by Clay Lucas
The Age: October 31, 2007 - EVERYONE is welcome in Melbourne, according to Lord Mayor John So. Except Falun Gong.
Last night, he used his numbers on the Melbourne City Council to quash a proposed Town Hall reception for a group from the spiritual movement, which is banned in China.
Falun Gong's Global Human Rights Torch Relay is travelling through 37 countries before next year's Beijing Olympics.
It arrives in Melbourne on November 17, and is protesting against alleged human rights violations in China against its practitioners.
Greens councillor Fraser Brindley last night moved the council formally receive a delegation from the relay at the town hall.
But Cr So said Falun Gong was not welcome, and he would not support the proposal.
"I believe this council should not support Falun Gong," he said.
To cries of "You are a joke, Lord Mayor" from Cr Brindley, Cr So then declared: "Everyone is welcome here in the city."
One of Cr So's team of councillors was more specific about why the group should not be allowed.
Cr Carl Jetter, questioned before last night's meeting, said the Falun Gong were fanatics.
"I don't support any fanatical religious or political groups," said Cr Jetter, whose other job is selling advertising space in the business magazine Australia China Connections.
Falun Gong supporters say a brutal crackdown on the movement in China since 1999 has resulted in authorities killing and torturing thousands of practitioners.
Human rights lawyer and former Canadian cabinet member David Kilgour last year reported that China had been killing Falun Gong dissidents so it could use their organs.
It is not the first time the Lord Mayor and his team have been accused of dabbling in Chinese politics.
In 2003, council banned Falun Gong members from taking part in the Moomba parade because they were too political.
The council was later ordered by the state appeals tribunal to apologise to the group and apologise in Chinese newspapers.
In May, Cr So hosted a delegation from the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China, but almost simultaneously refused to meet the Dalai Lama on his visit to Australia.
Cr so, a successful Chinatown restaurateur, has also helped established a strong sister-city relationship between Melbourne and the north-eastern Chinese city of Tianjin.
The organisers of the torch relay said last night they were disappointed the council would not receive their delegation.