This event was not the pleasant event that the Equal Pay Rally was. In fact, I hope the hosts of this event - billed as a Cocktail Party - namely the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Victorian Trades Hall Council are to-day reviewing the events of last night. The Bella Union Bar proved to be a most unsuitable venue for this event not least because of the numbers of women in attendance but also with regard to the security of the women and one of the principal guests, Jenny Macklin. The ACTU itself has a venue which would have been more appropriate and more secure.
Under her portfolio, Macklin has responsibility for matters affecting women and indigenous Australians. Poor organisation and the presence of Jenny Macklin are central to the unfolding chaos of last evening at Melbourne's historic Trades Hall.
I was at the "Cocktail Party" to-night. I did not pay to go in. I was there at the request of a Women's Officer of a particular union who provided me with a free ticket.
Jenny Macklin was not listed on official publicity as a speaker, however prior to the event word had circulated that she would be speaking. Macklin has long been a target for Australians who are against the Northern Territory Intervention which is severely affecting Aboriginal people there. I had printed off the NT women's statement to take to Trades Hall where the Melbourne Anti-Intervention Collective was planning to set up a table, hand out the statement and display a banner in protest. On arrival, I noticed a very large police presence at Trades Hall and took three guesses why. Security for Jenny Macklin.
I had to go over to the John Curtin to meet some other women and when I came back Macklin was entering Trades Hall in the midst of a throng comprising people who appeared to be jostling her and police who seemed to be trying to extract her. I wish I had been able to photograph this incident, however I could barely make out the back of Macklin's head and things were happening too quickly to get out a camera and take a clear shot.
After all that died down, and Macklin had entered, I attempted to enter the building and was refused entry. I did not take the refusal kindly. I lived in Queensland for the thirty plus years of police state tactics under Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the National Party. Not even in the midst of the State of Emergency declared for the Springbok tour was I ever treated by police the way I was to-day by Victoria Police.
I did not have a ticket. The arrangement was for me to pick it up on entry mentioning the Women's Officer's name. I was refused entry and told that if I breached the peace I would be removed. I was threatened without my having done a darn thing. I was asked to show ID. I showed my Media Alliance card. Hm, sniffed one of the Victoria Police, a journalist! I rang the Women's Officer who invited me. I put her on to the constable at the door who said that this wasn't any good because she didn't know the Women's Officer. The constable probably knew no one in attendance so what was the point of that enlightening statement?! I felt I had entered a parallel universe filled with nincompoops.
Eventually, the Women's Officer came down and we sorted things out with some reluctance on the part of the police. Then I joined the queue to go up the stairs but didn't get very far before the alarm went off. The alarm rang for some minutes and then we were told to leave the building. We spent some considerable time in the rear courtyard of Trades Hall before being allowed back in.
I thought the evening was disorganised. The Bella was not an appropriate venue - neither for Macklin's security nor for the number of women in attendance and the type of activity it was.
However, this paled into insignificance beside the fact that - apart from the Welcome to Country by an Aboriginal woman - the living and working conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were never mentioned. All sorts and conditions of women from other countries, including migrant and refugees, got a guernsey.
Indigenous Australia, judged by the words of the major speakers,
might just as well not have existed.
Are there no indigenous union officials in Melbourne? As for people turning their back when Macklin spoke - as protesters at the entrance had asked of guests - no one did. I was not inclined to because I was the guest of a particular trade union. Attending in my own right and paying for my own ticket, I might have thought and acted differently. The cause of rejoicing - led by Ged Kearney, President of the ACTU and Macklin, the Minister responsible - was the introduction of paid parental leave. All very well if you have employment!
At the conclusion of the evening, as I came down the stairs with a colleague from the 2007 Your Rights At Work Campaign, we came across an older man, a cleaner, coming up from the bowels of Trades Hall. He told us that the alarm was caused by deliberate interference with a sprinkler situated in the New International Bookshop Meeting Room. He said that the official report - which had already been completed - would refer to the event as malicious damage.
The morality displayed last night at the so-called cocktail party was worthy of a police state where people can say some things but must never say other things. Behaviour must be subordinated to unspoken directives. I thought it made women look like herd and herded creatures who can neither think nor act for themselves. I was disgusted.