BY MARY CARROLL
SYDNEY — One hundred and thirty people filled the Manly Youth Centre Hall on February 28, attending a "People v Philip Ruddock" meeting called by the northern branch of the Socialist Alliance.
Speakers were moved to tears as they described the treatment of asylum seekers in detention centres throughout Australia.
"The government's handling of the asylum-seeker issue has diminished us as a nation in the eyes of the world. This meeting is an opportunity for the people of this area to send a strong message to our politicians", the meeting's chairperson, former NSW MP Peter McDonald said.
The Socialist Alliance speaker, Democratic Socialist Party activist John Gauci, urged participants to get involved in protest action.
"When you look at how significant social change has been achieved in this country — whether it be women and indigenous Australians winning the right to vote, an end to the Vietnam war or an end to Australia's 25 year bipartisan support for Indonesia's occupation of East Timor — the recurring theme is ongoing, mass action. Lobbying politicians has its place but a mass movement of the people can't be ignored", he said.
Jacquie Ashton, coordinator of the children's program for the Jesuit Refugee Service told the meeting that she had been banned from visiting detention centres by Australasian Correctional Management (ACM), which runs them.
She described the forced sedation of asylum seekers, early morning transfers between detention centres and the ongoing trauma and fear of those in detention. Other speakers included Sister Susan Connelly of the Mary McKillop Institute and Judy Lambert from the Greens.
The meeting unanimously endorsed motions calling for the federal government to end its contracts with ACM, to end mandatory detention and to close the detention centres.
The large meeting featured on the front page of the March 2 edition of the Manly Daily. An editorial in the same edition argued that, "the idea of banning people from visiting detention centres merely because they are vocal in their criticism of the set-up is endorsing a form of censorship which will worry every Australian".
From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.
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