Police attempt to ban dissent

July 23, 2003


SYDNEY — In a spirited demonstration near the home of immigration minister Philip Ruddock on July 19, 200 people attempted to exercise their right to protest, in the face of police attempts to deny it.

Protesters wanted to contrast Ruddock's comfortable north shore Sydney suburb with the conditions in his desert asylum-seeker prisons. They had planned to erect a mobile detention center surrounded by "barbed wire"; and offer pretend money to Ruddock to highlight the money-for-visa scandal.

However, on July 18, NSW police attempted to get a Supreme Court order to help them stop the protest going ahead. Superintendent Frank Menelli told the court that the protest was likely to be violent, would block traffic and cause distress to Ruddock and his family. He admitted that he had spoken directly to Ruddock, who had told him he was worried about the protest.

Menelli also told the court that protest organiser Ian Rintoul had told him that the aim of the protest was to break into Ruddock's house and to "get Ruddock and his family". Menelli claimed he had written the exact words in his notebook.

This allegation was strongly denied by Rintoul, who has been involved in organising many peaceful protests. The allegation seemed so out of place with Rintoul's evidence that Justice Simpson refused to rule on who was telling the truth.

Simpson refused to grant the order. She argued that it was inevitable that demonstrations would block traffic; that the police's evidence that the protest would be violent was flawed; and that Ruddock and his family would not be distressed as they were not in Sydney.

"Many might see protesting outside of a person's home as being in bad taste", Simpson said, "but this court does not sit to enforce taste". Legal costs — for a barrister, solicitor and QC — were awarded against the police.

At the protest, police harassment started early. Officers refused to allow a truck decorated as a "human rights' defender vehicle" to be used. The driver was given a ticket because the hired vehicle had a "frayed seat belt". One officer allegedly threatened to have the driver's yapping ankle-high dog put down for being dangerous.

The protesters were addressed by Greens MP Michael Organ, as well as speakers from refugee-rights groups and unions, and watched street theatre, before marching to Ruddock's street, which was blocked off by 40 police officers in blue overalls.

The cordon, seemingly in contradiction to Justice Carolyn Simpson's decision, angered protesters and local residents alike. Refusing to show identification in order to be allowed to walk down his own street, one man was warned by Officer Bell: "Don't come any closer. We are wearing firearms".

Three people were arrested, including myself, for breach of the peace. I was there as part of the Legal Observers Project (presumably recognised by Menelli from the court hearing). It was the first time I have been arrested.

As I suspect the police action was unlawful, I will be seeking legal advice on bringing criminal assault charges and lodging a civil claim for damages against the police officers involved.

NSW Labor leader Bob Carr supported the police. Condemning Simpson's ruling, he told ABC Radio on July 18 that the application to stop the protest was "nothing to do with banning a demonstration" because people could still rally in Hyde Park.

[Dale Mills is a volunteer with the Legal Observers Project, based at the Community Legal Centre, University of Technology, Sydney.]

From Green Left Weekly, July 23, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.