Between four and five hundred people marked the fourth anniversary of this day of shame by meeting at the State Library and marching through the city to the old City Square …
In 2004 the event was very low-key – just a handfull marking the day with a lunchtime protest at Casselden Place – so this year’s attendance of about 400-500 was a big improvement, but nevertheless seems to have reflected a widespread and mistaken perception that the issue is all but resolved. But as speakers emphasised, not only is the issue of abuse of detainees within the detention centres far from settled – witness accounts surfacing in the last few days from Baxter, and the leaks of previously suppressed parts of the Hamburger enquiry into the 2003 riot at Port Hedland (the Age 25 August)- but there are still thousands of refugees surviving on bridging visas and TPVs, with no security for their futures, or hope of being reunited with their families…
The rally at the State Library coincided with the monthly Critical Mass. After a welcome to country by Wurundjeri elder Annette Xiberras and speeches from Kon Karapanagiotidis (Asylum Seekers Resource Centre), Robin Rothfield (Labor For Refugees), Mustafa Najib (Tampa survivor and TPV holder), Senator Lyn Allison (leader, Australian Democrats), Peter Job (Greens spokesperson on refugees)and Margarita Windisch from the Stop the War Coalition, the rally marched down Swanston Street, turning right into Collins Street, and then to the Flinders Street/Swanston Street intersection via Elizabeth and Flinders Street. Here there was a four-minute stop – one for each year – before resuming the march to its end-point at the old City Square, where the gathering was addressed by Jerome Small of the Refugee Action Collective – Victoria, which organised the event. On the way marchers were encouraged to ‘blow the whistle on four years of Coalition persecution of refugees …’ and many did.
Before the rally itself began there was some street theatre by a group supporters from Brucknell, making a point ‘about the tragedy of those still in detention and their suffering and the damage to Australian “ideals”’, and the RAC’s ‘MV Tampa’ was accompanied on the march by a swarm of SAS stormtroopers and some very aggressive sharks. Some of the banners and placards appear in these photos.
From a media release by RAC-Vic 26 august 2005:
TAMPA ANNIVERSARY RALLY to blow the whistle on four years of Coalition persecution of refugees
Refugee supporters will stop traffic outside Flinders Street Station this afternoon and blow whistles for four minutes to remind Australia it has been four years since we began imprisoning refugees on Nauru and that the violence of our refugee policies remain unchanged.
The Tampa Anniversary Rally commences at 5pm at the State Library today and is part of a weekend of action around Australia to commemorate the rescue by the MV Tampa, a Norwegian freighter, of 438 asylum seekers off the coast of Australia in 2001.
The Tampa’s traumatised human cargo—mostly Afghans fleeing the Taliban—were vilified and treated as criminals by the Australian Government for exercising their right under international law to claim asylum in Australia.
In an act of piracy, the Australian Navy were ordered by the Federal Government to commandeer the Tampa and force its passengers to be taken to detention camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Four years on, many asylum seekers still languish in Australia’s notorious detention centres, including 32 on Nauru. The Government still demonises and persecutes refugees and is spending hundreds of millions on new detention centres. Yet more and more ordinary Australians are opposed to their cruel and inflexible policies.
The nation-wide rallies will celebrate the release of many long-term detainees but also focus on the huge battle that lies ahead to bring true justice and freedom for all refugees.
“Continuous public pressure, media exposure, and the tragic Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon scandals have forced the Government to release some detainees. Yet the brutal core of the mandatory detention regime remains intact”, said Lauren Ireland of Victoria’s Refugee Action Collective (RAC).
“With people still in detention, many refugees living in limbo on temporary visas and new detention centres being built, the fight to end the Tampa era remains as urgent as ever”, she said.
“RAC Vic joins the thousands across Australia in saying: end this dark chapter in history—dump mandatory detention, close the camps—here and off-shore—and grant full rights and permanent protection for all refugees,” she concluded.
Also making an appearance was the Climate Justice boat from Friends of the Earth Action Group: among the consequences of human-induced climate change, to which Australia’s fossil fuel industry is a large contributor, will be a need for changes in immigration policy to meet the needs of people displaced by flooding, prolonged drought, desertification, rising sea-levels etc. Leaflets handed out by the ‘crew’ contained a summary of the issues, with suggestions or further action – see http://www.melbourne.foe.org.au/?q=cc/home.