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Stand up for Refugees

First sitting day of the new Parliament

Tuesday 16 November 2004 in Canberra

For more information contact Fleur Taylor, Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) phone 0418 991 703

The re-election of the Coalition Government poses an enormous challenge for refugee activists. Yet it is one we must rise to meet.

Related pages:

30 November 2004: Stand up for Refugees Canberra: the photos - Twenty-four photos of the Stand up for Refugees Rally on Parliament House on November 16, 2004, the opening day of the new Parliament. Project SafeCom was there, and we showed we want to be counted!

13 November 2004: Refugees: ensuring renewed national attention - A massive contingent of refugee advocates, supporters and activists is expected to descend on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra this Tuesday under the theme "Stand Up for Refugees" to make their presence felt during the opening day of the new parliament and the start of a new term of the Howard government.

Call-out for the Rally

Mandatory detention and the agony of temporary visas have cost too many lives, too many tears, too many years of childhood and youth. Refugees were the issue that neither major party wanted to talk about during the election. Now we must make sure the issue is not swept under the carpet by the new Parliament.

2004 Canberra Parliament House Convergence

Some of our friends still in detention wrote in response to the election result:

"Democracy doesn't automatically guarantee justice .... we are also very desperate but what to do? .... We continue with our peaceful protest until we get an answer. We expect your further support."

We are calling on you and your friends to join us on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra on the first sitting day of the new Parliament. We must show the politicians that we are not going away, we are not giving up that we will keep coming back until there is JUSTICE FOR REFUGEES.

We call for:

  • An end to mandatory detention and the release of all asylum seekers in detention.

  • Permanent protection and citizenship, an end to Temporary Protection Visas and Bridging Visa E's.

  • An end to the "Pacific Solution" - bring detainees on Nauru and those towed back to Indonesia, to Australia immediately.

  • Compensation and support for those who have suffered years of unjust detention.

Provisional program:

10:00am High Court rally - Organised by RAC Victoria: Gathering at the Aboriginal Tent Embasssy, to walk and gather outside the High Court; likely to be followed by a march up to federal parliament featuring a parade of many of the Rural Australian For Refugees and regional groups.

12:30am lunchtime rally - On the lawns outside federal Parliament, and selected an initial list of speakers that would take us through to 1:30, when the Govenor General & 'dignatories' arrive.  Parliament is officially opened at 2pm, (following 15 mins of prayers).

Confirmed speakers:

Chaired by Merlin Luck

Bob Brown
RAR (Rob Simpson)
Sam Watson (Brisbane indigenous leader)
Riz Wakil (young Hazara, successful TPV applicant)

Still to be confirmed:

Melbourne RAC activist
Meredith Burgman, ALP (who is apparently coming anyway)
Sharon Burrows (ACTU) or ASU Union

Others suggestions include:

Merlin Luck (the Big Brother protester)
Sarah Stephen, Sydney RAC & GLW journalist
Julian Burnside QC
Sri Lankan Tamil community (Ramesh)

Reps from different activist groups - Small group of people on the stage together, passing the mic around to explain in 1 minute why they're there. Could do this people from Sydney, Melbourne, Bris, Perth, etc. And possibly again with non-refugee groups who are mobilising - anti-war, civil rights, indigenous.  Doing this could be a way to reflect the inspiring breadth of the groups at the rally on the speaking platform - while avoiding a too long list of speakers.

If you cannot attend the Canberra Rally:

If you cannot attend the Canberra Rally, you can still assist: you can sponsor someone from Western Australia to attend the rally - it's always the folks from WA who pay a small fortune for their airfares to get to Eastern States events such as this.

Send your cheque to Project SafeCom Inc., P.O. Box 364 Narrogin WA 6312 (with a note "Canberra Rally") or transfer your funds (online note "Canberra Rally") to our account at

Bendigo Community Bank Kulin
BSB Number: 633 000
Account name: Project SafeCom Inc.
Account" 11564 3900.

This Rally has been endorsed by:

Rural Australians for Refugees, Refugee Action Collective (Victoria), ChilOut, National Anti-Deportation Alliance,, Field of Hearts Project, Project SafeCom, Western Australian Refugee Alliance, Refugee Rights Action Network (WA), Refugee Action Coalition (NSW), Refugee Action Committee (ACT), Refugee Action Collective (QLD), Baptist Union of Victoria Public Issues Network, Maleny RAR group, Armidale RAR group, RMIT Refugee and Asylum Seeker Project, Fremantle Refugee Support Project, The Bessie Smyth Foundation, Sydney, Public Servants for Refugees, Buddies Refugee Support Group, QLD, Women's Abortion Action Campaign, NSW, Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group, Community Campaign Against Homophobia (NSW), Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative, Housing Workers 4 Refugees Brisbane, Stop the War Coalition, Sydney, Darwin Refugee Action Network, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia), Great Lakes Rural Australians for Refugees.

Senator Bob Brown, Australian Greens; Julian Burnside, QC; Jane Keogh, Canberra; Grace Gorman, Melbourne; Abdul Baig, Melbourne (formerly a delegate inside Maribyrnong Detention Centre); Sam Watson, Murri activist, film-maker and writer; Gillian Blair, South West Action for Refugees (Warrnambool); Lynda Smith, Spokesperson for Refugees and Immigration, Greens NSW; Lynne Murphy; Mark Williams, Researchers for Asylum Seekers; Elaine and Geoff Smith, NSW; Rosemary Breen, convenor, Inverell RAR; Judith Dynan, Province Leader, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary; Kate Orman, Australian Democrats, Bennelong Branch; Pat Feehelly (Goulburn RAR); Phil Griffiths, former convenor, RAC ACT; Bronwyn Ellis, Whyalla, SA; Kaye Bernard, WA; Stuart Kingsford, Greens Federal candidate for Flinders, 2004; Priscilla Phelps, VIC; Sita Parsons; Robert Marshall, VIC; Frederika Steen, Brisbane; Laurie Ormond; Jen Brown, Lismore NSW; Jen Harrison; Martin Rorke; Margaret Harrison; Rachel Reilly, Melbourne; Stephen Houston & Lara Palombo; Marianne Cannon & James McCarthy; Gaille Abud; Helen Tweeddale; Alenka & Ron Co, SA; Jack H Smit, WA; Helen Lucy Moss; Pam and Rod Lever, Glasshouse Mtns, Qld; Helen Lewers, Napoleons, VIC; Anna Hirst; Dr Annette Salt; Harriet McHugh-Dillon; Louise & Brett Fulwood; Susie Gates; Suellen Irving; Margaret Kirkby, Sydney; Mary J de Merindol, Sydney; Grace Brown, NSW; Cris Townley; Margaret Moore; Jane McDonald; Jane Gapinski; Frank Gapinski; Kate Champion; Martin Moore; Maggie Piper; Emily Moore; Robert Piper; Dianne Potter; Hamish Mark Tweeddale; Lola and Ron Sharp, NSW; Susan Metcalfe; Primrose Letcher, Melbourne; Lorna Bowers; Don Stewart, Warrnambool, VIC; Sue Wareham, President, MAPW (Australia)

Statement of Endorsement

Sam Watson, Murri activist, film-maker & writer:

John Howard designed the "Pacific Solution" to hold the people of the Tampa behind walls of razor wire. The Aboriginal political leadership now calls on the good people of this land to support the call from the refugee rights movement to take a stand on November 16 to serve a very clear notice on Howard that we will not allow him to pursue his horrific campaign against asylum seekers, and that we will not allow him to wage an unjust and illegal war against the sovereign people of Iraq.

From that fatal moment when Howard claimed victory on election night, Aboriginal people have been talking up the need to mobilise across the nation so we can send Dear John a very clear message from within our camps. We know that Howard is an arch racist and we know he is absolutely dedicated to the destruction of ATSIC, the complete marginalisation of the Aboriginal political leadership and the forced removal of Aboriginal people from the mainstream national community.

Now that Howard has complete control of both houses of parliament he will very quickly move to implement his terrorist agenda and will attempt to crush our political infrastructure and strip our critical survival programs. We cannot allow that to happen. We too will be mobilising in Canberra for the first scheduled sitting of the new parliament on November 16. If we do not mobilise, if we do not show Howard that we are still committed to our struggle for liberty our people will pay in the blood and suffering of generations yet unborn.

In 1967 the people of the Australian nation voted in overwhelming numbers to right the wrongs of history and bring the Aboriginal people into the fold of the national community. The good people of the Australian nation will not stand back and allow this prime minister to betray that magnificent legacy. Every child born on this land shall be given every right to live and to learn and to prosper regardless of their color, race or political belief.

We will not allow Howard to implement his Final Solution for the Indigenous peoples of this land. We will march and we will demonstrate and we will resist, whilst we still have breath in our bodies, in order to defend the rights and the needs of oppressed peoples everywhere.

On November 16 let's come together in a rainbow convergence, a living sea of hands on the laws of federal parliament, with each upraised hand saying "Stop, Howard - you have no mandate!" Now is the time to rebuild and strengthen our activist networks and take the resistance to the streets. Join us - get on the bus to Canberra!

Sam Watson

Indigenous leader says 'protest Howard's attacks!'

Green Left Weekly
October 27 2004

Murri community leader and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate Sam Watson has issued a call to action for the November 16 convergence on federal parliament in Canberra to say "Stop, Howard!" Green Left Weekly's Marce Cameron spoke to Watson about why people should mobilise for this demonstration.

"We are not going to lie down and roll over for Howard's Liberal Party warmongering machine", Watson declared.

"This is the first sitting of the new parliament so it's important to send PM John Howard and his new government a very strong message that while they might have won the election [it was] a very immoral and dishonest campaign.

"For two elections in a row Howard has tapped into the innermost and darkest insecurities of the Australian people. In 2001 he used the plight of the Tampa refugees to take Australia back to the Menzies era, to present a scenario in which this country was supposedly going to be overrun by godless hordes of Asian refugees. In 2004 Howard has gone a step further and tapped into fears about bank accounts and home mortgages."

Watson pointed out that in 2001, former Labor leader Kim Beazley "out-polled Howard on primary votes, but because the rural electorates were weighted in favour of the National Party, Howard was able to get over the line. In 2004 it was only about 200,000 voters across the key marginal seats that tipped the balance in Howard's favour. So it's not all doom and gloom."

Watson argued that "Many in the Australian community still care about asylum seekers, Iraqi civilians who have been murdered by the US-led forces, and the struggles in East Timor and West Papua. They still care about Aboriginal health issues, about the rights of women in the workplace and in the wider community, and they still care about the huge HECS fees our students are facing. We need to recognise that the decision on October 9 was a very close decision. Howard should not draw too much comfort from this election."

"On our side of the political divide we need to regroup, rearm and refocus. Unlike the mainstream political parties we are not going to compromise our commitment and our absolute determination to secure real change in this country. We are going to hold onto our core beliefs in those key areas such as the illegal war in Iraq, the Israeli oppression and terrorisation of the Palestinian people and the illegal occupation of West Papua by the Indonesian armed forces, who are carrying out a bloody war of attrition."

Watson also pointed out that "Aboriginal people across the country are very angry that Aboriginal issues played no part in the federal election, even though we have the most appalling health statistics and we still face rampant police intimidation resulting in deaths in custody; we still have spiralling arrest rates, massive homelessness, unemployment and poverty, and entire communities living in Fourth-World conditions.

"On the eve of the federal election a federal government health report was released that said an Aboriginal child born in Australia today has the same life expectancy as a child born in rural Ethiopia. While it's totally unacceptable that any child anywhere in the world should be condemned to an early death through poverty and circumstance, people living in Australia cannot accept that our children, born into a society that has one of the highest living standards in the world and with a booming economy and record income from taxation, are still dying from starvation, lack of fresh water and the absence of regional health facilities."

Watson condemned the Howard government's "all-out war of attrition against Aboriginal leaders" since it was first elected in 1996, pointing out the extended campaign against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). "We demand that Howard restore all the funds and resources he has stripped and give them back to the Aboriginal political leadership."

Aboriginal community meetings are being held across the country to organise delegations to Canberra on November 16. "Because Howard now has absolute control of the Senate, he will try to follow through with his plans to annihilate and crush ATSIC as a political entity." Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will mobilise to "save ATSIC and to send a message to Howard that we will not allow him to go any further".

Watson's call to action urges people to "come together in a rainbow convergence, a living sea of hands on the laws of federal parliament, with each upraised hand saying 'Stop, Howard - you have no mandate!'"

'We did not vote for Howard's agenda'

Green Left Weekly
October 27 2004
Sarah Stephen

On November 16, Lorna Bennie, Lyn Rafferty and Judy Gaskin will be among half a dozen people from the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group hopping onto a minibus to go to Canberra to protest against the Howard government's refugee policy.

Bennie told Green Left Weekly: "It's important from the word go to publicly continue to let people know that we didn't vote for this government's agenda; as far as we're concerned they don't have a mandate."

Rafferty agreed, adding: "This was another Tampa, but this time they played on people's fear about interest rates. It's more important now than ever that we are outspoken in as many ways as we can be, because it's going to get worse. I read something recently which said that tyrants can only continue in their repressive role as long as the people let them."

Bennie reflected: "One good thing about getting old is you've got time to put into these events." Rafferty feels it is important that more young people, especially university students, get involved.

The Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group began soon after the Tampa crisis, and now has around 300 members. Bennie recalled why she first got involved: "Labor's stance galvanised me. I thought it was the pits. I told Labor I would never vote for them again, that they didn't deserve to be in government. I started writing letters, but I thought, 'I've got to do something practical'. I went to the all the marches. I met with the Afghan community to see if they wanted help. I'm not happy with the way this country is going."

Gaskin said: "I'm not very political, but I felt a lot of righteous anger about all these things. It was the other two who got me involved."

For over a year, the three women have been visiting the Villawood detention centre every fortnight. Bennie explained: "I wanted to see for myself what it was really like to visit Villawood, to go to their court hearings so I could know the real story and tell people I talked to." Bennie recounted how she had talked to her hairdresser the week before, a young woman who held many common prejudices about migrants and refugees, but through the process of discussion she offered to come out to Villawood and do some people's hair for free.

"Going to Villawood for me is the most beautiful thing I can imagine doing", Gaskin told GLW, "but at the same time it's the most heartbreaking. I'm filled with love and compassion, but I also want to bawl my head off."

Bennie described her fury at the "relentless effort to wear people down, demonise them, take away their humanity" through the process of detention. Rafferty said she was always struck by the "courage of the people we see; their dignity. Despite everything they go through, they can still laugh with us."

The women despaired at the government's lack of reaction to the enormous anti-war protests in February 2003, but Bennie recalled a passage in a book by Peter Singer where he wrote: "You've got to keep it up. There's no point in only doing it once."

It's with that spirit that these three women will join many hundreds of other protesters from around Australia in Canberra on November 16. On that day there will be a lunchtime rally in front of Parliament House to coincide with the first sitting day of parliament. Details are still being finalised, but visit the RAR website for information about buses from other cities and to download posters.