Bush's APEC visit: Police-state powers to target protesters

Issue 

The presence of heavily armed SAS troops could complement extraordinary powers for NSW police during the September 7-9 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney, which will be attended by 21 international leaders including US President George Bush.

Last month, NSW Deputy Premier John Watkins told journalists that the disruption to the Sydney CBD during APEC would be "50 times" worse than that experienced during the February visit of US Vice-President Dick Cheney. "This is an event that will bring disruption to the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders with very little benefit to them", Watkins said on April 30. He has since changed his tune.

Following a May 16 meeting with PM John Howard, NSW Premier Morris Iemma told journalists that legislation was being prepared to temporarily increase police powers to detain and search people in special zones around the CBD in the week of the APEC summit, beginning on September 2.

At a joint press conference with federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock, Iemma said that if the security measures for the summit "requires additional legislation, we do that, to enable our police and the security officers to protect our visitors but also to protect our citizens".

The May 18 Sydney Daily Telegraph reported that Ruddock "dodged questions about whether the military will have shoot-to-kill powers during the Sydney APEC meeting, adding to speculation about just what their orders will be during the world leaders' summit… Defence experts have also revealed new legislation introduced last year could, for the first time in Australia's civil history, see heavily armed troops deployed to the streets."

The announcements that have been made about APEC "security" measures confirm that the NSW and federal governments are planning a serious assault on civil liberties at the time of the summit.

The May 17 Daily Telegraph reported that the police would be given the power to "detain people and subject them to random body searches in special 'declared' zones around Sydney" during the week of the APEC summit.

Iemma said one of the specific zones where these powers would apply would include an area bordered by Macquarie Street, King Street, George Street and Circular Quay. This area contains government offices and many hotels that APEC officials are expected to stay at.

The "declared zones" will be marked with a series of policed checkpoints through which the public will have to be cleared.

Others have yet to be revealed, "although a giant security triangle with its three points being the Opera House, Government House and the Sydney Convention Centre, will cover the city", the Daily Telegraph reported, adding: "The airport corridor is also likely to be a 'declared zone'. This is on top of as yet unspecified 'lock-down' zones which will be off limits to the public.

"Limited details were released, apart from the planned closure of city circle train stations St James, Museum and Circular Quay which will all be shut for the three days from September 7 to 9."

The Daily Telegraph reported that it "has been told further legislation will also be introduced to allow foreign government security agencies to carry weapons and enforce their own security arrangements on Australian soil… Special permission has already been given to the US Secret Service, whose presence and intimidating demeanour [have] led to a cool reception from Australian security officials on previous occasions."

These moves, the Murdoch-owned tabloid reported, have "further fanned the ire of Daily Telegraph readers, already up in arms over what they see as deprivation of civil liberties".

The May 16 Australian reported that there are "many other measures [that] are yet to be made public".

One journalist told GLW that he had been told that these measures will be directed primarily against protesters (as opposed to some non-existent terrorist threat). Measures being considered include a ban on any protest activity at all (even holding up a placard) within the "declared zones" and detention of suspected "troublemakers" (the word used by the journalist's informant) prior to the main days of the summit.

The Stop Bush Coalition is planning a peaceful protest on September 8 at the Sydney Town Hall (commencing at 10am).

The fact that state and federal authorities are planning to take police-state measures against protesters calling for an end to Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for real action on climate change and for workers' rights reveals the claimed focus of the APEC summit security measures is not any alleged "terrorist threat".

[The Stop Bush Coalition's next meeting will be at 7pm on Monday, May 28, at the University of Technology, Sydney, Broadway campus. For more information, phone Alex on 0413 976 638 or visit .]