Australia: Practitioners Take Legal Action After Melbourne City Council Bans Falun Gong from Moomba Parade
(Clearwisdom.net) At 9:00am on February 28, 2003, a hearing at the request of the Victoria Falun Dafa Association of Australia for the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to issue an interim injunction to compel the Melbourne City Council to allow Falun Dafa into the Moomba parade that day was conducted at the VCAT building. The judge, after hearing stories from both sides "reluctantly" announced that he had not yet found enough evidence to issue the interim injunction.
After their successful defense on behalf of Falun Gong in a case against the Chinese Association, also for discrimination against Falun Gong, Mark Irving, a well-known barrister from Holding & Redlinch continued to represent Falun Gong in court free of charge for public good or pro bono.
Irving said that the presentation of Falun Gong in the parade would include beautiful ladies in Tang Dynasty and fairy costumes, traditional Chinese dance, a Lotus flower float, a large weaving art work by Romanian sculptures, etc. Their presentation is purely cultural. The event organizer, PAN Events said in their letter of acceptance to Falun Gong practitioners that they felt very "excited" about Falun Gong's participation in the parade.
However, on February 11, the Melbourne City Council banned Falun Gong's involvement with the excuse that they have a "strong political affiliation."
Irving said that in fact the city council knew very well that Falun Gong had nothing political in their parade, and it was ridiculous to ban their participation on the grounds that they have been against the persecution of Falun Gong by the Chinese government.
Irving also said that preparing the parade, Falun Gong practitioners had spent over AU$10,000 for the float and costumes out of their own pockets, and the over 60 practitioners who were going to be the participants in the parade had made great effort for the rehearsal. Not allowing them to participate the parade would be deeply injurious.
The lawyer representing the city council did not deny Irving's statement. However, she pointed out that Falun Gong's participation in the parade was voluntary, whereas the anti-discrimination law stipulated that there should not be any discriminatory conduct in offering (paid) service. As the relationship between Falun Gong and the city council was not of "offering service" therefore the anti-discrimination law was not applicable in this case.
After the hearing, Judge John Bowman announced his judgment.
He said that he felt "sympathetic" towards Falun Gong practitioners for their experience of "having the green lights suddenly turned red;" he has seen the parade photos and they are very "attractive;" their parade "has no political affiliation" and it is "cultural" by nature; the principles of "truthfulness-compassion-forbearance" presented by Falun Dafa are what the people in Victoria need in this chaotic era; although he could not say that there was no possible discrimination, yet due to the very tight time frame it was impossible to have a full hearing, and therefore he had to "reluctantly" announce that he "was not convinced that he should issue a court interim injunction."
After the hearing, Victoria Falun Dafa spokesperson Caterina Verashka said that this incident clearly showed that Beijing's "long hand" had already extended to Australia. Although the Mayor of Melbourne, John So, claimed that the reason for banning Falun Gong's participation was because Falun Gong was a "political and controversial organization in the Chinese community," yet while in court, the lawyer representing the city council did not mention any of these reasons. This showed that the lawyer knew very well that such reasons could not hold up in court.
It was said that the decision to ban Falun Gong from participating in the parade caused heated debate among the councilors. Councilor David Risstrom, who specially went to the hearing to support Falun Gong said on February 28 on his personal website,
"I strongly oppose the decision taken by Melbourne City Council last night to ban the involvement of Falun Dafa in the 2003 Melbourne Moomba Parade. To exclude them from participating in the Moomba Parade is discriminatory and wrong on political, ethical and legal grounds."
"...Council have attempted to suffocate the rights of public participation of Falun Dafa members that are analogous to the claims Falun Dafa or like groups maintain concerning the suppression of those freedoms in China.
"For Melbourne City Councilors to limit community involvement on the sole basis that a group may have a political affiliation is a dangerous precedent to promote. It involves us as politicians picking favorites among our community, rather than promoting engagement, tolerance and diversity."
"Countless other Councils and a Federal Government body have recognised Falun Dafa as a community group."
"The action to deprive their rights of participating in public activities is the same as what Falun Gong and other groups have claimed that the Chinese government does: it suppresses their freedom."
Greg Connellan, Chairman of the Liberal Party in Victoria said, "We have to admit that the Melbourne City Council only wants to please Beijing."
Former Olympic silver medallist Jan Becker said, "the Melbourne City Council should feel ashamed."