Activists from the Stop Bush Coalition have condemned moves to make NSW into a "police state" during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in September. The government introduced legislation into NSW parliament on June 7 that will give police extraordinary powers for two weeks around the time of the summit.
"These powers are all about intimidation, not public safety", Stop Bush Coalition media spokesperson Alex Bainbridge told Green Left Weekly. "APEC 'security commander' Peter Lennon let the cat out of the bag when he told the May 28 Daily Telegraph that protesters were his number one security concern", said Bainbridge.
"They may use 'terrorism' or 'violence' as the excuse, but really their biggest concern is that the majority opposition to the war on Iraq and to attacks on workers' rights might be reflected in huge protests that the government can't ignore."
The legislation allows for the creation of "restricted areas" and "declared areas" in large parts of central Sydney. If the bill passes, police will be able stop and search anyone in or around these areas and confiscate items including banner poles, marbles, spray paint and jamming devices.
Some of the worst aspects of the bill are that it includes a presumption against bail for many offences — meaning people arrested could be detained for up to two weeks — and severely limits police liability. The latter point, Bainbridge says, means that in some circumstances "police will be allowed to break the law with impunity. This is significant because on previous occasions courts have found that police have acted unlawfully in similar protest situations.
"Notably, large numbers of people who were assaulted by police during the 'S11' blockade of the World Economic Forum [in 2000] eventually won significant payouts, so it is not far fetched to fear that these laws will be used by police to violently attack protesters."
The Sydney protests against visiting US Vice-President Dick Cheney in February were another occasion when police attacked a peaceful protest, resulting in the hospitalisation of a veteran peace activist and the arrest of two young women who were dressed in what were obviously fake police uniforms.
Other features of the proposed laws are that they provide for up to six-month jail terms for simply entering a restricted area without justification and two years' jail for carrying a "prohibited item".
"We believe these laws to be unnecessary and call on the NSW parliament to reject the proposed bill outright", the Stop Bush Coalition's Anna Sampson told GLW. "We also call on the NSW government not to allow US or other security forces to carry weapons and live ammunition on our streets", she said.
The Stop Bush Coalition intends to organise a non-violent protest on September 8 — the first day of the "leaders' meeting" that will include US President George Bush, PM John Howard and 19 other APEC leaders. The protest will call for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for real action to stop global warming and for the defence of workers' rights.
"We're calling on the NSW government to publicly affirm the right of all people to engage in public protest activity — free from police intimidation", Sampson said.
This attempt to bring in police state powers, according to Bainbridge, shows the government is frightened of the population. "They know that people power has the potential to stop them and their pro-corporate agenda in its tracks", Bainbridge told GLW.
"They wouldn't be going all out to intimidate us if our protest was irrelevant", he said. "That's why we should be confident to come onto the streets, because it will help to make a difference."
[Pip Hinman is a member of the Socialist Alliance and is active in the Stop Bush Coalition. To find out more, visit <http://www.stopbush2007.org> or phone Alex on 0413 976 638.]