BY EMMA CLANCY
PERTH — Murdoch University hosted the 2002 Students and Sustainability Conference, held July 7-13. The conference was attended by around 500 students, there to learn about and discuss environmental and human rights campaigns.
Held on Nyungar land, a central theme of the conference was the importance of battling racism. According to the conference organisers, racism "rationalised the invasion of [Australia] and continuing human rights violations. We want to take responsibility and actively work towards ending this ongoing hurt and oppression."
In keeping with this commitment, the opening of the conference both thanked the Indigenous owners of the land and declared the conference a "refugee sanctuary" that"escaped refugees are welcome to attend and seek protection [within]".
The organisers decided to initiate this declaration in order to "highlight the Australian government's inhumane, illegal and racist treatment of refugees".
Aside from the refugees' rights campaign — which dominated discussions at a number of workshops — the conference also discussed environmental sustainability, globalisation, war and militarism.
The highlight of the conference was an anti-racist protest on July 12, when most conference attendees converged on Perth's immigration department offices. Protesters chanted, "Open the borders, close the camps, free the refugees!" and listened to speakers condemn immigration minister Philip Ruddock and the federal government.
The protest was also in solidarity with Indigenous people and their struggle for land rights and compensation and a celebration of the growing global movement against corporate globalisation and the inequality and environmental degradation it causes.
Protesters enlivened by costumes, face-paint and banners then marched through the city, up to Parliament House, chanting: "Another world is possible."
The protest was followed by a street carnival in the Perth Cultural Centre, with live music and more speakers.
The conference condemned mandatory detention and endorsed the campus refugee sanctuary network campaign as a priority for semester two campaigning. It decided to ask the National Union of Students for resources to build this campaign.
The conference also supported the struggle of the Palestinian people and called on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, condemning the Australian government's support for Israel.
On July 13, a rally in Fremantle waved goodbye to busloads of activists, many from the conference, who were going to protest outside the Port Hedland refugee prison.
From Green Left Weekly, July 17, 2002.
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