CHOGM protest attacked in West Australian newspaper

“Protesters vow to break CHOGM security lines” is how the August 23 issue of the Perth daily West Australian headlined an article accusing CHOGM protesters of being “on course for a confrontation with police at key CHOGM events”. The article was illustrated with an 11-year-old photo from the “S11” protest against the World Economic Forum at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, in 2000.

The beat-up sought to portray protesters’ intentions as violent, despite CHOGM Action Network (CAN) spokesperson Alex Bainbridge telling the West Australian’s Steve Pennells that a peaceful protest had been planned.

“We’re not going to storm the summit but we do want to organise a large demonstration”, Bainbridge was quoted as saying in the same article. “We want our views to be known.”

October 28 march

CAN is planning a united march on CHOGM on October 28, the first day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The protest, with the theme “Justice and Climate Action, Not Racism and War”, will assemble in Forrest Place and march to the CHOGM venue through restricted zones, where police have been given special stop and search powers for the duration of CHOGM. The march is calling for: the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan; an end to the mandatory detention of asylum seekers; renewable energy and Aboriginal rights.

Politicians and businesspeople from 54 Commonwealth nations are expected to attend this year’s CHOGM summit, between October 28 and 30, at the Perth Convention Centre. The meeting will be preceded by a week-long CHOGM Business Forum.

CHOGM will be officially opened by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, following a motorcade through St George’s Terrace. Amongst the invited guests will be Australian PM Julia Gillard, UK PM David Cameron, Malaysian PM Najib Razak and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Joining the British monarch, whose wealth (not including her palaces and jewels) is estimated at an obscene £349 million, will be some of the world’s richest business people.

Conservative PM Cameron leads a coalition government that has embarked on Britain’s largest public spending cuts since World War II. The austerity program will cut public spending by £110 billion over five years, cutting social benefits for millions and shedding up to half a million public-sector jobs. The losers will be working people, in particular Britain’s poor and unemployed youth, some of whom rioted in city streets last month.

While the UK government cuts spending on education, health and pensions at home, London has been Washington’s principal ally in prosecuting the so-called “war on terror” abroad. Today Britain has nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting alongside an Australian contingent of 1550 troops. During the 10-year occupation, 2693 coalition troops (including 29 Australians) have been killed in Afghanistan. The death toll for Afghan civilians is far higher. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 1462 civilian deaths were recorded in the first half of 2011. The escalation of the war has produced a steady flow of Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Australia, many from the persecuted Hazara minority.

Asylum seekers

CHOGM protesters are demanding an end to the Australian government’s mandatory detention of asylum seekers and the “Malaysia Solution”, signed by the Gillard and Razak governments in May. In Malaysia, more than 90,000 refugees are denied access to employment and education. Kuala Lumpur also has in place a British-era internal security act that allows detention without trial.

Perth’s Sri Lankan Tamil community will be joining the protests to demand justice for Sri Lanka’s Tamil population. A UN report concluded that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final stages of the Rajapaksa government’s war against the Tamil Tigers, many as the result of indiscriminate shelling by government forces. A recent documentary, Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, shows summary executions of prisoners by soldiers in uniform and interviews Tamils who describe indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan government that killed thousands of civilians. The Australian government has remained silent about the war crimes of the Rajapaksa government.

At the Commonwealth Business Forum, Australia’s biggest mining companies — BHP Billiton and ERA — will be seeking to push the export of uranium to developing countries, even after the disaster of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. The 10-week Walk Away from Uranium Mining will be joining CHOGM protesters, alongside the Anti Nuclear Alliance of WA (ANA) and Ban Uranium Mining Permanently (BUMP), to demand an end to uranium mining and recognition of Aboriginal land rights.

Climate action

CHOGM protesters will be demanding real action on climate change from Australia — the Commonwealth’s, and probably the Earth’s, biggest per capita polluter — and other Commonwealth states. Two of the Commonwealth’s Pacific island nations, Kiribati and Nauru, and millions in flood-prone Bangladesh, face devastation from rising sea levels as a result of global warming.

CHOGM protesters will also be calling for justice for Aboriginal people. Today — 20 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody — a quarter of the total Australian prison population are indigenous, despite the fact that Indigenous Australians make up less than 2.5% of the population. Aboriginal elders have to date been denied any opportunity to address CHOGM on the issues of indigenous incarceration, land rights and compensation for the stolen generations.

Finally, the CHOGM protest will also be a test of draconian stop and search powers, which will allow police to search people indiscriminately and read or view personal information on any device that members of the public may be carrying. The state government has declared zones close to CHOGM venues off limits to homeless people during CHOGM.

Protest organisers are encouraging people from around the country to join the protest. For more information, visit CAN’s website:  <http://www.chogmprotest.org>.