The Save Albert Park (SAP) committee is gearing up for another major demonstration on October 15. Green Left Weekly's JEREMY SMITH and FELICITY WHITWORTH spoke to campaign convener IAIN STEWART, and acting campaign coordinator, CAROLYN HUTCHINS. Question: What are the main issues for SAP? IS:
There's the lack of consultation and the arrogance of the government and its dismissive approach to its opponents. There's the destruction and alienation of public parkland and the reduction of accessibility to and commercialisation that parkland. Also, there has been the use of public funds and the transfer of public funds to private sector. And there's the repressive legislation which the government has introduced in order to facilitate the conduct of the Grand Prix. The Grand Prix Act, in effect, transferred ownership of Albert Park from the public to the Australian Grand Prix Corporation. That enabled them to actually declare areas of Albert Park off limits, which was used to stop protest at the park. Hundreds of people have been arrested during the course of the campaign, primarily for breaches of the AGP Act, the regulations made to that Act, or for trespass under the Summary Offences Act. What we've seen more recently, is a determination by government to stop treating us as "protesters" and to treat us as "criminals". The charges that are now being laid against people reflect this. The police are staggering all the court cases in order to isolate the individuals. We are now seeing a calculated campaign of intimidation. CH:
Under the legislation, people's right to compensation have been removed. People whose houses have been damaged — who normally would be able to go to the courts and get proper compensation — are now dependent on the largesse of the premier, who considers himself to be King of Victoria. Everything is subsumed to the Grand Prix Corporation. Question: Where have you made ground so far? IS:
The campaign is one of the few examples of continued vigorous resistance to the Kennett government. We have developed a genuine mass base and our membership is spread throughout Victoria. The campaign probably works with between 250 and 300 core activists. Any political campaign would be happy being able to draw on this number. One of the reasons for our growth is that we have quite deliberately tried to create an environment where everyone is welcome. We try to find a place for everyone in the campaign. Because of our continued resistance and profile we have given heart to other campaigns. We've been successful in pressuring and embarrassing the government. We haven't achieved our objectives, but the government has been forced to make concessions along the way. CH:
I think a particular strength has been the amount of time spent in educating, training and providing a safety net for people who have never been involved in political action before. They come out the other end feeling knowledgeable about the issues. They know what they're talking about and they know why they're there and why they're taking action. IS:
We have been effectively gathering trade union support, evidenced by the fact that Trades Hall Council has shifted from a position of neutrality to one of support. Leigh Hubbard, the Trades Hall secretary, has been personally supportive and identified with the campaign. But there is a residual belief amongst rank and file workers that SAP is predominantly a middle-class group of self-interested people. We have to convince them that if the government succeeds with the Grand Prix legislation, then that kind of attack can be applied to workers. Question: How has the mass media portrayed the campaign ? IS:
At the beginning of the campaign in late 1993, the Richmond [school occupation] had been and gone, Northlands was the only people's struggle that the media had to grab hold of. But because it predominantly involved the Koori populace, the mass media had difficulty dealing with it. For the media we were a godsend because we were white, middle-class, relative conservatives taking on the King of the conservatives. We started with them welcoming us as good news but later they said we were just a bunch of self-interested folk. There was a lot said of the NIMBY [Not In My own Backyard] syndrome. As the campaign started to be seen as more than an overnight sensation, they said that we were just a vehicle for the ALP to push its political barrow. As the group's militancy grew, we heard extraordinary outbursts from the premier and others that we were all members of the International Socialist Organisation! Other sections of the media suggested that we are a really a front for a dissident group of Liberals who want to unseat Jeff Kennett! The more threatening we become as a political force, the greater the vilification and denigration has become. And through all that, the editorials have remained steadfastly dogged in their commitment to the Grand Prix.