Anti-VSU – ‘Smasher’ Howard goes up in flames – 15 September

[Added October 2007 – there is a short video covering some of the anti-VSU protests in Melbourne on EngageMedia.]

Anti-VSU protesters met at the State Library today and voted to march on the offices of the AFP, where a huge 3-sided image of Howard the Union Smasher was burnt …

The protest was originally planned simply as the next stage in a series opposing the VSU legislation, but the theme was extended to include the events of the last few days involving deported American peace activist Scott Parkin. First of the speakers was Rob Stary, lawyer for Jack Thomas, another victim of the Howard Government’s crusade:

‘Two years ago when the anti-terrorism legislation was put into place, we said that theoretically it was possible that a range of activists could be charged with terrorism offences – they included people who were involved in the [anti-WEF] protests … We said at the time it was inconceivable that that would happen, because we believed – wrongly – that the Howard Government was only interested in so-called genuine terrorism offences. We’ve seen today with the deportation of Scott Parkin , a political activist from the US, that that agenda has moved on. It is part of our worst-case scenario, that is that the government are trying to suppress dissent in any form in society …’

Another speaker was Liz Thompson, who presented a frightening picture of the fear caused especially among international students by constant official harassment and surveillance, ending with a call for the rally to show solidarity with the government’s targets by demonstrating a preparedness to stand up and speak out:
‘… students here that are involved in Islamic societies will know that constant surveillance by the Federal Police and ASIO has bee happening for years. They are constantly harassed and monitored whenever they want to put on public forums about whatever benign things … We’ve had international students come to us at RMIT and ask to have their names removed from the Islamic society list because they are afraid … The point of Scott Parkin’s arrest(sic) is not that Scott Parkin is actually considered some kind of violent threat to the Australian community, but it’s a test, it’s a test to see how we respond, how we respond to the constant harassment of Muslim students on campus, how we respond to harassment of the queer collective …This is a warning to all of us … and I would like to see how people want to respond today. I would like to put a proposal to this rally that we … go past the Australian Federal Police offices .. we stand out there and we make our voices heard: “We know you’re watching us and we’re not going to be quiet about it …”’

Liz was followed by Kevin Bracken of the MUA expressing the union movement’s solidarity with the students: ‘There’s only one fight and that’s the fight that we’re all having now …’

The original plan had been to march down Swanston Street to the river, there to ditch the effigy of Howard in the Yarra, but instead the rally went as suggested up Lonsdale Street to the AFP building,where the mounted police hastily positioned themselves ahead of the marchers. Then after a few brief speeches a light was put to the cardboard and the crowd watched and chanted as the flames took hold. In the end only the frame was left …

(The following photos are stills from video.)

Howard effigy in flames

Howard effigy – from the ever-inventive VCA – in flames outside AFP building

The same, almost completely consumed

‘How are the mighty fallen …’

Plainclothes police with video camera

There was a plainclothes presence

More plainclothes police among the crowd

More of the same

Police with fire extinguisher

Ready with the fire extinguisher – a fire engine arrived when everything was pretty much all over