Labor, Liberals block inquiry into APEC police role


On September 26, the NSW Greens called for an independent public inquiry into the actions of the NSW police during the APEC protests earlier in the month. It was voted down by the two major parties, as well as the Christian Democrats and the Shooters Party.

The Greens' motion urged an investigation into allegations of the use of unreasonable force, unlawful arrests and breach of police rules and procedures. Greens MP Silvia Hale told the NSW parliament that the police operation during APEC was "an unprecedented infringement on the civil liberties of thousands of people". She also denounced the police's in-house inquiry, which police commissioner Andrew Scipione announced had found that the police had done nothing wrong, as a "joke".

The September 27 Sydney Morning Herald reported Scipione as saying the police operation at APEC was "the way we do business in NSW". Hale commented that the commissioner obviously believes his role is "to intimidate the population and suppress political dissent".

She cited ample video and picture evidence of "what appear to be violent assaults by NSW police officers on protesters in Sydney [on September 8]", and called for them to be investigated.

Not only was Greg McLeay, a 52-year old accountant, arrested in front of his young son and held in custody for 22 hours after he walked in front of an APEC motorcade on September 8, but two people on the so-called excluded list were arrested while drinking coffee. They were released shortly afterwards, when police realised that the people were not in an excluded APEC zone, but the unprovoked assault led to the arrest of several other people who were defending their friends and protesting the police provocation.

Alex Bainbridge, a spokesperson for the Stop Bush Coalition that organised the APEC protest rally, told Green Left Weekly that it was unsurprising that the police decided against a public inquiry into their conduct at the protest.

He commended the Greens for trying to get the NSW parliament to hold an inquiry, and said he was not surprised by the major party's bid to sweep the police role under the carpet.

"Scipione has provocatively said that this is the way the NSW police 'do business'. We saw what that means when the public order and riot squad attacked desperate workers and their partners at the McArthur Express depot who were trying to get their rightful superannuation pay-outs on September 26.

"If he intends to go on using the riot squad to try and repress protests, he'll have a political fight on this hands."

"In a context where [PM John] Howard's IR laws are badly affecting workers, the NSW Labor government now sees fit to use thugs to terrorise workers from pursuing their legal entitlements. How's that going to help the fightback, which Labor says it supports, against these draconian IR laws?"

Hale told Green Left Weekly that she intends to pursue the issue of police behaviour at APEC at the budget estimates hearings in October.

Bainbridge, who is standing as a NSW Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance, said the anti-war movement stands in solidarity with those transport workers who were roughed up by the police. "We will not stand by and let the police get away with whatever Scipione believes is 'business as usual' in NSW policing." He added that the Stop the War Coalition is helping organise a protest outside the Chaser's court appearance on October 4, at 8.30am, outside the Downing Centre in Sydney.

"One very clear lesson to be learned from APEC is that granting the police excessive powers and indemnity from prosecution accompanied by hairy-chested rhetoric from politicians will see police powers abused and the state's citizens threatened", Hale concluded.