World Refugee Day Rally – 18 June

As so often, Melbourne was ahead of the rest of the world, marking World Refugee Day on Sunday 18 June with a rally organised by the local Refugee Action Collective, followed by a march to the old Fitzroy Town Hall, where Multicultural Arts Victoria was holding a fiesta “showcasing the culture of our newly arrived artists and refugee and asylum seeker communities”(see The march was led by a RAC banner and Leunig-inspired barbed wire boat, followed by a group of West-Papuan refugees, who sang and danced virtually the whole way.

About a thousand people assembled at the Melbourne Museum about midday, and a good part of that number joined in the subsequent march along Gertrude and Brunswick Streets to the Fitzroy Town Hall, via Johnston and Napier Streets. Speakers at the Museum included Senator Lyn Allison, Bishop Hilton Deakin, Peter Job (Greens spokesperson for refugees, who read a message from Senator Kerry Nettle), and David Manne. Aladdin Sisalem was to have spoken, but was unable to come. The march also halted for a while at the junction of Brunswick and Johnston Streets, and speakers there were Melanie Mumford from RAR South Gippsland, and Jacob Rumbiak from the West Papuan community. At the end of the march Brian Daley, Victorian Branch Secretary of the Liquor, Hospitality & Miscellaneous Union said a few words, Julie Bain from RAC, who along with Lauren Ireland MC’d proceedings, read a letter from Alsma Kazimi, one of the young men who attended the rally last year, hours after being released from detention in Nauru, and Pamela Curr rounded things off in her usual spirited fashion.

A report including many of these photos was posted to Melbourne Indymedia the day after the event, and unfortunately referred to the Leunig boat as featuring the favourite Leunig character Mr Curly. Some visitors to the site expressed themselves strongly on the subject. The mistake is obviously regrettable, though probably not a hanging matter, and even Homer nods, as they say …

Media Release from RAC-Vic

Friday 16 June 2006 (for immediate release)

Opposition to ‘fortress Australia’ will be voiced at midday this Sunday, June 18 outside the Melbourne Museum in Carlton, when activists use World Refugee Day to denounce the Howard Government’s callous response to asylum seekers.

Activists, church groups, trade unions, students, and community members will urge Members of Parliament to oppose the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill, which expands the use of off-shore immigration prisons and prevents asylum seekers having their claims heard in Australia.

“We have already seen the horrific impact of off-shore processing on asylum-seekers,” said Lauren Ireland, spokesperson from Victoria’s Refugee Action Collective.

“Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has openly stated the benefits of the amendments to Indonesia-Australia relations, but has yet again shown blatant disregard for human rights and Australia’s obligations under the 1951 UN Refugees Convention,” said Ms Ireland.

World Refugee Day protesters will pressure parliamentarians who have denounced the proposed changes in a recent Senate Inquiry to block any amended version of the Bill, which they say cannot be made ‘more humane’.

The broad coalition of protest groups is calling on the Government to let the boats land, dismantle its regime of mandatory detention, and accord refugees freedom and full rights.

Bishop Hilton Deakin, Democrats Leader Senator Lyn Allison, Greens Victoria Refugees Spokesperson Peter Job, prominent refugee and immigration lawyer David Manne, refugee advocate Pamela Curr, and West Papuan activist Herman Wainggai will be among those addressing Sunday’s rally.

Protestors will march from the corner of Nicholson and Gertrude Streets in Carlton to the Fitzroy Town Hall to join Multicultural Arts Victoria’s ‘Emerge Festival’ which will celebrate cultural diversity within asylum seeker and refugee communities.

The Leunig boat outside the Museum

The Leunig boat outside the Museum

Original Leunig cartoon

The original cartoon, pasted on a placard. The artist, generous as always, gave permission for his work to be used

The Greens’ Peter Job read a message from Senator Kerry Nettle, emphasising amongst other things that the Indonesian lobby had not given up after its defeat over East Timor. Referring to the proposed new legislation on transferring all boat arrivals offshore for processing she said there was a distinct possibility it would not be passed, and like other speakers called for lobbying of senators such as Steve Fielding.[21 June – as this is being written it is now clear the legislation will not be passed in this session, the Coalition rebels having stood their ground so far …] Looking back to the Tampa affair, she noted that only 30% of the Australian people were then opposed to the Government’s actions, whereas now over 70% reject the proposed measures, and she and others had just tabled in Parliament a petition with over 32,000 signatures to this effect. She also stressed that it was simply a myth that the question of long-term detention had gone away or been settled – in Villawood at this moment there were Chinese who had been in detention for three, four and even five years, not because their claims were invalid, but through through ineptitude in the processing:

Peter Job at microphone

Bishop Hilton Deakin, flanked by Julie Bain and Lauren Ireland of RAC-Vic. Amongst many other things, the Bishop is President of the West Papuan Association, and had given shelter to some of the recent arrivals in his own home. He drew parallels between the way people had been encouraged to think of asylum seekers and Aboriginal people, suggesting that those who trumpet the so-called Australian virtues of fair go and mateship should ask Indigenous people what they have to say on the subject … The President of Indonesia had said the 43 who recently fled West Papua were ‘economic refugees’ but the record of the Indonesian military in West Papua was awful. The proposed legislation was obscene, and the Australian people had been ‘diminished’ by the government’s treatment of asylum seekers from Tampa onwards:

Bishop Hilton Deakin at microphone

Photos from the march:

Leunig boat and banner - Let the boats land

Victorian Trade Union choir

Placard - Stop Amandatory Detention

Placard - Process Vanstone Offshore

West Papuans leading the march

Young marchers and red flags

During the stop in Johnston Street, Melanie Mumford from South Gippsland Rural Australians for Refugees spoke of the plight of the asylum seekers stranded on the Indonesian island of Lombok for the last five years after their boat was driven back by the Australian navy on government instructions. Even though many have relatives in Australia, these are themselves on TPVs and so unable to sponsor them to come here. She particularly mentioned the situation of the children: although theoretically they are able to attend school, their parents are not permitted to work, and consequently have no means of paying the fees demanded. For more on Lombok, see Melbourne Indymedia and this report here.

Melanie Mumford speaking

Jacob Rumbiak, from the West Papuan Coalition for Liberation, with RAC’s Lauren Ireland during the stop in Johnston Street “Free West Papua! Free Australia!” – Free West Papua Campaign (Melbourne)

Jacob Rumbiak speaking

The boat leads the way down Napier Street towards the festival

The boat leads the way down Napier Street towards the festival

Pamela Curr delivered the final speech; Brian Daly wasalso on the platform – notice the LHMU banners in the foreground. She recalled the situation a year ago, and all that had been achieved since then by constant pressure on politicians – the release of long-term detainees and children, for example – but the legislation is still unchanged, and even the present threat of backbench revolt over the proposed changes will not be sufficient to stop them unless there is opposition also in the senate. It was vital to put pressure on especially Victorian Senator Steve Fielding to stand up for families, and he undertook to do before he was elected.

Pamela Curr speaking at end of march

A Friends of the Earth banner and stall at the Town Hall, reminding people of another issue that isn’t going away:FoE banner - Environmental refugees, The hidden cost of Climate Change