BY TIM STEWART
BRISBANE — Nervous about activist plans to protest at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane on October 6, on July 2 the state ALP government announced on July 2 a high level "mediation unit" to negotiate with protest organisers.
Premier Peter Beattie said that the four-person "negotiation team" will comprise prominent "anti-corruption" judge Tony Fitzgerald, civil liberties barrister Lorenza Boccabella, Griffith University politics and public policy professor John Wanna, and Queensland's commissioner for children and young people, Robin Sullivan. Carefully chosen for their public credibility, the negotiation team has been charged by Beattie with managing everything from the "provision of portable toilets" to "designated activist areas".
Beattie was quoted in the July 3 Brisbane Courier Mail as saying "the negotiation team has been recruited to protect the democratic rights of activists as well as delegates". He said: "I wanted this to be a peaceful CHOGM... if anyone gets arrested it's because they've put themselves in a position to be arrested. It's because they want to get arrested." The Courier Mail also quoted Beattie justifying CHOGM, saying "radical groups should not lose sight of why CHOGM meetings were held... These meetings are held to consider vital issues such as AIDS, housing, and other social problems in some of the world's poorest countries".
Acknowledging that CHOGM has stirred little enthusiasm among the public, full page advertisements headed "Everything under the sun is happening in Queensland in 2001" have begun to appear in newspapers. The ads label Queensland "the big event state" with "Queensland hosting some of the most prestigious events of the year... generating jobs and investment for Queensland".
The move to establish a negotiation team by the government has followed weeks of public appeals in the media by Queensland police for activist groups to negotiate their plans for protest action. As early as May a police press conference on CHOGM security was called following the 1000-strong anti-corporate M1 protest outside the Brisbane stock exchange. So far, this call has been ignored by anti-CHOGM activist coalitions. Sarah Abbot, ALP member and National Union of Students Queensland president, has been nominated as Stop CHOGM Alliance spokesperson in any negotiations but has not yet made any public statements about Stop CHOGM's call to blockade the Southbank convention centre.
CHOGM Action Network (CAN) member and Brisbane Resistance organiser Susan Austin told Green Left Weekly: "It's clear the Beattie government is nervous about the prospect of another huge anti-globalisation protest on its doorstep. The latest attempt at negotiation is obviously intended to lock activists into plans months ahead of the day, and ultimately to steer protests away from the CHOGM site itself.
"While we will be talking with Beattie's committee, we are committed to holding a loud, lively march on CHOGM that links up with other actions and indeed makes Queensland the 'big event state' — but a more radical kind."
To get in touch with CAN, call Resistance on 07 3831 2644.