‘Red tape’ days before protest

Protesters marching towards Bruce Mp Julian Hill's office on Wednesday 10 January. Picture: SUPPLIED.

By Sahar Foladi

The Free Palestine Movement Dandenong Action has criticised Greater Dandenong Council for its ‘red tape’ just days before the group’s pro-Palestine protest was held.

The protest held in Harmony Square on Wednesday 10 January, saw a huge turn-out of 500, as previously reported by Star Journal.

The group of young local residents had worked hard to spread the word about the protest, including handing out leaflets in different languages.

However, emotions and risks of running the protest were both high days before the event, as the group claims they were threatened with a fine of $3,000 by council.

The group stated council were aware of the event three to four weeks prior.

“Just accessing a permit to have this event has been extremely difficult even after we gave approximately four-week notice,” organising member Afaf Al-fawwal said.

“It has been a hard road to actually get here and have this demonstration.

“I find it completely ironic that they have the Palestinian flag fly for just 10 days, pass a motion for ceasefire yet draw the line with us coming out here to show support.

“It can’t be a half-baked support.”

As part of the demonstration, the group marched towards Bruce MP Julian Hill’s office from Harmony Square circling back to the starting point.

According to the council’s chief executive officer, Jacqui Weatherill, there is “specific criteria” that has to be met with more than 200 attendees at an event.

“These criteria are both reasonable and appropriate, aimed at ensuring the safety of our community and providing adequate insurance coverage in the event of any injuries.

“For a rally and march anticipating more than 200 attendees, it is reasonable to establish requirements to ensure the event is well-organised and secure,” she said.

“Our events team worked closely with the Palestinian event organisers to fulfill these requirements; however, in this particular instance, the organisers did not meet them.

“Council looks forward to continuing to support a range of events in Harmony Square and other public spaces.”

An emergency meeting a night before the event was held with council representatives and the group, which concluded with a ‘final warning’ from council.

“Council encourages the use of Harmony Square for community events, including large and small gatherings, all-year-long,” Ms Weatherill said.

“Throughout last year, Harmony Square hosted a total of 46 community events, averaging almost one event per week.”

Having a legal background, Eva Lazzaro is an administration volunteer and looks after all legal forms.

“Speaking with police and council, it was mentioned we could incur a sizable fine which caused a lot of stress to us.

“Generally, I think a group of people that want to organise a protest that’s peaceful and family oriented should be assisted in doing so by council and Victoria Police, because we will always have these events regardless of the permit because it’s very difficult to cancel these types of events.”

Although the group said council tried to meet them half-way and officers were “receptive,” they don’t want to be “hitting the same roadblocks every time.”

They hope to have a streamlined process in the future to avoid hassles.

“The vibrancy of the Free Palestine movement in the Dandenong regions is more important than the administrative setbacks,” Ms Lazzaro said.

“We had a great turn-out and it was bigger than the last time which is great, and we really want to be able to continue this movement in the area.

“A lot of people have lived here for a long time and are engaged in the local community.”

This is the second event organised by the group in Greater Dandenong.

The first event held on Wednesday 13 December saw a minor turnout of approximately 400 people compared to the numbers most recently.

Councillor Rhonda Garad also expressed her dissatisfaction with the council and called for a simple procedure for the community to be able to utilise the space.

“I find it very problematic and of concern. We really need to sit down and work out what’s happened because people have been very damaged by this process.

“These are our young leaders of tomorrow, we shouldn’t be making threats of fines.

“At the end of the day it’s public square and this is an issue of interest to a huge number of people.”

She was also in attendance on the day along with councillor Jim Memeti and was one of the guest speakers.

“It shouldn’t be that hard to hold a public event at a public space.

“We will do whatever we can to see how we can smooth over those processes.”