After four venues cancelled bookings under pressure from protesters, the World Congress of Families announced a fifth venue for its conference in Victoria — the headquarters of notorious anti-Muslim hate group Catch the Fire Ministries.
A coalition of groups opposing the WCF called a media conference on August 28 to explain why they were determined to stop the right-wing fundamentalist Christian conference from going ahead in Melbourne on August 30.
Debbie Brennan, spokesperson for the recently-formed Coalition to Beat Back the Far Right, said the WCF was not just a small, fringe group of religious fanatics, but a highly organised international political movement with ties to the highest levels of government in Russia — including Russian President Vladimir Putin — eastern Europe, the US, Africa and Australia.
“This group is responsible for laws and policies around the world that harms — and even kills — millions of ordinary people because we don’t conform to their crackpot ideas about the ‘natural family’,” she said.
Kerry Davies, spokesperson for the Victorian Council of Single Mothers and their Children, said federal budget cuts to sole parent benefits and “income management” schemes for Aboriginal people and poor communities were straight out of the WCF “two parents best” playbook.
So it was no surprise that Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews had initially agreed to open the event, although he did pull out after it was announced the conference would take place at Catch the Fire.
But, Davies said, “he and the rest of the Australian government are implementing right-wing minority views. We are the majority. Nearly 90% of Australians support equal marriage rights and 70% support legal abortion. The [Tony] Abbott government is not governing for the majority of people, they are hurting our kids and families.”
The council is a sponsor of the family-friendly Block Party Against Hate, scheduled for the afternoon of August 30.
A statement from disability rights activist Marisa Sposaro described the impact of budget cuts to disability benefits and services for people with disabilities and their families.
Mohammad Ali Baqiri fled persecution by the Taliban in Afghanistan when he was 10 and spent four years as an unaccompanied child in immigration detention on Nauru. He said he faced religious intolerance and violence in his home country and again when he came to Australia seeking asylum.
“I should respect your religion,” he said, “and you should respect mine. But the most important thing is our humanity. Religion should not separate us from our humanity.”
He said people who are truly concerned for the welfare of children and families would call for an end to the Australian government’s inhumane detention of asylum seekers.
Ali Hogg, from national marriage rights group Equal Love, said the group had been “inundated” with requests from supporters to organise against the WCF. “I have never seen such a huge, spontaneous response,” she said. The group is organising an Equal Love rally at 11am outside the venue.
Gaye Demanuele, Melbourne Fertility Clinic defender and a member of the socialist feminist group Radical Women, said she particularly objected to Victorian Attorney General Robert Clarke’s plan to “welcome” the WCF to Victoria. Like Andrews, Clarke has also withdrawn from attending the conference.
“They are not welcome here,” she said, “and neither are the Napthine government’s attempts … to roll back the abortion law reform we fought so hard for in this state. The Victorian election is coming up in November. We have to defend the gains we have made from the anti-woman influence of the WCF.”
Mainstream journalists at the media conference grilled the panel on whether they intended to “violently” disrupt the congress.
Brennan said: “We know our rights. We are fully aware of the new ‘move-on’ laws in Victoria. We intend to exercise our rights to protest to the fullest extent. We will be loud, there will be a lot of us and we will continue to make it very, very hard for this meeting to go ahead — even if they ever manage to find a venue that will have them.
“But we are not violent. It is the WCF and their supporters who are violent.”
South Australian MPs Bernie Finn and Cory Bernardi have also announced they will not attend. Christian Democrat Party leader Fred Nile is still on the program.