By Alex Cooper and Peter Boyle
MELBOURNE — Community action groups are trying to keep up the momentum of the campaign against the Kennett government through numerous demonstrations and protest meetings, but the government is beginning to use the police against protesters.
On the 98th day of the 24-hour vigil organised by the State Public Services Federation outside Parliament House, police staged a dawn raid and confiscated tents and other equipment. However, the vigil remained, and protesters celebrated their 100th day on February 19.
Richmond and Northlands secondary colleges — two officially closed schools currently under occupation by community activists, students and teachers — have received warnings that the occupiers are trespassing.
Both schools are remaining open with the volunteer labour of trained teachers without placements. Both schools are demanding federal financial assistance. Aboriginal activist Gary Foley is standing for the marginal seat of Jaga Jaga to protest against the closure of Northlands (which has special programs for Koori students), and Elvie Sievers, a parent of a Richmond student, is standing in the seat of Melbourne.
Protests against public transport cuts continue. A demonstration of about 100 braved the rain in a march on parliament on February 19, and a public meeting organised by the Williamstown Save Our Trains Action Group (SOTAG), to protest against the intended closure of the line by the Kennett government, attracted a crowd of 1500 people on February 14.
A week earlier, 500 people from across Victoria gathered at Spencer St Railway Station to protest the planned closure of nine country and two suburban rail lines. The demonstration was organised by the Public Transport Users Association and a group from Warrnambool.
The mayor of Williamstown, John Pearson, told the meeting that the council had sent two letters to transport minister Alan Brown. In his replies to the council, Brown had said that the Williamstown railway line cost $1.5 million to run while only 60 people used the train during the peak, 30 people off peak and only 10 people used the train after 8 p.m. But Pearson told the meeting that means at least 1 million people use the train each year, and since they can't all be fare evaders, the train must return a substantial amount of its costs.
Opposition leader and local state MP Joan Kirner told the meeting that in 1981 the last Liberal government tried to close the line. "We saved the train then", she said, "and we will do it again". Closing the Williamstown line would be "political discrimination": the Alamein line, which services Jeff Kennett's electorate, was no more viable than Williamstown, she added.
Ralph Willis, the federal Labor member for Gellibrand, said that Kennett could have saved the $1.5 million by not reintroducing silver service in the parliamentary dining room.
Patrick O'Connor, from the Public Transport Users Association and representative of SOTAG, also addressed the meeting.
Unions will hold a statewide stoppage and march on March 1. Many unions are campaigning against the Coalition in marginal seats in the federal election.