Well, here we are. What a year it has been. The year gone by was groundbreaking in many ways. We had the latest AGM date ever, we held our first ever trivia night and, to top it all off, our locker was broken into, not once, not twice, but at LEAST three times. Incredibly, we managed to stay in the black despite all this. The committee has proven its worth with superb commitment and inspiring passion. This enthusiasm went largely unnoticed as evidenced by the super smooth running of all the events we organised from the trivia night all the way through O-week and beyond.
As we continue to be a driving force in the Amnesty community for reasons, not the least of which being that we have one of the largest active groups, we are still striving to break new ground, not only by our own standards, but by those of AI Victoria and AI Australia. Our campaigns officer, Anthony, as the position suggests has opened the door (and pushed some of us very forcefully though it) for our much-discussed human rights scholarship, originally a product of our Burma campaign and now encompassed by the Asia Pacific campaign, the priority one national campaign which will be officially launched at AIA’s national AGM which takes place in Sydney in a few short weeks (which I will be attending). This is, in Anthony’s own words, a “golden opportunity” and I’m sure he will lead the scholarship team towards achieving this noble goal. The establishment of such a project would, hopefully, open the floodgates to a wider acceptance of human rights based educational programs in Australia and even abroad.
This, of course, is not the only project we are currently involved in. The formation of a new body with AI victoria called the “youth freedom project” has also opened many doors to us which were previously closed. Apart from supplying us with 180 free showbags for O-week and organising a uni groups pub night, they have also been heavily involved in organising our upcoming trivia night. Hopefully, in the future, they will organise many more cross-campus events and help us coordinate our efforts with the Monash group, which is also quite large and fairly active.
In addition to all this, there have been “small” events elsewhere in our field of view. Our first meeting was led by Saskia Hunter, co-convenor of the number one priority campaign this year, that of the Asia Pacific region. She was very well received and hers was a perfect introduction to amnesty for many of our new members. In addition to this, the Religious network conducted an event in which we played a large part in organising, that of a forum on religious persecution which, although not particularly well attended by people from Melbourne Uni, was an overall success. It brought speakers of three different faiths together in an open forum on the problems of religious persecution in the Asia Pacific region and really brought to light some of the problems that currently exist, and what must be done about them.
As if this wasn’t enough to keep us busy, we are in the process of organising our second trivia night. This is the first step towards turning the trivia nights into novelty once-off events into what I sincerely hope will become eagerly anticipated annual events. If you recall, the previous trivia night was attended mostly by Melbourne Uni students, well this time, a large contingent of students from Monash will also be in attendance. To add to the professionalism of the running of this event, we have introduced a ticketing system which also insures that people don’t “forget” to come.
Trivia nights, however, are not a first in AIA history. However, another event, an event which makes the trivia night look like a cake stall, is already in the making. The first AIA secret policeman’s ball (although we won’t call it that) will be held in late October and will feature many of Australian comedy’s biggest names. Already on the confirmed list are names such as Paul McDermott, Dave o’Neil, Rod Quantock, Judith Lucy and Tripod, just to name a few. The current leading proposal for the name of this mother of all comedy gigs is “Stand up for your rights”, an idea of Paul McDermott’s. This event’s main aim is to raise the profile of AIA in the wider community. Oh, and the 20,000 dollars or so that it will raise will also be nice. As the leader of the one-man organising committee of this event, I will be calling on people to help me throughout the year, and because of my close ties to this group, many of those helpers will hopefully come from among the people sitting here today. The association of our group with this event, which is sure to go down in the AIA history books, will surely raise the profile of human rights both on and off campus.
Finally, I must express what a pleasure it has been working with such an energetic and determined group of people. I can only hope that the committee that replaces the current one has, at the very least, the passion and energy of the previous one. I recommend to the new committee that you meet regularly outside of normal weekly meetings to discuss the direction of the group, mostly so that you don’t waste valuable time in the actual meetings doing this. I also recommend that the new secretary and the new president (although this does partially apply to everyone on committee) to make it your business to know exactly how the student union red tape system works. This will save you many a grey hair from the inevitable difficulties that will result in hours of planning being brought to a grinding halt because of bureaucracy issues. Also, to everyone here, but in particular to the future president, I highly recommend regular visits to the Victorian Activist Resource Centre. They are there to help us and, ultimately, we are accountable to them as long as we carry the Amnesty flag. To the new committee, good luck, not that luck really has a lot to do with what we do, and all the best. I know you are all destined to do great things and to make an enormous contribution to amnesty international, human rights in general and the world. Never underestimate the difference that the contribution of a single person can make, our history is littered with examples of individuals who, for better or for worse, made a big difference. I would like to leave you with a quote from one such person, Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International – “The candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who “disappeared”. That is what the candle is for”