By Sue Bull
SYDNEY — A spirited and moving demonstration was held here on May 10 in support of imprisoned Cambodian boat people.
Held outside the Villawood detention centre, it showed that a strong coalition against the xenophobic and racist policies of the parliamentary parties can be built.
Latest information is that "left-wing" immigration minister Gerry Hand is moving to forcibly deport the 300 boat people detained at Villawood and Port Hedland as soon as possible.
No-one who attended the Villawood rally could have been left unmoved. While community and religious representatives addressed the crowd, the detained boat people, who have been held without charge for up to two and a half years, stood silently behind the two tall fences that surround the centre.
The speakers reminded the rally of the appalling facts: the boat people had spent most of the last 15 years in camps; they had witnessed the slaughter of the Pol Pot period; they had endured ocean passage in unsafe craft and the threats of pirates, disease and starvation; and, on arrival in the Australian "paradise", had been detained without trial.
As the boat people's one parliamentary supporter, John Newman (Labor MP for Cabramatta), told the New South Wales parliament on May 7: "They are treated in a terrible way. Our criminals are probably given better treatment than refugees ... During their stay in Australia the refugees have been moved around the country, from Darwin to Sydney and back to Darwin. They have experienced a lack of access to interpreters, education, recreational and cultural activities and pastoral care."
Revulsion against Labor's anti-refugee and anti-immigration policy is now beginning to surface inside the Labor Party and the trade unions.
The Balmain branch of the ALP recently condemned suggestions by NSW Labor Council secretary Michael Easson that migrants be denied access to social security for five years after their arrival and also called for the granting of refugee status to the detained boat people.
The NSW Public Service Association Central Council has also called for refugee status to be granted to the first 37 refugees marked down for deportation.
The committee coordinating the campaign to save the boat people from deportation, the Action Committee for Refugees in Australia, is now planning a rally in central Sydney on Saturday, June 6, including a s annual conference at Sydney Town Hall.