Censorship mars Harmony Day march

July 18, 2009

About 5000 people turned out for the government-organised Harmony Day march through Melbourne on July 12.

People responded positively to the government's call to demonstrate opposition to racism and support for multiculturalism. Contingents on the march included migrant groups, suburban groups, anti-war group Women in Black, the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative.

Many in the crowd signed petitions calling for support for international students and indigenous rights.

However, the Victorian government has repeatedly denied that the spate of recent violent attacks on Indian students and other international students has motivated by racism.

To add insult to injury, the government refused to allow a representative of the Federation of Indian Student Associations to speak at the event. In response, FISA threatened to boycott the rally, but eventually decided to take part.

FISA spokesperson Gautam Gupta told the ABC News: "We ... approached formally the Premier's Department and they refused ... to allow us to talk.

"Unfortunately they are trying to dilute the main issue, and we don't want to be part of any dilution. We want the debate to be basically focused on the victims, the unsafe streets, and the rising crime rate and the failure of the justice system."

The large crowd who attended Harmony Day showed the strong anti-racism sentiment felt by many. But it also revealed gross hypocrisy on the part of Premier John Brumby's Labor government. The government wants to be seen to be doing something about the racist attacks on international students, while doing little.

In the past, when Sudanese migrants were bashed in racist attacks, the government had no response such as a Harmony Day march.

However, education for international students is Victoria's biggest export. Harmony Day was held because the government is worried about losing its "market share".

Even so, it refuses to take the practical steps to assist international students — such as providing safe student accommodation, a blanket insurance policy for students covering accidents and assaults, frequent public transport at night and a full investigation of racially motivated assaults.

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