From Green Left Weekly*
Melbourne’s biggest refugee rights rally yet
6 February 2002
BY GILLIAN DAVY
MELBOURNE – In the largest demonstration for refugees’ rights held here so far, 4000 people rallied on February 2 in City Square to demand that immigration detention centres be closed and that the refugees be freed. The action was organised by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC).
On February 12, thousands of people from all over Australia will be knocking on the politicians’ doors in Canberra, to tell them: `You are criminals and we won’t allow you to continue’, rally chairperson Rachel Evans declared. Evans called for the refugee concentration camps across Australia to be closed and demanded that the federal government’s racist mandatory detention policy be scrapped.
After a welcome from the Wurundjeri people, presented by Annette Xiberus, the crowd was addressed by Phillip Newman, archdeacon of the Anglican Church, and Brian Pound of the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance. Pound argued that proposals to relocate women and children into the community was no solution. ‘We don’t just want women and children out. We want everyone out. Families shouldn’t be broken up,’ he declared.
Leigh Hubbard, Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary, debunked the government’s false arguments about ‘queue jumpers taking our jobs’. He acknowledged that the trade union movement had been silent during the November federal election campaign. He pledged that the March executive meeting of the Australian Council of Trade Unions would commit the union movement to challenge the mandatory detention policy, which is shared by both the Coalition federal government and the Labor opposition.
After hearing from comedian Rod Quantock and RAC’s Pier Moro, the protesters marched through the central business district. While the head of the rally marched up Bourke Street, thousands still packed Elizabeth and Collins streets and City Square. Lively chants of ‘Open the borders, close the camps, free the refugees!’ convinced many by-standers to join the demonstration.
Outside the hated the Nike Superstore, protesters heard Alex Kouttab from the Australian Arabic Council passionately observe that, ‘Australia is jealously guarding its “lucky country mentality” with little compassion and no understanding of conditions in the rest of the world’. A speaker from the Islamic Council of Australia warned against the federal government’s proposed anti-terrorist laws.
As the march arrived at the State Library, Victorian Greens’ immigration spokesperson Chris Chaplin addressed the throng. He said that the $3 million spent each week by the government on the incarceration of asylum seekers could be better spent on community housing and resettlement assistance.
The demonstration ended with a rousing speech by the Socialist Alliance’s Graham Matthews. ‘Stop it! Stop the war on refugees!’, Matthews declared. He explained that the war being waged by the Australian government on the poor people of the world is part of a much broader imperialist war ‘led by the United States’ against all the peoples of the Third World.
After rally participants agreed to return to the streets again, Matthews declared, ‘We will force this government to back down by mobilising in our hundreds of thousands until they stop the war on refugees’.
*See note here