Friday, November 11, 2005

Taken from Crikey

Racists thwart an anti-racism gig at Macquarie University

Crikey reporter Jane Nethercote writes:Last night, a gig going under the name of "Rock Against Racism" was to be held at the student union's SAMbar at Macquarie University. The event was all about raising money for an African community centre. It was also an effort by students to create a public front of solidarity for an open and tolerant society – most specifically to try and counteract the damage done to Macquarie University's reputation by Andrew Fraser, the controversial professor who opposes non-white immigration and was banned from teaching at the Sydney university earlier this year.

But according to organisers, the bar's management cancelled the gig a week ago – apparently after receiving a threat from a right wing or neo-nazi group – citing a "duty of care" to their patrons. They could have beefed up security, says one of the organisers L'amahz Bah, President of the African Communities Council, but instead they cancelled the event without consultation – and without detailing the nature of the threat. It was an "act of cowardice really," says Joseph Pugliese, associate professor of the Department of Critical and Cultural Studies. Students and staff are "pretty disappointed" – staff had been very supportive of the event (the gig appeared in the university's staff newsletter).And Pugliese agrees with Bah that the reasons for cancelling are "problematic," given that a forum held two months ago to debate Fraser's convictions received similar neo-nazi threats, but went ahead after security had been increased. So there's a precedent for overcoming these kinds of threats, he says.

However, that forum was run by academics, so the event was university-run as opposed to student union-run, which might explain the different approaches.At the end of the day, student welfare was of paramount importance, Pip Brook, marketing and communications director of SAM, Macquarie's student union, told Crikey. So why not simply increase security rather than cancel the event? SAM was told of the threats six days in advance and to organise security in this amount of time, when it required the involvement of the local command, wasn't possible, says Brook. We took the threats "seriously" and had to protect students, Brook told Crikey. That's SAM's role, she says, noting that the student union does substantial work to support students who wish to raise money for causes.

Brook refutes that organisers weren't informed about the cancellation or told of the nature of the threat, saying a full email was sent to the organisers with these details. It's all very upsetting, says one student, "not just because it appears that the university (an institution which should be a bastion of free speech) caved in so easily, but also because of the lack of transparency in the decision process," says one student.From an outside point of view, he says, "the decision seems to be based on concerns about insurance and liability. And it demonstrates the way in which University culture has changed over the last twenty years."

In the meantime, Bah and organisers are pressing on with plans for a larger concert which they're hoping to stage in the Sydney Opera House forecourt. Negotiations are under way with NSW Premier Iemma.

CRIKEY: Vice Chancellor Di Yerbury was in conference so was unavailable for comment.

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