The Epoch Times

Feb 12, 2005

Australia's reputation of being a "free country" has been challenged in the 2005 Sydney Chinese New Year Parade. Celebrations are being dampened due to pressure placed on local Chinese businesses by the Chinese Communist Government to exclude the Falun Gong meditation group. Despite five years of requests, Falun Gong practitioners have not been allowed to partake in the annual parade.

Chairman of the City of Sydney's Chinatown Cultural Advisory Committee, Mr King Fong, has admitted that local Australian businesses' livelihood is jeopardized if they show support for Falun Gong by allowing them to participate in the parade. "We have had this issue before us for the past few years", Mr Fong told the Sydney Morning Herald, "and there are a lot of issues involved. But if we support Falun Gong, and they are banned in China, it is realistic to say that China could affect some of our trade and cultural concessions. We locally don't want to play politics ... but we also don't want to harm our relationship with China."

The issue is not so clear-cut for the Sydney City Council. The Lord Mayor Clover Moore has made a personal request to the organizing committee for an explanation of the exclusion criteria. She confirmed in a statement that she has "sought assurance that the selection of groups taking part is not discriminatory".

Beyond a parade

According to Mr John Deller, the national Falun Gong spokesperson, "It is not just about participating in a parade, but we are interested in sharing the cultural diversity and rich traditional performances with the community, whether it be in the form of meditation or dancing. This is not about offending anyone; it is, after all, a New Year celebration. We intend to be joyful, not political."

"It is important to establish that we are not targeting the Mayor or the organizing committee," he added. "We are not anti-China but against unreasonable discrimination".

It seems Falun Gong practitioners are well acquainted with political pressure. Last year in Melbourne, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal found that the Melbourne City Council (MCC) had breached the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995 by barring Falun Gong from participating in the 2003 March Moomba Waterfest Parade. Judge John Bowman stated in his verdict, "Discriminatory behavior such as this is even worse when it is so done by an arm of government". The council was ordered to publish an apology in three Chinese newspapers and to pay for the Falun Gong practitioners' court costs.

Out of sight but not out of mind

Pressure has also fallen on the group from the federal level. Since the Chinese Foreign Minister visited Canberra in 2002, Falun Gong practitioners have been banned from holding banners outside the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, through a monthly certificate signed by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. The banners contain messages describing the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China.

Australian Falun Gong practitioners have been part of many parades, both at home and abroad. They are an active community group, well known for their colorful floats, traditional Chinese drum teams, cultural dancing and yellow-suited meditation demonstrations. The last two years they won first prize at the world-famous Edinburgh festival in Scotland. They have prepared for Sunday's event on 13 February for a while, and stated their participation is based on goodwill to celebrate the Chinese festivities rather than be uninvited guests.