Park Hotel Refugee Advocates Say Police Are Tougher On Them Than On Violent Pro-Djokovic Rioters


Activists protesting the federal government’s indefinite imprisonment of refugees at Melbourne’s Park Hotel say police gave preferential treatment to Novak Djokovic’s supporters.

The anti-vax tennis player’s supporters came in crowds to protest his detention, which lasted four days after his Australian visa was cancelled upon arrival in Melbourne, turning into violent riots. 

It drew global attention and captured the imaginations of far-right extremists locally.

But despite the massive influx of violent #FreeNovak protestors, refugee advocacy groups who have been protesting the detention of refugees at the hotel since December 2020 say police presence barely increased.

“The difference has been about five or six police officers,” Allison Heath of advocacy group Fight Together For Justice told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“Police certainly treat the … Djokovic supporters very differently.

“It’s certainly not what you would expect when things go from five or six people standing around to upwards of a hundred people.”

Fight Together For Justice has been running daily evening protests outside the hotel since a group of refugees were transported from offshore detention, where some had been for six years already, to Melbourne under new medevac laws. Many have since been released and granted protection visas, but nearly 40 remain in indefinite detention.

Heath said that members of their group have been consistently harassed, threatened and roughly handled by police, resulting in bruises and minor injuries, but that the Djokovic supporters have been by and large let off the hook.

“You see the police and assume they’re very apolitical and just doing their jobs,” she said.

But she said that she felt police at the protest had political oppositions to refugees and the protestors’ support of them.

Other the past week, Heath has noted a number of times when Djokovic supporters were drinking in public and being rowdy or aggressive towards refugee activists, but police didn’t step in.

“One [Djokovic supporter] started shoving around my friend [who is a person of colour], telling him to go back to his country. We had 15 police come over to us and only about two of them talked to the instigator of the fight.”

She said last week a car driving erratically nearly rammed a member of Grandmothers For Refugees, who fell over, but claimed police didn’t try to stop the car or help the woman.

“We had a line of police across from us and they stood around just watching.”

At the weekend, one Djokovic supporter tried to take the microphone from a speaker at a Fight Together For Justice rally. Heath said the police didn’t intervene, so they had to try to talk the man down from the stage themselves.

Later, she said police didn’t follow up with him, but instead came over to their group, reprimanding them for “doing the police’s job”.

“There’s an inconsistency in that they won’t do their jobs, but when we do their jobs, they get very upset,” she said.

The apparent lenient treatment of Djokovic supporters by police this week has affirmed the heavy handed treatment refugee advocates feel is levelled at them.

Oscar Sterner, an organiser with the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism group, said police had consistently been threatening and hostile towards them, and that he hadn’t seen the same approach taken with the right-wing rioters.

“The cops have been down at the hotel defending the Australian Government’s refugee detention systems basically the entire time,” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“The greatest police presence I have seen was when the refugees were first moved into that hotel when hundreds of cops escorted the buses.”

Last week one of their members was detained by police for using obscene language, while a group were threatened with arrest for writing “fuck” on a banner. It read: “Djokovic can fuck off, free the refugees.”

Days later violent pro-Djokovic rioters were filmed swarming and blocking a car surrounded by police, pushing officers, hurling bottles at them while booing and yelling “police state”. One man was arrested and pepper spray was deployed to disperse the crowd.

Heath and Sterner said the media and public attention on the Park Hotel had already waned since Djokovic was released on Monday when his visa cancellation was overturned in federal court.

But they hope to use the fading spotlight as a springboard for action.

“We’re going to try and build a bigger movement to keep up the pressure and make sure that media attention doesn’t just move away from the refugees and the Park Hotel now that this dickhead has been let go,” Sterner said.