City of Sydney Greens councillor Irene Doutney gave the speech below to Occupy Sydney’s Corporate Tour protest on November 19.
* * *
I’d like to acknowledge that we are meeting on Aboriginal land, Gadigal land, land that was never sold, ceded or given away. I pay my respects to elders past, present and future. This is Aboriginal land — always was and always will be.
As many of you will know I am one of the Greens councillors on the City of Sydney Council and I put up the notice of motion two weeks ago seeking support for the Occupy Sydney movement and calling on the Lord Mayor [Clover Moore] to contact the ombudsman asking for a review of police violence during the occupation and eviction of Martin Place on October 23.
As you will know that motion was defeated by the Lord Mayor and her party who made statements of support for the police’s handling of the occupation. Only the two Greens councillors and Labor’s Meredith Burgmann spoke in favour of my motion and the occupation.
Although I was not surprised by the lack of support for the occupation I think the result showed how much the council is part of the establishment and thus connected to the 1%.
This was made very clear when the lord mayor put up her alternate motion committing to a “City Talk” to be addressed by community and business leaders and state and federal elected representatives. [There was] no mention of Occupy Sydney speakers or non-establishment speakers.
I amended this motion to include a speaker from Occupy Sydney, but the make-up of this panel shows how out of touch with the sentiments of the movement the Council is.
Because the Lord Mayor refused to contact the ombudsman the Greens councillors have sent off their own complaint with photos and youtube links to the local area command, the police minister, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and the ombudsman.
I will read you a little of the submission:
It is with great concern that I am writing to you in regard to the matter of the police response to the recent Occupy Sydney protests. While Assistant Commissioner Murdoch has indicated in media statements that he felt the actions of Police in Martin Place on the morning of October 23 were justified and not overly rough I have spoken to numerous members of the public that were present when the action took place who feel otherwise and I would request that the matter be further investigated.
I visited the site many times and found the police presence to vary greatly from a few officers observing the general assembly meetings to lines of riot police intimidating demonstrators at what was an extraordinarily peaceful event. I have been told by numerous witnesses at the scene that activists were dragged out of their sleeping bags with minimal warning while some received facial injuries. Many had their belongings taken to the dump.
I believe the tactic used to evict the protesters in the dead of night, when there was little or no chance of media scrutiny, was particularly concerning and will add to the general fear of activists to protest in this way in the future.
I also note that at the rally on the 5th November eight ambulances were parked near Martin Place adding further insecurity and fear to the feelings of the protesters while being a waste of overstretched health and emergency response resources.
While there is little clear footage from the breaking up of the protest in Martin Place on the 23rd of October, due to the fact that the action took place in the dark and that most protesters were asleep at the time, overly rough police actions are visible in this online video from October 22 (the most pertinent images are at time code 0:44-1:04) and the aftermath of the Martin Place action can be seen in a protester with a bleeding face.
There is much clearer footage available from the Police action of November 5 in Hyde Park that is consistent with the reports from the Martin Place action. Footage from November 5, viewable online (most pertinent images around timecode 3:38) and here (1:50) show a large number of officers surrounding and dragging away two protesters because of their failure to remove a small sun shade from Hyde Park. Around time 3:38 in the first video a police officer can even be seen diving onto one of the protesters as she is dragged along the ground.
One would imagine that the actions shown in these videos aren't standard police procedure for removing tents from areas where camping isn’t permitted. Any physical confrontation has elements of unpredictability and can easily escalate to the point of serious injury, potentially life altering or life threatening, to any parties involved. To expose both protesters and police to such risks, even if they are small, over such a minor incident is incredibly disproportionate and I would therefore request some action be taken.
I must admit I don’t believe that any action will be taken but the Greens believe it is essential that police heavy handedness be noted and that someone speaks out for the democratic right of citizens to have their voices heard in a peaceful and non-threatening way.
We have seen the incredible violence used against peaceful protesters across the world and in Melbourne and we know that what we are seeing is the desperate face of the guardians of the 1% trying to silence the voices of the 99%. This was highlighted by the fact that the police actions were taken in the dead of night when there was no media present and few witnesses to their over policing.
What we are seeing here is the top end of town protecting their corporate interests in the face of democratic calls for an end to corporate greed and a more just society for workers, the disadvantaged and the average person.
We are sick of hearing about the millions of dollars in bonuses given to ruthless individuals like Alan Joyce from Qantas, the CEOs of the major banks, the likes of James Packer and the mining billionaires like Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest.
We are sick of hearing about the desperate battles of unionised workers to get some sort of justice over their wages and the continuing casualisation of the workforce that leaves workers with no rights at all.
Most of all, we are sick of business-as-usual in the face of drastic climate change, the rape of our natural resources and the dire impacts on biodiversity and our unique wildlife and indigenous peoples.
The Occupy movement is one of the most exciting political movements to inspire the Western world in many years and its ongoing resilience is uplifting. It provides an umbrella for all the movements from those opposed to coal seam gas mining to the anti-bases movement, which is now more relevant than ever as we see Australia embracing US Pacific imperialism.
Unlike the Australian government’s slavish undemocratic desire to be America’s proxy in Asia, the Occupy movement has committed to grassroots democracy and consensus decision making — a hard process but one fully supported by the Greens whose fourth principle is grassroots democracy.
The Occupy movement makes the powers that be nervous as we question the very basis of neoliberal capitalism and the right of the elite to manipulate society for their own interests. The more nervous they become the heavier will be the response, as we’ve seen in New York and Oakland.
This is the challenge that the movement and Occupy Sydney in particular will face in the future — standing fast, staying peaceful and growing the supporter base.
It is always inspiring stopping by the Occupy Sydney site in Martin Place and you have my utmost respect for your courage in the face of violence, your hardiness in occupying one of the most uncomfortable places in town and your continuing commitment to the ideals of opposing corporate greed and calling for a just society.