Baxter Protests

Baxter Protests

During the Easter weekends of 2003 and 2005 several hundred protesters went to the Baxter Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, located near Port Augusta to protest against the Howard Governments treatment of asylum seekers.

The protests were in the tradition of the 'great protests march'. Protesters arrived at Port Augusta from all over Australia often the protesters would have travelled for two to four days to make the trip and would travel another two to four days in return. The protest would last the long weekend of Easter in a camp near the detention centre.

Both years there was significant amount of coverage of the event. There remained considerable complaints from both sides. The protesters alleged that the police had been heavy handed. The police alleging that the protesters were actively attempting to turn a peaceful protest into a violent protest by continued breachs of the law.

The 2003 Protest

The 2003 protests saw around 1000 people camp out at Baxter.

The 2005 Protest

The 2005 protests saw around 800 people camp out at Baxter.

Outcome of the Protests

There has not been significant debate about how influential the protests were. Partly because the issue of refugee's and mandatory detention had been well established as a political issue long before the protests started.

The Kite Flyers

During both protests several kites were confiscated and the kite flyers were prosecuted with minor and obscure offences against air traffic regulations. [http://www.buzztracker.org/2005/03/26/cache/502603.html]

The offences were considered to have been incapable of prosecution. There also remained serious lingering concerns about the Constitutional validity of such prosecutions. In both cases, the baxter protesters' lawyers got the charges withdrawn.

In 2005 the police also raided the main camp at about 6am confiscating kites from several people in preemption of these laws being broken.

As well as kite flying being treated as an offence by police helium ballon flying was treated in a similar way with police arresting protesters for possession of large bundles of helium ballons after popping them on the approach to the camp.

Other Criminal Consequences

On the whole the protests were peaceful. However at each protest around 20 - 30 protesters were arrested and prosecuted with mostly minor offences, such as: property offences, tresspass and decency offences. [http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200503/s1332054.htm] In the 2003 protests around 80% of the charges were withdrawn leaving to only approximately three convictions and no substantial penalties. In the 2005 protests only 50% of the charges were withdrawn. This was due to the higher number of trespassing offences, which were on the whole incapable of defending.

Public Opinion

Public opinion on the protests was divided. Not just between those who supported the refugee cause and those who did not but between pro-refugee groups as well. Some people saw the protests as providing no real assistance to the plight of refugees. These groups pointed to the fact that often the protests would create disturbances in the Baxter facility which would cause harm to the refugees. Others considered it a significant and important protest march in the interest of Australia aiding in shifting public opinion against Australia's immigration policy.

Related Links

* ABC News Coverage of Protests: [http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200503/s1330235.htm]
* Indymedia coverage of Protests: [http://www.melbourne.indymedia.org/news/2005/05/91498.php]


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