Brian Walters, President of Liberty Victoria, lambasted the Howard Government for numerous examples of the denigration of human rights and civil liberties in Australia at the annual Eureka Lantern Dawn Walk. The organisers of the Eureka Dawn Lantern Walk appoint a person to highlight current issues on rights and liberties every year.
In 2004 Terry Hicks, the father of David Hicks presently incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay by the USA, was the leading light and proved a controversial figure with Howard and Steven Bracks calling for the withdrawal of the appointment. In the resulting debate it was highlighted that their was a Hicks on the diggings at Eureka and Terry Hicks and his son David are “sons of Eureka”. The political manourvres did not change the appointment, but creative director of the event for several years, Graeme Dunstan, was dropped from the event organisation for 2005.
The Dawn Lantern Walk gathered at the Mining Exchange in the Government Camp between 3.30am and 4am. It is one of the more popular commemorative events with its evocation of the march by the government troops and police on that fateful Sunday morning 151 years ago. People are encouraged to carry miners lanterns or star lanterns on the walk which traces the route of the troopers from the Government Camp to the Eureka Stockade.
At four points in the walk there are stops where a narrator tells the story of the Eureka rebellion. The walk is a modern day pageant through which we can empathise with both sides – the troopers marching to the Stockade and the diggers in their tents trusting the Queen’s forces would not attack on the sabbath. The walk reaches the Eureka Stockade centre as the light of dawn grows. By the ornamental lake the crowd gathers and is introduced to the Leading Light.
There was no heckling of Brian Walters, as there was with Terry Hicks last year, but in a measured speech Walters attacked the Howard Government for
* the mandatory detention of refugees,
* the illegal detention of an Australian permanent resident, Cornelia Rau
* the illegal deportation of an Australian citizen, Vivian Solon
* the deportation of a non-violent peace activist, Scott Parkin, and refusing to disclose the factual basis of the negative security report.
* for not defending the rights of an Australian (and now the only westerner), David Hicks, tortured and incarcerated by the USA on evidence so flimsy that it would not stand up in an American court of law.
* Sedition laws revamped with increased penalties that can target and criminalise dissent
* New extended powers for ASIO
He went on to say the new anti-terror legislation, which includes detention of any person seven days without charge, was the hallmark of a police state. “Under these laws, all the miners’ who took part in Eureka would be guilty of terrorism,” he said.
On the proposed changes to the sedition laws he told the crowd this would be used to silence dissent and encourage political repression. It is bad law.
“The Prime Minister says we should trust him that the sedition laws will not be used wrongly but with the children overboard incident and Scott Parkin, John Howard has not earned out trust,” he said.
Kim Beazley also came under attack for acquiesing on the anti-terror laws and in many reduction in civil liberties. He appealed to Kim Beazley and the Labor Party to return to its roots of defence of human rights and liberties and not to continue trying “to make a small target.”
The speech was long and measured, perhaps too long for an audience at 6am who had been up for half the night, marched 4km and was looking forward to breakfast and perhaps a return to bed. By the conclusion a small number had drifted away. The remaining people were urged to go to the Eureka Monument for the Dawn oration and a sausage sizzle put on by the Eureka Stockade Memorial association.
The local Catholic priest lead a short pray for those killed on both sides 151 years ago. Then Dorothy Wichham, one of the authors of ‘The Eureka Encyclopaedia’ (2004), ISBN 1876478616, outlined the story of Henry Seekamp, editor of the Ballarat Times, who was arrested the day after the stockade battle. He was charged with seditious libel and eventually convicted. Seekamp’s conviction thus became the only one that eventuated from the entire affair.
Curiously, part of the evidence against him was a copy of the Ballarat Reform League charter that he printed. The 13 people charged with treason, were all found innocent in jury trials. This highlights the fact that laws of sedition are always political in nature, and convictions almost always follows because the law is based on what people say, not on what they have done. It is a law against freedom of speech and used to criminalise dissent.
Brief for the Prosecution against Henry Seekamp (Seditious libel) – Public Records Office
A free shuttle bus service carried people back to the city.
Later that day Sedition Sunday event was held in the park. At a Luncheon organised by the Dr Barry Jones Eureka Stockade Memorial association, Dr Barry Jones gave a speech to commemorate the 151st anniversary of the Eureka Stockade.
‘Peter Lalor and the Eureka Stockade: What happened to the Australian radical tradition?’ by Dr Barry Jones