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Wednesday, 13 May 1981
Page: 2356

Mr FRY(10.49) —I was interested to hear the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) who apparently has become an instant expert on the Belconnen Mall. I wonder whether that is true or whether he was merely reading a speech prepared for him by the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Hodgman). It should be known that the Belconnen shopping mall is an outstanding project. It is unique in that it is the only publicly owned shopping mall. It has been very successful. It was about to divert its profits to provide recreational facilities for the people of Belconnen who have been neglected by the Government. Whilst my favoured proposal is that the mall should remain public property, I would certainly prefer it to be sold under strata title than to one of the friends of the Government. Time will tell.

I wish to speak briefly tonight about the letter which, I think, all honourable members received from the National President of the Returned Services League of Australia in which he made accusations against an organisation called Women Against Rape. The letter stated:

The RSL learned of their plans which were as follows:

1. to bring to Canberra as many members of their group as possible to participate.

2. to march no matter what and carry placards representing the various groups forming part of the women marching, for example, 'Wimmin Against Rape' and 'Women Against Nuclear Energy'.

3. to effectively 'reduce the militarism of the march' by slashing the drums of the bands participating, by damaging their instruments, and by spraying the bandsmen with paint. They planned to make the bands in the march their major target.

4. to obstruct the march by laying down in front of marching veterans so that the veterans would have to walk over them symbolising 'rape'.

5. to deface the Australian War Memorial. It should be noted that last year the Memorial was defaced by 'persons unknown' but this year the War Memorial in Perth was desecrated.

These are the hysterical accusations which the RSL and the Minister have made against this women's organisation in Canberra. I just want to read out the response which the organisation has sent to honourable members. It states:

This letter is in response to accusations made against Women Against Rape by the R.S.L., the Minister for the Capital Territory, Mr Hodgman, and the Australian Federal Police.

Women Against Rape would like to make it known, yet one more time, that it categorically denies all allegations levelled against it that the group had at any time intended to disrupt the ANZAC Day march last month.

We at no time even discussed the activities suggested (drum slashing, symbolically being walked over by the veterans etc. etc) even in jest, let alone decide to adopt them as tactics on ANZAC Day. From the first five minutes of the first meeting of the organising collective in January, there was a commitment to non-violence.

We went to great lengths to prepare ourselves to respond non-violently if we were confronted by violence from the police or spectators. All our meetings were open to any woman who wished to attend; all our decisions were made public through leaflets, letters, media releases and word-of-mouth. Workshops, open to any woman wishing to attend were publicized and run. In these, role playing and discussion were used to help women to prepare themselves to respond non-violently. We are happy to make available to you minutes of all our meetings and all documents relating to our collective.

On ANZAC morning we gathered as planned, marching off silently and in an orderly fashion (after yet again stressing our commitment to non-violence) to join the end of the official march without disruption. The rest of the story is well known. We were stopped and arrests resulted, police using the amended traffic ordinance gazetted for the occasion.

There was no disruption to the official ANZAC parade and it should be noted that the six busloads of interstate women we were supposedly importing for the occasion were nowhere to be seen. Only one-tenth of the sixty one women arrested were from interstate. Neither did any of the women arrested have spray cans of paint, implements with which to slash drums, or anything else, with which to create a disturbance, on their persons.

The RSL, the Minister and the police based their hysterical stand to disallow us marching on what they say was the evidence of an informant. As we know that no such incriminating discussions ever took place we must believe that, either this informant never existed and that the Minister and the RSL are lying, or that if she did exist she lied to them. If the latter is the case, the RSL, the Minister and the police must take responsibility for refusing over three hundred women their rights of free expression on the spurious evidence of one, as yet, unidentified woman.

Of course, it is not mentioned that it may have been a man dressed in drag. The letter continues:

Women Against Rape is at present looking into our legal position in relation to the slanderous and libelous comments made by the Minister and the RSL.