BY TONY ILTIS
MELBOURNE — The Inner West Migrant Resource Centre in Footscray, one of the oldest in Australia, has been forced to close its doors as a result of the federal government's refusal to advance the funding — $170,000 — it would have required to remain open until the end of the financial year.
With no prior consultation, staff at the centre were told on May 22 that it would be closed within two days and they would not be paid their last two weeks' wages or entitlements.
The closure of the centre has caused outrage in the local community, which has a high proportion of new migrants. On May 28, a meeting at Footscray Town Hall attended by 250 residents.
The importance of the centre to the area was summed up by a Sudanese community representative, who said the centre "has been our eyes to tell us where the good things are".
According to Ethnic Communities Council president Marianne Lau, the centre has provided services to at least 100,000 people during its 22-year existence.
Gary Hardgraves, the federal minister for citizenship and multicultural affairs, has tried to justify the closure by suggesting that the staff were incompetent. However, during a January 13 visit to the centre, he described its operation as "impeccable".
Addressing the May 28 meeting, Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Leigh Hubbard drew parallels with other government attacks on social services. "Don't accept what is happening", he urged the audience. "The trade union movement will be there with you."
A number of speakers from the floor at the meeting highlighted how taxpayers' dollars were going to private schools and the racism involved in the government's decision.
A number of local Labor politicians, including two state MPs, were at the meeting. Local resident and Socialist Alliance member Margarita Windisch asked them whether the Victorian Labor government would step in to replace federal funding. Bruce Mildenhall, MP for Footscray, said that the state government was not responsible for maintaining the centre.
A motion was passed to established a campaign committee to organise resistance to the closure. Anyone interested in getting involved can contact the committee at <Save_MRC@hotmail.com>.
From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.
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