Row over Chinese new year parade

The city's colourful Chinese new year parade is at risk of being derailed this year, with the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, urging organisers to overturn a five-year ban on the Falun Dafa Association, a quasi-religious movement banned by the Chinese Government. also known as Falun Gong.

In the past, Town Hall has been an independent "logistics partner", leaving responsibility to the Chinese New Year Festival subcommittee, a group of prominent community representatives.

However, Cr Moore - presiding as city leader in her first festival - last week wrote to the committee's chairman, King Fong, demanding to see "the criteria for selecting groups" who participate in the parade - concerned that Falun Dafa's continued "exclusion ... is discriminatory".

The committee fears that if Cr Moore insists on Falun Dafa's inclusion in the parade performers will pull out, and key sponsors will abandon them.

"We have had this issue before us for the past few years," Mr Fong said, "and there are a lot of issues involved. But if we support Falun Gong, and they are banned in China, it is realistic to say that China could affect some of our trade and cultural concessions. We locally don't want to play politics ... but we also don't want to harm our relationship with China."

Cr Moore said she had been lobbied by the association's president, John Deller, who told the Herald yesterday his group would gatecrash the parade this year, regardless of whether it was given approval, in a protest at its treatment.

"We have been ignored in the past ... but this year we plan presenting ourselves to the parade," Mr Deller said.

"We want to present the beauty of our organisation, and have advised the police of our intentions. As always, we will be peaceful."

In her letter, Cr Moore conceded it was "convention" for Town Hall to play "no part in determining the content of the parade to ensure that it remains a community event, managed by members of the community".

"I am, however, concerned by Mr Deller's suggestion that Falun Dafa's exclusion from the parade is discriminatory," she wrote.

"So that I may be assured that this is not the case, could you provide me with the criteria for selecting groups to take part in the parade. While I acknowledge that preparations for the parade may be well advanced, is it possible ... to consider whether the Falun Dafa Association meets these criteria, and if so, invite the association to participate in the parade?"

Mr Fong said the committee would meet tonight to debate Cr Moore's letter and her suggestions, but he believed the ban on Falun Dafa would remain in place because of fears of a Beijing-led backlash.