In (actual) Armani suits and pearls they came. Struggling with the unfamiliar surrounds of Redfern, and many making the mistake of having their chauffeurs drop them off before they knew what awaited them; they looked shocked and a little lost. Cashed-up Liberals, doing their bit to boost the coffers of a certain member for Warringah, Tony Abbott, were not welcomed with the red carpet they are accustomed to. They were confronted by hundreds of protesters blocking entrances, determined to take a stand for the refugees on Manus Island. Hundreds had to be escorted by police through lines of demonstrators.
If there is a worse human on the planet than Tony Abbott, perhaps it is Peter Dutton, the keynote speaker at this hundred-dollar-a-head feast. While they dined, nearly 600 refugees besieged on Manus after nearly five years of brutal imprisonment, are literally being starved. While the caviar and canapés were being prepared in Redfern, police and immigration officials on Manus were tipping over bins refugees had used to collect desperately-needed rainwater, and tearing down tents used for cooking and sleeping.
Thirst, hunger, denial of medical care, endless swarms of mosquitoes, oppressive tropical heat, and the imminent threat of violent attack and forcible removal are being used against the Manus refugees. Greens MP Adam Bandt rightly labelled Peter Dutton a terrorist. In Redfern, we were protesting against him and all the funders of terrorism who turned up to support the vile agenda of the Liberal Party.
It was a who’s who of sadistic scumbags.
Fred Nile, arch racist and homophobe, had his unhappy-looking taxi driver bear him through the throng. He was closely followed by Peta Credlin, Abbott’s chief partner in crime who helped dream up attacks on every oppressed group in society. Warren Mundine, the right wing self-appointed Aboriginal “leader”, who’s spent years selling his soul to the highest bidder, had to run the gauntlet too. Christine Forster, Liberal councillor and Abbott’s sister, foolishly thought she could walk right through us. Presumably she thinks supporting marriage equality would make her immune from criticism for the rest of the racist, anti-working class policies of the Liberal Party.
The media dutifully reported Forster’s account of her “terrifying” encounter with the plebs. The Sydney Morning Herald quoting her as saying, “It was extraordinary, it was a riot with people screaming in our faces, trying to spit at us, trying to punch us”. There was no spitting or punching (except by the police), but her jacket got ripped somewhere along the way. Diddums. Unlike the refugees on Manus Island, none of these Tories are innocents. For once, protesters inflicted a tiny molecule of justice upon them. Nowhere near enough, but everyone who participated could attest to how empowering it felt. Protesters then marched through Redfern, occupying intersections and blocking traffic for about an hour.
The increasing brutality meted out to refugees must be matched by an escalation by people in Australia determined to fight back. This means mobilising the largest possible numbers on the streets, but also being prepared to disrupt, to blockade and to confront the torturers wherever they congregate. The refugees on Manus Island need to know that we stand with them.
This was one of the best demonstrations in years, and everyone who participated should be very proud of the stand we took.
Josh Lees is a member of the Refugee Action Coalition (Sydney) and Socialist Alternative