be seen as a slideshow on YouTube:

Amnesty Candle Day in Melbourne – 27 May 2011

Member of RMIT group addressing gathering

Not a protest in the usual sense, but the RMIT branch of Amnesty International Australia marked the annual candle day and the 50th anniversary of the movement with an information day outside the State Library (see below) ending in the evening with speakers and the formation of a human candle on the lawns. This latter was rain affected to say the least, but upwards of thirty people heard a member of the local group relate the history of Amnesty from its foundation in 1960 by British lawyer Peter Benenson, a statement of Amnesty’s position on Australia’s current and proposed treatment of refugees, and finally Sister Brigid Arthur of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project shared some of her personal knowledge drawn from years of direct contact with asylum seekers, to counter the misinformation put about by government and especially the tabloid press.

Closeup of previous speaker

Victorian candle day co-ordinator Hanna Lewis addressing the gathering:

Representative of Amnesty International Australia, Victorian branch speaking

Closesup of previous speaker

Sister Brigid:
Sister Brigid addressing the gathering

Closeup of previous speaker

The ‘human candle’ was probably only properly effective viewed from above, but this may give an idea:

People holding glowsticks form outline of a human candle

The stall operated throughout the day:

The Amnesty 'tent' stall

A walking ‘Amnesty candle’ canvassed passers-by:

Campaigner in candle costume invites support

A series of posters laid out on the ground in front of the Library entrance described a refugee’s journey beginning with his escape from the Taliban in Afghanistan as a 14-year-old in 2006 and ending in jail (aka ‘administrative detention’) in Australia 6 years later via Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia:
Journey begins in Afghanistan

Stage 2 - Pakistan

Stage 3 - Malaysia

Stage 4 - Indonesia

Stage 5 - detention in Australia

Amnesty International Australia website.

Stop HRL – again. Protest at EPA approval for HRL brown coal project – 24 May 2011

'Stop HRL' banner drop on Windsor Hotel seen over heads of protesters at Parliament House

A huge banner dropped from the roof of the Hotel Windsor could be seen yesterday from Parliament House over the heads of several hundred protesters angry at the recent EPA approval granted to energy company HRL for a brown-coal power station in the Latrobe Valley – if anyone in there was watching…

The protest was a snap-action in response to last Friday’s announcement – though an even snappier action occurred on the day itself. Organisers used the extra few days to prepare the banner drop shown above, but also a list of speakers including Mark Wakeham from Environment Victoria, Julien Vincent from Greenpeace, and Paul Connor of StopHRL. MC was Victoria McKenzie-McHarg of Environment Victoria. Apart from the banner drop, visual emphasis to the message was given not only by the familiar placards and banners, but also by the arrival of a line of young people chained together and shepherded by a ‘Premier Baillieu’, symbolising the Victorian communities enslavement to the coal industry and its supporters:

Victoria McKenzie-McHarg addressing rally fronted by row of young people in chains

Also aimed at Ted Baillieu was this placard:

Placard - Who'll Baillieu out of this one, Ted! No coal

The steps of Parliament House are currently the scene of a month-long ‘vigil’ by LIVE under the heading ‘Deckchair Democracy‘, and Sue from the campaign said a few words of explanation at the start of the protest:

Sue from Deckchair Democracy speaking to the rally
(Speakers at 1pm on 26 May will be Cam Walker and Ellen Roberts from Friends of the Earth; on Sunday 29 May Beyond Zero Emissions and the Trades Hall Choir will be in action; and on Monday 30 May Rod Quantock will be followed by Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, who will launch the Melbourne “Say Yes Australia” campaign. See here for more details.)

Much of the anger was directed at the Environment Protection Agency, which was seen as having failed in its duty of protecting the environment:

Placard criticising the EPA

A media release from Greenpeace referred to the EPA’s ‘bizarre move’, and during her summing up at the end Victoria McKenzie-McHarg explained how she had attended a meeting with the EPA that morning, where she was told that the majority of residents in the area had main their position clear in the last election by voting either Liberal or Labor, given that both these parties were supportive of coal-based electricity generation, this in spite of the fact that this had not been a campaign issue, and above all in spite of the fact that the HRL application had been the subject of a record more than 4000 submissions, most if not all opposed to the project.

Mark Wakeham of Environment Victoria was one of the speakers, seen here with his three-year-old son, who, he pointed out, would see the HRL plant still operating when he was 45 – if it went ahead, which he and other speakers made it plain they would do all possible to stop:

Mark Wakeham speaking - son sitting on his shoulders

Mark Wakeham listed three reasons why the rally was being held: the incompetence and dishonesty of the company, the addiction of successive governments to coal, and now most recent and saddest, the failure of the EPA. But he gave two reasons to be glad to be there: the knowledge that the cause was right and one they believed in, and the confidence that they were going to win.

This last point was taken up by the Greenpeace speaker, Julien Vincent, who went through some of the history of the project, focussing especially on the financial side. He pointed out that when HRL had won a $100 million federal government grant in 2006 an expert panel determined that the project could not be viable at less that 400MW – see Greenpeace blog archive and Clean Energy page – whereas the eventual approval was for only half the original proposal, or 300MW. And the company had no joint venture partners, its only funding so far being the federal grant and another, $50 million, from the Victorian state government. Given Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s campaign promise that no new coal-fired power stations would be built in Australia if Labor won the last election, it was for her to withdraw the federal grant and kill the project.
Julien Vincent with documents relating to the federal grant for the project in 2006

Final speaker – Julien Vincent having been interrupted by the banner drop – was Paul Connor of the StopHRL collective, who began by quoting US climatologist Professor James Hansen, that coal is the ‘greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet‘, adding that brown coal is the worst kind of coal. This was obvious to everyone present today, but clearly not to everyone inside the building. He reiterated the campaign’s determination to stop the project, even if it meant lying down in front of the bulldozers…

Paul Connor addressing the rally

Victoria McKenzie-McHarg wrapped up as mentioned above -

Victoria McKenzie-McHarg

and the rally ended with some vigorous chanting:
Part of the crowd on Parliament House steps during final chanting

Banner fronting rally - Don't fund more coal power. Crowd chanting

“Pull the Pin” – No Child Beauty Pageants in Australia – rally at Parliament House, Melbourne, 24 May 2011

'Betty Grumble' poses with school girls - placards

Former child star Betty Grumble (aka Sydney-based performance artist Emma Maye Gibson of What Makes Men Blush) yesterday joined the Melbourne contribution to an Australia-wide chain of protests against plans by US company Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant to introduce child beauty contests to Australia.

Organiser Catherine Manning speaking on steps of Parliament House

Organiser Catherine Manning, seen here addressing the protest, claimed all-party support for a ban of such events in Victoria, and the rally was addressed by politicians from Liberal, Labor and the Greens, as well as ethicist Dr Leslie Cannold, who argued amongst other things, that gender equality was one of the defining features of Australian values; that these pageants were a throwback to 1960s American culture, especially strong in the southern states, which were ‘not a good place for women’. Posing the question ‘Why do mums want their kids to take part in them?’ she rejected the organisers’ claim that they enabled children to ‘learn confidence':

Dr Leslie Cannold speaking amidst placards on steps of Parliament House

Liberal member for Hastings Neale Burgess was brief and to the point: Children deserve to be children:

Liberal MP Neale Burgess speaking on steps of Parliament House

Shadow Attorney-General Martin Pakula introduced himself as the father of a five-year-old girl. He acknowledged many worthwhile American innovations, but childhood beauty pageants were not one of them. He also rejected the claim that they were an innocent entertainment, branding them insidious. Children were not deciding for themselves whether to take part, but entered by their parents. Kids were growing up faster and faster, but there was plenty of time for them to decide about lipstick and the rest when they were grown up. He viewed his daughter as ‘a little girl, not a beauty queen’, and saw no place in Victoria for these pageants – and perhaps it was significant that the company was keeping the location secret (see report in the Melbourne Herald Sun 18 May:

Shadow Attorney-General Martin Pakula speaking

Greens Upper House member Colleen Hartland endorsed what had already been said: she pointed to the children taking part in the protest, saying they were beautiful and had no need of pageants:

Upper House Member Colleen Hartland speaking

Betty Grumble spoke next, first in character as ‘a child beauty queen reading a speech her mother had helped her write’ but then in person, making the all-important point that the real motive behind these events is not an altruistic wish to help young children grow in confidence, but a drive to make money… She invited the crowd to join her in a chorus of Boos to pageants.

Next speaker was Luke Donnellan, Shadow Minister for Child Safety, who also referred to parents labouring under the misguided belief that these events would benefit their children’s development, stressing instead the dangers involved. He undertook to do ‘all that is appropriate to ensure that these pageants stop':

Shadow Minister for Child Safety Luke Donnellan speaking

Catherine Manning wrapped up, noting amongst other things that it was not exclusively a matter concerning little girls: it had an effect too on boys, who were also the recipients of the underlying message. She read out a statement that was due to be delivered at parallel rallies at parliament houses across the country:

Today, state and federal governments across the country have heard from child development professionals, experts/academics and the greater community, and can’t deny the concerns raised about child beauty pageants and their toxic culture. Of those polled, time and again, over 95% of people want to see the government pull the pin on child beauty pageants.

We call on our governments, both state and federal, to respect this request and impose age restrictions on beauty pageants and adult cosmetic procedures for children, in the best interests of all children, our Australian culture, and the status of women.

[The text of this statement was incorrectly quoted when this report was initially posted, and has now been corrected on advice from the organiser. Apologies for the error.]

She also encouraged everyone to sign a petition calling on federal and state authorities to intervene. (To read the petition, click here

One last picture of Betty and friends:
Two schoolgirls pose with 'Betty Grumble' - placards read 'All kids are beautiful' and  ' Babies are not Barbies''

A final word:
Women with toddler - placard has photo of dressed-up child, caption 'What's wrong with this picture?'

See Pull the Pin on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pullthepinonpageants

Anti-fascist counter rally – Federation Square, Melbourne, 15 May 2011

Unite Against Racism - banner at rally

There was loud and decisive rejection of the anti-Islamic message of a small group gathered in Melbourne’s Federation Square under the banner of the Australian Defence League. A counter rally called by the Renegade Activists Action Force (RAAF), and supported by people from all sectors of the community, unionists, Indigenous, socialists, anarchists, non-aligned, human rights supports, and many more effectively swamped the ADL action, eventually crowding them out of the Square under police escort – according to RAAF having first appealed for a guarantee of safe conduct.

The counter rally was addressed by several speakers refuting the ADL’s claims, including Dave Kerin, Kevin Bracken, Irish Socialist Kevin McLoughlin, Indigenous activist Sharon Firebrace, Mick Armstrong of Socialist Alternative, while others kept the megaphone busy at the front line. There was a gradual move to encircle the ADL position, and bit by bit move the centre of gravity, so to speak, back towards the street. There was a certain amount of pushing and shoving, but nothing to write home about, and no arrests, although police did drag a few people apart on occasion. It was all over after about an hour and a half, although a few individuals stayed around a bit longer, absorbed into the general public passing through the Square – which was also the scene of a colourful festival celebrating the birth of the Buddha.

Video footage of the event is in preparation.* In the meantime, here are photos of participants from both sides, mostly self-explanatory:

ADL supporter in 'Aussie' cap and blue t-shirt

The same, police line, and counter-demonstrators assembling behind

ADL supported with xxxx windcheater

Young woman poking her tongue out - placard reads Keep Freedom in Australia Save Aussie Culture

ADL supporters and placards objecting to Halal meat sales at Coles

ADL supported draped in Eureka flag

Elderly Asian gentleman shakes ADL supporter's hand ...

ADL leader poses for photo by supporter

ADL supporter in pseudo-hijab with anti-Islamic placard

ADL supported points camera at MelbourneProtests

ADL organiser

ADL speaker

ADL supporter pulls face, possibly for photo

Anti-Islamic placard appearing at end of rally - includes caption 'God Bless Hitler'

Anti-fascist banner - consigning swastika to dustbin

Anti-fascist placards including Freedom Socialist Party

Dave Kerin speaking

Kevin Bracken speaking

Sharon Firebrace speaking

Mick Armstrong speaking

Kevin McLoughlin speaking

Anti-Abbot t-shirt

The ADl rally becomes surrounded by the counter-rally

The counter-rally closing in on the ADL

After the ADL have left the Square - Indigenous and Palestinian flags

* Added 17 May:

No Malaysian ‘Solution’ – End Mandatory Detention – rally and march, 13 May 2011

Refugee Action Collective banner leading march along Bourke Street

A few days after the Malaysian Bar Association issued a statement opposing the recently-announced refugee swap between the Malaysian and Australian governments (“Asylum seekers and refugees are not commodities to be traded” – full text given below), the Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne called a protest at the GPO in Bourke Street, followed by a march down to the steps of Flinders Street Station:

[Prime Minister] Gillard’s plan to ship asylum seekers to squalid refugee camps in Malaysia is an attack on the right, under international law, to seek asylum regardless of how you arrive in a country. Her attacks on people smugglers [are] just a cover for her attacks on refugee rights and her desire to avoid any responsibility for looking after the world’s most persecuted people seeking protection.

The Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) opposes offshore processing but also calls for an end to mandatory detention on Australian shores as well.

We urge people to come out on Friday night and become a voice for refugee rights amongst a sea of attacks from both the Labor and Liberal parties, the media and the right.

The rally at the GPO was addressed by, amongst others, Sue Bolton and Liz Walsh from RAC-Vic:
Sue Bolton speaking
Liz Walsh speaking

and there was a gallant attempt to engage people in a chorus of “We are human beings …”:

Leading the rally in song

But just for once, and in spite of the wintry weather, the Mall was busy and loud, and the sound was lost in the hubbub. However, the action attracted much attention, both at the GPO and later at the Station, not to mention during the somewhat nerve-wracking march through the traffic in Swanston Street and across the Flinders Street intersection – this time without the benefit of a police escort.

There were more speakers on the steps of the Station, and more opportunities to engage with the public and get the message across with leaflets and direct contact, making this a successful action in spite of the weather and the relatively small number of activists.

Some more photos from the rally, march and end at Flinders Street Station:

RAC placards on the steps of the GPO

Placard - I Ain't Afraid of No Boats

Looking down from the  GPO

The march down Swanston Street

CLose up of placard - Close the Camps Down

In the peak-hour crowd at Flinders Street

RAC banner over heads of crowd

Looking down from the station steps

The press release from the Malaysian Bar:

Asylum seekers and refugees are not commodities to be traded

The Malaysian Bar is opposed to the recently-announced arrangement agreed to between the Governments of Malaysia and Australia. As we understand the arrangement, Australia will send to Malaysia 800 asylum seekers who have been detained by the Australian authorities. In return, Australia commits itself to accepting for resettlement 4,000 refugees currently in Malaysia, over a period of four years.

The proposed exchange of asylum seekers for refugees between Malaysia and Australia is a misguided approach for dealing with a complex issue with serious ramifications.

It is irresponsible of Australia, as a State Party to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees adopted on 28 July 1951 (“Convention”), and its 1967 Protocol, to abdicate its international obligations under the Convention. Through this deal, Australia is consigning 800 people to a life of uncertainty and probable suffering, given that Malaysia is not a State Party to that Convention. Indeed, Malaysian law does not even recognise the concept of asylum seekers or refugees. Instead, it treats all undocumented persons as “illegal immigrants”, and subjects them to imprisonment and whipping.

It is untenable that Australia proposes to “pass the buck”, as it were, for the protection, care and support of these 800 asylum seekers, to Malaysia, when Malaysia has no comprehensive and organised system to provide assistance to asylum seekers or refugees. Even more astounding is the fact that Australia had reportedly rejected the use of an Australian-built processing facility in Nauru because that nation is not a signatory to the Convention, yet has no qualms about transferring asylum seekers to Malaysia.

As it is, Malaysia is already home to almost 100,000 asylum seekers and refugees who have been registered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur. None of these asylum seekers and refugees is provided with any material or financial help by the Malaysian Government for housing, jobs, education or health care. Because Malaysia has not acceded to the Convention, there are currently no legislative or administrative provisions in place for dealing with the situation of asylum seekers or refugees in the country. They exist in a shadow society in which they have no legal rights, and even less protection and security. They live in constant fear of the authorities – the police, immigration personnel and Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia (“RELA”) members. The Malaysian Bar reiterates its concern that the legal situation and conditions of life of asylum seekers and refugees and their families in Malaysia is degrading, demeaning and dehumanising, and wholly unacceptable to any civilised society.

Thus, the Australian Government is proposing an arrangement under which it has no assurance that the asylum seekers it sends to Malaysia will be treated in accordance with international human rights norms, and in compliance with the principles of the Convention.

The Malaysian Bar calls upon the Australian and Malaysian Governments not to proceed with this arrangement. Instead, our Government must establish a proper and comprehensive framework for dealing with the situation of asylum seekers and refugees who are already in this country, and begin by according such persons due legal recognition. Malaysia must also demonstrate a proven track record of upholding human rights to the highest possible standards.

We wish to clarify that, contrary to the report titled “Pact gives refugees protection” published in today’s New Straits Times (“NST”), we did not say that the proposed plan is “generally a good one” or that “certain things needed to be done first”. Rather, our statement to NST asserted clearly that we are “stunned that Australia would have such an arrangement with Malaysia when Malaysia is not a State Party to the [Convention]”. Neither did we say that “the agreement was an opportunity for Malaysia to become a signatory to the [Convention]”; instead, we highlighted the urgent need for Malaysia to become a State Party to the Convention for the reasons outlined above.

Lim Chee Wee
President
Malaysian Bar

9 May 2011

MAIC Protest at book launch by Andrew Bolt – 2 May 2011

The Melbourne Anti-intervention Collective (MAIC) called a snap protest on Monday 2 May outside the Celtic Club on Queens Street, where Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt was due to launch a book by academic Gary Johns entitled ‘Aboriginal Self-Determination: The Whiteman’s Dream’. As the callout puts it, they will be :

…openly calling for the destruction of Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal collective identity… Johns argues that Aboriginal culture should be ‘relegated to museums and occasional ceremonies’. He argues that Aboriginal communities should be dispersed and individuals should be forced to chase ‘market opportunities’.

On the contrary, protesters argued that the policies of assimilation and destruction of Aboriginal culture have been tried in the past and have failed, as also ‘[the] evidence mounts of the total failure of the NT Intervention.’

‘… we have seen efforts to destroy Aboriginal communities and culture before. From massacres to missions, from stolen generation right through to the NT Intervention – these area the policies that have created disadvantage and social disfunction – not the as-yet untested policy of self-determination, or Aboriginal culture.’

In spite of the short notice about thirty protesters picketed the main entrance, which management elected to close, while others handed out leaflets at the bar door, which remained open. There did not seem to be a very large attendance at the function, if the numbers arriving at either of these points were any guide. Various members of the Collective took turns at the megaphone, including MC Lucy Honan and Indigenous activist Robbie Thorpe. Extracts of the speeches and interactions with guests arriving for the function can be seen in the YouTube video embedded above.