Pro-Refugee Mardi Gras Float Told Not To Boo Bill Shorten, Moved Away From Labor Float

07/03/2016 3:29 PM AEDT | Updated 07/03/2016 3:35 PM AEDT
No Pride In Detention/Facebook

Refugee advocates have claimed they were almost ejected from the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and were eventually banned from marching behind a float that featured federal Labor leader Bill Shorten and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek.

A float organised by the No Pride In Detention group was set to participate in the street parade directly behind a float for the Labor Party. Several reports on social media -- and verified by the Huffington Post Australia -- claimed that just before the parade was to begin, the float's organisers were pulled aside by Mardi Gras organisers who said that the refugee advocates would not be allowed to march behind the Labor float.

Meg Clark, a 63-year-old woman who was part of the No Pride In Detention contingent, said the float was then told to wait at the edge of the parade until several other floats passed, creating a buffer between the refugee float and the Labor float, which included Shorten and Plibersek.

"One of the [No Pride In Detention] organisers announced to us that when we moved off, that we would be moving to the side," she told HuffPost Australia on Monday morning.

"[The organiser] was furious. He said security had informed us that we were a threat."

A video, reported by Buzzfeed, showed a man -- purportedly a Mardi Gras organiser, who gives his name as Anthony Russell -- loudly telling No Pride In Detention marchers if they shouted abuse at Shorten, "you are not in the fucking parade" and "you're out."

"If I bring Bill Shorten out here now, and one of you people says something to him, then you are not in the fucking parade. Do you understand that?" the man says in the clip.

"You talk to your people right now. You've got one more chance. If you can’t act like a normal human, being all in a parade together, you’re out."

"Don''t harass people."

The refugee protestors had tailed Shorten and Plibersek as they gave a press conference earlier in the evening.

In a statement to HuffPost Australia, Mardi Gras CEO Michele Bauer told HuffPost Australia that NSW Police had reported an "unacceptable level of harassment" from the No Pride members, and that police requested the Labor float be moved apart from that float.

"Inside the marshalling area, just before the Parade began, it was reported to parade officials by NSW Police that there was an unacceptable level of harassment and offensive comments from the No Pride in Detention float members being directed towards members of the Rainbow Labor float, including leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten and deputy leader of the opposition, Tanya Plibersek," Bauer said.

"Police requested parade officials ensure the safety of the Rainbow Labor float participants during the parade. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras strongly believe the No Pride in Detention Float has a very important message to send, and without wanting the police to intervene and remove the float from the parade, a last minute decision to reshuffle the run order was made. At the time, this was considered the best course of action to ensure both parties were able to march and spread their individual messages to the world while maintaining safety for all marchers."

"It was the wish of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to not let the hard work of all those involved go to waste and as such re-ordered the Parade.”

Amy Thomas, one of the No Pride In Detention float organisers, told HuffPost Australia that she disputed the claim participants on her float engaged in "harassment" or hurled "offensive comments."

"Certainly not. I had a chat with some people from the Labor float. I didn't see anyone do anything like that, we just stood behind Shorten and Plibersek at that press conference," she said.

"Our intention was never to disrupt their float. We were going to march behind them, maybe that was awkward for them."

Clark said many participants were confused and upset at the rearrangement.

"I've been to many Mardi Gras, I'm 63, and I've never heard of or seen floats being rearranged to suit somebody else," she said.

"We were quite a loud group, a lot of chants, but we all went completely silent and still and looked around in confusion. It was a punch in the gut moment, a bit embarrassing."

Bill Shorten's office has been contacted for comment.

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