Bracks, police cop it at Labor conference



MELBOURNE — Labor Premier Steve Bracks had lied about protester violence at the S11 blockade of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting, a protest of 200 outside the ALP's state conference on October 21 was told.

Paddy Garretty, who put in a motion in the premier's own Williamstown ALP branch condemning his support for police tactics at the protest, said Bracks had justified his stance by falsely claiming that protesters had pelted police with potatoes bearing razor blades, an accusation not even police spokespeople could find any proof of.

Introducing a platform of speakers outside the Melbourne Town Hall conference venue, comedian Rod Quantock disputed Bracks' claims of protester violence. He said that he saw no provocation by protesters at what he described as a "peaceful event that didn't deserve brutality" from the police.

The Western Suburbs Legal Service's Damien Lawson, who helped coordinate the legal support team at the blockade of Crown Casino, said he was confident the ombudsman's inquiry would find that the police baton charges on September 12 were illegal.

He cast doubt over whether such a finding would lead to the charging of those police officers responsible, however, pointing out that the ombudsman had recommended charging eight police involved in a baton charge on a picket line at Richmond Secondary College. In that case, it was left to the Victoria Police to lay charges against their own officers; after dragging their feet for six years, police commanders have now dropped the case.

While criminal charges against brutal police officers may never eventuate, civil action may prove more successful. On October 26, law firm Slater and Gordon confirmed that the Victoria Police had agreed to pay nearly $300,000 to 30 protesters injured during the attack on the Richmond Secondary College picket line.

Similar action by those brutalised by police at S11 could yield an even larger payout. Slater and Gordon is currently representing more than 50 S11 claimants and writs against police should be issued in the next few weeks.

While united in condemning Bracks' vocal support for police, protesters outside the Labor state conference had differing views of the significance of Bracks' action for the ALP's future.

Garretty said he was upset at the damage which Bracks had done to the ALP, but called on people to keep faith with it. This sentiment was backed by placards which read "ALP Yes; Jeff Bracks No".

But others disagreed. The Melbourne secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party, Jorge Jorquera, who is also a spokesperson for the S11 Alliance, told Green Left Weekly that Labor's support for the police was no aberration. He pointed to the ALP's consistent backing for the free market, pro-corporate policy prescriptions discussed at the WEF summit, saying it too was clearly a party of business.

He said the Democratic Socialists will be contesting the safe Labor seats of Gellibrand, Melbourne Central and Batman in the upcoming federal election and urged activists' support for the campaign.

A motion put to the ALP conference condemning police violence was, in Quantock's words, " watered down [with] words taken out and sentences turned around". In its final form, it contained no more than a vague condemnation of violence in general and made no reference to Bracks or the police baton charges.