Australian Associated Press, Feb. 19, 2003
Concern for crowd safety, not politics, was the reason the spiritual group Falun Dafa was excluded from last year’s Chinese New Year Festival in Melbourne, a tribunal heard today.
Members of Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, are claiming in the Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal they were discriminated against by the festival hosts because of their political and religious views.
Opening the case for the Federation of Chinese Association, Paul Vout said organisers’ concerns over the potential consequences of the group’s controversial views lay behind the refusal to accept their application.
“This hearing is not about Shanghai-based anti-religious bigotry reaching out to Little Bourke Street,” Dr Vout said.
Nor was the case about the oppressive dictates of the Chinese government and its treatment of its citizens.
Instead, the case centred on “one decision” by the festival hosts, their legal responsibilities and their preparedness to accept the consequences that could arise from allowing Falun Dafa a stall at the event, Dr Vout said.
When controversial political views could provoke conflict and scuffles there was a legitimate basis for rejecting the group, Dr Vout said.
Large numbers were expected at the festival, including many families, and the Falun Dafa group were known to display explicit photos, he said.
The group was advised their application had been denied by the festival hosts just one day before the 2002 event began despite complaining to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission over an earlier rejection.
Yesterday their lawyer Mark Irving told the tribunal the group was not given a reason for the rejection.
“The question of the refusal is going to be central. We say that the real reasons for the refusal were the religious and political views and activities of the organisation.”
Falun Dafa claims the Chinese government has persecuted, tortured and killed hundreds of practitioners since it was banned in China in 1999.
It is believed there are as many as 100 million members of the group in China, and its teachings are practised in more than 50 countries.
The hearing continues.
A Falun Dafa spokeswoman today said the group had not applied to attend the 2003 Chinese New Year festival in the city.