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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 1. 1962.

Home Thoughts from Abroad? — The Inside Story

page 8

Home Thoughts from Abroad?

The Inside Story

Several hundred students from Melbourne and Monash Universities, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Swinburne Technical College have been described by the Prime Minister as "yahoos," "larrikins" and "imposters," following attempts to make the White Australia Policy and Australia's foreign policy election issues.

The students are members of "Student Action," an informal body set up for the sole purpose of forcing before the electors the fact that both major political parties are in fundamental agreement on Australia's present immigration laws.

Student Action is controlled by a committee elected directly from the student bodies of Melbourne and Monash.

Among the members of the committee there are members of the Newman Society, S.C.M., Fabian Society, Nationalist Society, Liberal Club. A.L.P. Club, Athenian Society, Political Science Society, Debating Society and the Public Questions Society.

The only significant club not included on the Student Action Committee is the Melbourne University Labour Club, the only avowedly pro-Communist club in this University.

The concern felt by students at Melbourne University over the racial policies of both major parties is indicated by the fact that the initiators of the Student Action movement were able to attract a crowd sufficient to fill all available seating and standing space in the Public Lecture Theatre on the second last Friday of Third Term.


The crowd, estimated by some as close to 1000, passed several of the resolutions almost unanimously.

However, a resolution obliging all persons nominated to the Student Action committee to declare their political allegiances was narrowly defeated, largely on the ground that several of those intended to be nominated for the S.A. Committee were financial members of branches of the two major parties.

Members of the Australian Labour Party claimed that they would certainly be expelled if it was discovered that they were actively campaigning against their party's declared views in immigration.

Following the Melbourne meeting, similar mass meetings were held at Monash University and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Although only about 150 turned up at the R.M.I.T. meeting, the Monash meeting attracted almost the entire student body and about half the academic staff.

Throughout swot vac and during the exams, discussions were held and plans formulated in a packed, smoke-filled meeting room in Union House, as to what measures should be taken during the elections.

It was decided that any organised demonstrations would be conducted only with the permission and approval of the Police Force.

S.A. Chairman. Medical student Mr John Johnston, said. "This policy has been strictly adhered to.

"The authorities have always been given formal notice and have in fact thanked students for the manner in which they have conducted themselves at meetings.

"This is contrary to the impression given by downtown and interstate newspapers."

First collective activity by S.A. was the welcoming of the two Malayan divers and Darwin newspaper editor Mr Jim Bowditch, at Essendon Airport.

About 100 students turned up, notwithstanding the fact that it was five days before the Annual Examinations commenced.

The following day Darwin Editor Mr Bowditch addressed a gathering of students and staff at a reception held for the divers at Union House.

Mr Bowditch impressed on those present the facts and issues involved in the attempted deportation, and claimed that the attitude of the Immigration Department had been "obstinate."

At a public meeting held a few days later, Mr Bowditch claimed that one of the factors which first influenced the adoption of the White Australia Policy was the prevalent system of indentured labour.

But, Mr Bowditch continued, there are now about 10,000 indentured labourers in Australia, and most of them are in Sydney and Melbourne.

This public meeting which was also addressed by Dr F. Knopfelmacher and the Rev. Westerman, then passed several resolutions condemning White Australia.

The first that the bulk of the general public heard of Student Action was the demonstration which was held at the Kew Civic Hall, prior to and following Mr Menzies' Federal campaign speech.

The activities of the students were reported in all major Australian newspapers and on television.

Although a few papers reported the demonstration as a prank, rather than a serious political demonstration the Advertiser (Adelaide) published a front page photograph of the banners which students carried and the Sun, Melbourne, carried a front page picture of students carrying a "Bar Colour—Bar Student Action" banner.

The only "incidents" which occured at Kew were a scuffle with police when a small group of students broke ranks as the crowd surged forward while Mr Menzies was getting into his car, and the ejection of three banner-carrying students, who were attacked inside the hall by middle-aged ladies with umbrellas.

The Press misreporting, plus one or two disturbing stories of personal intervention by top level supporters of W.A.P. in the handling of articles, shows that the only way that the students can make Press space is by sensational activity. Old hands will remember that after the Ming-Verwoerd London act two mass meetings of l000 and a downtown march of 400 were totally ignored by the Press while later on the sitting of 100 of our number on a Myer mattress obtained front pages and photographs.

The rules of action that Student Action is now following were laid down by the Melbourne establishment, not by the students themselves. The Press ignored the public meeting for the divers, the distribution of 50,000 leaflets in the suburbs, the deputations to candidates. They do not ignore black faces, singing, funny placards—even beards. If these are the rules that all who disagree must play then Student Action must learn to play them without antagonising the police or public opinion generally.

In short, Student Action constitutes the shock troops of the anti W.A.P. forces. It is not the function of the organisation to replace the intellectual activity of the V.A.I.R., or the activities of groups within the Churches or Parties. It is the function of S.A. to ensure that the issue cannot be forgotten so that whether it be a political meeting or the opening of the Redmond Barry building the racial issue is ever present.

How about picketing the conferences of establishment stooges who will meet in Canberra in January pretending to be a Citizenship Contention? All groups concerned with migration are invited to this—with the proviso that no one opposing W.A.P. can get in.

A nasty incident developed after the meeting when student demonstrator Mr W. J. Thomas was allegedly struck by famous Australian Sportsman Mr Opperman, the sitting Liberal Member for Corio.

It is possible that an action for assault and battery will be taken out against Mr Opperman.

Despite the Prime Minister's assertion that the students would not be present at Calwell's meeting, they were there in full strength. Songs were sung outside the hall and pamphlets distributed to all present.

Students inside the Royale Ballroom where Mr Calwell delivered his policy speech interjected frequently but did not stage any demonstration inside the hall.

However, when Calwell announced his intention of implementing the Hasluck report on aborigines students cheered and applauded for about two minutes.

The Melbourne Press generally agreed that this meeting was "quiet" but the front page headline on the "Sydney Morning Herald" reporting the same meeting, was "Rowdy Students Disrupt Calwell Policy Meeting."

Students were also directed to attend local campaign meetings and cross-examine local candidates on their views on the present immigration laws and Australia's foreign policy, especially as evidenced in the United Nations and at the recent London Prime Ministers' conference.

At first the Press reports featured the alleged rowdiness and disruptive actions of students. This was in spite of the fact that on no occasion did the police complain or show anything but the best good will towards the students.

Subsequently the tone changed. The Sun deliberately attempted to suggest that the students were communists by reporting that at Mr Downer's meeting (to which they had come with black faces)students had booed references to refugees from communist countries. In fact the students had interjected—What about the Tibetans? Are they allowed in?

The Sun subsequently refused to publish a short letter correcting the malicious report which had taken up almost a whole page.

An interview on Channel 2 was cancelled by higher officialdom because it was "too political." An "At Random" program me was planned with a representative from the University A.L.P. and Liberal clubs challenging representatives of their parties. Three days beforehand Mr Sneddon (Liberal M.H.R.) which had agreed to appear withdrew without explanation.

It is not known whether Sneddon's jibbing was due to Liberal party pressure or the realization that on the issues of racialism he could not put up a very good show.

In any case the At Random program me was postponed indefinitely.

The Age denounced Student Action in an editorial, and apparently the Vice-Chancellor at one stage promised to investigate the organisation.

The campaign is demonstrating several things. Firstly that under pressure the underlying racialist sentiments of our politicians can be made to emerge.

I would rather have a migration office in Edinburgh than in Kuala Lumpur, said Mr Downer in a fit of anger. Asian students who wish to stay here are escapists and deserters, said Mr Calwell, in a "secret" circular to A.L.P. candidates. This secret circular so offended the sensitivities of some A.L.P. candidates they seemed to bend over backwards to publish it. At one stage Student Action had access to three copies, and then rapidly duplicated some hundreds.

The second lesson of the campaign is to demonstrate just how solid the establishment really is. Mr Calwell denounced the Students who interjected Mr Menzies in stronger terms than Ming himself, who then reciprocated by repeating again and again that he stood "foursquare" with the A.L.P. on the issue.

(From our Australian Correspondent