Inner West Labor councillors refuse to support Greens’ ceasefire motion

November 22, 2023
Supporters of a ceasefire in public gallery at the Inner West Council on November 21. Photo: Supplied

A packed public gallery at Sydney's Inner West Council meeting on November 21 went from aghast to angry after a mild Greens motion calling for a ceasefire in Palestine was rejected by Labor Deputy Mayor Chloe Smith’s casting vote.

At least 11 people had registered to speak in support of Greens Councillor Dylan Griffiths’ motion.

The motion called on council to advertise Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA’s Gaza Emergency Appeal and called on federal government to “urge for a ceasefire and peace negotiations”.

It also urged the federal government to help “end the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza and its nearly one million Palestinian children and to restore access to food, electricity, water, fuel and medicine for around 2 million Palestinian civilians living in Gaza”.

Labor Councillor Mark Drury tried to block Griffiths from speaking to his motion. Then, the chair used her casting vote twice to prevent any more than the allotted 3 people from addressing council. No leniency was shown, despite the fact that the normally dead gallery was overflowing with people.

Cries of “Shame Labor, shame” and “Why don’t you want to hear from us?” rang out.

Some residents had brought children; one child even gave a small speech and a smaller one ran around the room saying “Free, free Palestine”. It was a moving reminder of the contrast between our safety and that of children in Gaza.

Moving arguments in favour were put by a Palestinian-Australian and a Jewish-Australian, who addressed the council online. The one speaker “against” said the motion did not go far enough.

After efforts to hear more speakers were unsuccessful, residents expressed their fury.

In response to Smith’s threat to throw us out, residents asked “How?”. She then suspended the meeting so her side could talk tactics.

Residents carried on the people’s council meeting, using the microphone until it was confiscated. Greens and independent councillors stayed to listen: the mood was defiant.

After Labor filed back in, Labor Councillor Philippa Scott told the meeting how much she appreciated people’s effort to be in the room. The fact that there were so many new and younger faces in the room was not lost on Labor, however it did not change their position.

Their foreshadowed motion did not include any call for a ceasefire. After Independent Councillor Pauline Lockie spoke in favor of the Greens motion, Labor used their casting vote to sink it.

Furious residents could not believe their eyes and ears.

Labor’s foreshadowed motion, put by councillor Mark Drury, began with this patronising line: “Council notes that foreign affairs is the responsibility of the Commonwealth government”.

It noted that Labor foreign minister Penny Wong has “called for steps towards a ceasefire”, and council “recognises the impact of the conflict on local residents from affected communities” and then suggested “measures to support them, including ensuring customer service centres have referrals to community and support services”.

Residents called out their thoughts on why the motion was inadequate and could not be supported.

Labor voted up their own motion which, by then, had been amended by Griffiths. The final paragraph added in some history: “The conflict cannot be viewed in isolation from the occupation of Palestine and the forced displacement of millions of Palestinians, the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and continued dispossession experienced by Palestinians.”

Residents continued to express their outrage and Labor again adjourned the meeting.

It was noted that Anthony Albanese’ own Marrickville Labor branch, along with other branches, had already passed ceasefire motions.

UPDATE: The next day the Inner West Council’s Multicultural Advisory Committee resigned en masse on November 22 in protest. Interim Chair Dina Petrakis told the City Hub that for a council that produced an anti-racism strategy, to support multi-culturalism, she could not believe that Labor councillors would vote no to a simple ceasefire motion. “When it came to my turn to talk, I just said, ‘I can’t do this. I cannot be a part of Council’s anti-racism strategy when for me, it died in a bloody mess on the floor of the council meeting the previous night.'”

[Pip Hinman is a resident in Sydney's Inner West and active in the Palestine solidarity campaign.]

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