Australian CWI on Woomera protests

Nigel Irritable nigel_irritable at
Wed Apr 24 12:27:19 MDT 2002

Sorry about the delay in posting these articles here.
I would just post a link, but they aren't on the web
yet. All of the pieces below come from the edition of
the "Voice", the newspaper of the Socialist Party (CWI
in Australia, published immediately after the

Despite the delay, I thought that list members may
find the interesting given the prominent role of the
Socialist Party at Woomera.

Is mise le meas,
Brian Cahill


Easter 2002 at Woomera will be remembered as one of
the most significant demonstrations in the history of
modern Australia.

Hundreds of mainly young people travelled hundreds of
kilometers deep into the South Australian desert to
show solidarity with the 478 detainees at Australia's
biggest detention centre. During the course of the
event over 40 detainees liberated themselves and as we
go to press the Government claims 10 are still at

This special issue of Voice is dedicated to all
Australia's refugees, who are detained without trial
as a deliberate policy by the Federal government. It
is also dedicated to the protestors at Woomera.

WOOMERA: The facts you won't be told by the mass media

* Children under 12 at Woomera get 2 hours education a

* There is regular torture of detainees taking place

* The facility is privatised, making $100 million a
year for a US company

* The refugees are escaping the Taliban and Saddam and
many have witnessed their loved ones being raped,
beaten and killed. Real terrorists would come first
class by plane, not on a leaky boat. In Afghanistan
most of the Taliban's repressive legislation has been
kept in place by the Northern Alliance

* The Federal government is spending millions on the
'Pacific solution' and detention inside Australia
while schools and hospitals face cuts

* It costs $140 a day to keep a detainee at Woomera,
compared to $25 a day on the dole, or a positive
economic and cultural contribution if they were given
a chance to work and study

* Australia is only country so far in the advanced
capitalist world that has mandatory detention for
refugees (but not of course those 58,674 people who
overstayed their visas last year!)

* Australia had 4,450 'boat people' last year compared
to 97,900 refugees fleeing to Britain or over 400,000
to Italy

* The detention system is a profit-making excercise
for big business and is an expensive political
exercise by the Federal government to divert attention
away from the crisis in the health and education
sectors etc. They would prefer a frenzy against the
refugees instead of anger towards their system. It's
the divide and rule of White Australia revisited.
Racism divides the working class and is an often used
tool of the capitalists.

* The ALP first introduced mandatory detention in the
early 1990s

5 days that shook Australia

Thursday March 28th

70 protestors arrive early to establish the base camp,
including 15-odd Red Bus people. The Federal police
and the APS attempt to move the campsite away from the
Detention Center, to a footy oval several kilometers
away. If the police had been successful, the whole
protest could have been defused before it started. On
two seperate occasions the 70 brave protestors repel
police attacks. Congratulations to the advance party!

Saturday 30th March

The question of escaped detainees dominates the day,
as it does for the rest of the protest. A rally is
held by protesters, breaking down the main gate of the
Center, but pulling back from a repeat of the previous
days events.

On Saturday night, Rebecca, a female elder of the
local Aboriginal community addresses protesters and
expresses concern at the aggression of the previous
day. After long discussions, she asks for support for
the issues her people have been fighting for over many
years and gives permission for the protest to continue
(in consultation with her people).

Sunday 31st March

A midday rally to the main gate is held to present
toys to the detainees. A second rally breaks through
to the inner fence and protesters are visibly moved by
the women, children and men inside who pleed for help
and rescue. Police attack the protestors and refugees.
At night many protesters begin to leave, with the SP
contingent leaving at 4pm and more at 7pm. They are
stopped twice by police roadblocks. All who attend
believe it is the most important political event of
their lives and has had practical results. The whole
debate over refugee policy is at a higher level.
Thousands have been radicalised.

Monday 1st April

South Australian police accuse protestors of planning
the break-out. All the usual lies about urine in
balloons, weapons etc are trotted out. Why a break-out
would be organised at Woomera and not at a city-based
detention centre is not explained. Why, if police
claims are true, no-one was arrested for any violent
behaviour despite a massive police and media presence
is also not explained. SP contingent arrives at
Melbourne's Trades Hall at 2pm to awaiting family,
friends and media.

State repression stepped up on refugees and protestors

The escape by refugees from Woomera Detention Center
is a severe blow to the prestige of the Federal
Government and the state machine as a whole.

The Federal Police chose not to liase with protestors
prior to the event, and of course the detention
centres were handed over to the private sector - ACM
sends $100 million a year profit back to their US
parent company every year. These two decisions
backfired on the government.

The Federal Police and the Australian Protective
Services personnel proved incapable of doing their job
for the authorities and were then forced to ask for
help from the South Australian police.

The State Labor government had been miffed a week
earlier by the Federal government over GST money kept
by Canberra instead of being handed over to them. They
were angry at attacks made by Ruddock on the SA
police. These tensions were played out over the
weekend as a rift developed between Canberra and the
state government.

Now the Federal government is baying for blood. They
want to recapture the refugees still at large and they
want to arrest any Australians deemed to be helping
them. Charges being prepared carry jail sentences of
up to 10 years. The mass media has been hysterical in
their attacks on the protestors at Woomera. They are
using the events at Woomera as an excuse to clamp down
on trade unionists, socialists, and all activists.
Already one leftwing bookshop and 12 private houses
have been raided by Federal police in Sydney and
Melbourne. Surveillance of activists has been stepped

As more and more young people become radicalised by
the refugee issue and the general situation they face
in society, the state is shifting to anti-democratic
methods to deal with dissent.

This is also seen in the over-the-top charges laid
against AMWU members in Melbourne, the Royal
Commission into the building industry, and the new
'anti-terror' legislation being prepared by the

As long as this system remains, freedom of movement of
people will never be guaranteed and dissent will never
be accepted.

Socialist Party at Woomera

Over 70 members and supporters travelled to Woomera
with the Socialist Party Red Buses contingent. They
played a key role in all the main events.
Our campside was on the southern end of the tent city.
19 people joined the party over the weekend. [Note:
actually more than 20 did]

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