Victorian Socialists Senate candidate Aran Mylvaganam delivered the following speech at the party’s 2022 federal election campaign launch at Trades Hall on 19 March.
I came to this country as a 13-year-old unaccompanied refugee in 1997. But I started my political activism in 2008, when the Sri Lankan state was waging a murderous, genocidal campaign against my people.
At the time, I was a member of the ALP and was trying to build support for our cause and bring attention to the Sri Lankan government’s violence.
While the Sri Lankan army dropped chemical weapons and murdered over 100,000 Tamils, no-one from the major political parties would even meet with us.
In our hour of need, it was the socialists who stood by our side.
When thousands of Tamils fled the war and came here as refugees, the Labor government imprisoned them and sent them back, possibly to their death.
But the socialists were with us demanding an end to mandatory detention and demanding a diplomatic break from the Sri Lankan state. Trevor Grant, a socialist, helped me found the Tamil Refugee Council.
It wasn’t just the refugee issue or the Tamil issue. The socialists were leading almost all the progressive campaigns—for marriage equality, for workers’ rights, against militarism and war, for Palestine solidarity, for free education and more.
This is when I became a socialist. I could see that socialism is about fighting for a world that works for everyone. So I am proud to stand here today as the Victorian Socialists Senate candidate.
Over the last couple of months we have spoken to so many people at our campaign stalls across Melbourne. From Dandenong to Derrimut, from Footscray to Epping, I have spoken to manufacturing workers who are struggling for a decent living due to poor wages and conditions.
I have spoken to refugees who have been in our community for more than ten years and are denied even the basic rights of a citizen.
I have spoken to retired workers who are denied adequate pension for a peaceful retirement.
I have spoken to young people who are angry that their future is being stolen from them.
We have Anjaan here today. Two weeks ago, I bumped into him at a stall in Dandenong. He came to Australia in 2009. Ten years ago, the Labor government tried to deport Anjaan, even though, out of desperation, he had slit his own throat.
Refugee activists like Liz Walsh and Jess Lenehan who are now part of Victorian Socialists were the ones who stopped the deportation. Forty of us, despite a heavy police presence, formed a picket line outside the refugee prison in Maribyrnong.
Every vehicle that was going in and out had to be screened by us. Our action delayed the deportation and gave us time to get a legal injunction. Ten years later, Anjaan is still living in our community.
This is who Victorian Socialists are. We don’t want to just get a seat at the table. Just like we did for Anjaan, we will fight for a better world using whatever means necessary. Even if that means destroying the table.
Like Anjaan, there are thousands of refugees who have been part of our community for over ten years. It’s okay for them to be exploited, for companies to grow rich from their labour. But they have no right to vote, to have a say even over local issues, let alone who governs the country.
Our campaign is about giving a voice to these people.
But this isn’t just about refugees. Racism and bigotry are used to divide us all. So their struggle is our struggle.
The Tharmaseelan family, a family of seven who are here today, have exhausted all their legal options and are facing the threat of deportation. Until they are free, none of us is free!
Anujan is here, a refugee on a temporary protection visa and a staunch unionist. Until he is free, none of us is free!
Vinayagam is here. He works in the recycling industry and has been permanently separated from his family. He was issued with a three-month bridging visa only after he promised to voluntarily leave the country when it ends. Until he is free, none of us is free!
Their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
Let us, together, fight for a society that puts people before profits.