Thirty people marched from the Stirling Gardens to parliament house on May 17 to protest the state governments plans to remove homeless people from the city centre for three days during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
Protesters were angry about the fact that $9 million dollars had been earmarked for the refurbishment of Frasers Restaurant in Kings Park for a CHOGM leaders social function. In addition, tens of millions of dollars have been allocated to refurbish ministerial offices.
Meanwhile, 55,000 people are on the Homeswest waiting list for public housing.
The protesters said public housing was the most important solution to the problem. Placards carried included: “Don't sweep the homeless off the streets for CHOGM”', “more public housing” and “public housing: a right not a privilege”.
In response to government plans to try to hide homeless people from the foreign dignities attending CHOGM, Catholic Church outreach worker Mark Reidy told Green Left Weekly: “They need public housing, instead of pretending the problem doesn’t exist.”
Shadow housing minister Mark McGowan and Liberal police minister Rob Johnson spoke to protesters but neither offered any commitment towards more public housing nor practical solutions for the homeless over the CHOGM period. McGowan promised to write a policy statement before the next election due in 2013.
He also tried to shift all blame to the current Liberal government, ignoring the poor track record of the previous Labor government that he was part of.
Refugee Rights Action Network activist and social worker Marcus Hamson, who participated in the protest, told GLW: “It was great that the protesters were able to confront Rob Johnson about the flippant remarks he made towards assisting those living on the streets during CHOGM and to force him to apologise.
“However, I was disturbed that he tried to argue that his time as a struggling university student was comparable to the hardship of long-term homelessness experienced by those who organised the protest.
“His comments reflect how little he understands the experience of homelessness and demonstrates the ignorance with which government policy is being shaped.”