By Susan Price
DANDENONG — Some 3000-5000 people rallied outside the Dandenong launch of Pauline Hanson's One Nation party on July 7. The rally was the largest in Victoria since One Nation began establishing branches in the state.
Despite media exaggeration of isolated incidents of violence and the distortion of what happened, the rally proved that many more people are opposed to Hanson's racism than support it. The launch was attended by 100 people.
The rally was not organised by any particular group; the participants were mobilised by a combination of the Campaign Against Racism, the Greater Dandenong City Council and a number of socialist organisations.
Mayor Greg Harris from Dandenong organised a silent vigil and multicultural concert in a street away from the entrance to the Dandenong Town Hall, site of the One Nation meeting. While 50-100 people attended this event, many more wanted to show their opposition to Hanson's racism in the street opposite the entrance to the One Nation meeting.
The largest single contingent was organised by the Campaign Against Racism. Thousands of local residents made up the big majority of the crowd. A large proportion were Asian people eager to voice their opposition to the party that was blaming them for Australia's economic woes.
In an almost festive atmosphere, participants chanted, "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! Howard and Hanson have to go!" and "Hanson is a puppet! Howard pulls the strings!"
The crowd jeered, hissed and booed in a light-hearted manner as Hanson supporters entered the meeting, some taunting the protesters.
The scene more resembled a football match than the angry, violent protest that the media reported the next day. There is no evidence that urine-filled condoms were thrown, as reported in the media.
Perhaps the most positive action was the open platform established by the Campaign Against Racism. Maurice Sibelle, spokesperson for CAR, told Green Left Weekly, "Our aims were to mobilise a large number of people, draw attention to the issues, draw out the link between Hanson's racism and Howard's actions in government and to build an on-going Campaign Against Racism.
"The campaign is opposed to any action that would detract from these aims. We established an open platform because we felt that Pauline Hanson has more free speech than the people she is attacking, and we wanted to give these people the opportunity to have their say."
The open platform attracted leaders of the Vietnamese, Chinese, East Timorese and Sri Lankan communities. Representative of the churches, local community groups, lesbian and gay and socialist organisations also addressed the crowd.
One speaker was Dr Jim Cairns, former ALP treasurer and a leader of the Vietnam Moratorium movement. Cairns was ejected from the One Nation meeting for handing out leaflets which opposed Hanson's party.
Among the speakers on the platform was the mayor of the city of Maribyrnong, Mai Ho. Maribyrnong is the site of the next launch of the Werribee branch of One Nation.
"The main body of the rally was over by the time the incidents reported in the media took place", explained Sibelle. "In fact, we were in the process of packing up the PA and rounding up people to return on the bus."
In the following week, the establishment media focused on the assault on Keith Warburton, who was struck as he was leaving the One Nation meeting.
Sibelle explained, "The Campaign Against Racism was not responsible for this attack or any other violence that may have occurred. We made a decision that we were there to make a point, and we felt that we had achieved our objective.
"We will continue to focus on the issues and explain what is wrong with Hanson and Howard. We believe that the most effective way to do that is to protest at public meetings of the One Nation Party."