Police get more powers to mistreat protesters

Friday, June 22, 2007

Michael Bozic, a barrister with the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said on June 20 that the new powers being given to police during the APEC summit would make the conservative former premiers Robert Askin and Joh Bjelke-Petersen proud. Askin, NSW's Liberal premier from 1965 to 1975, was famously quoted in 1966 demanding that the convoy accompanying visiting US President Lyndon Johnson "ride over the bastards" — anti-Vietnam War protesters.

Bozic, speaking at a media conference organised by NSW Greens MLC Sylvia Hale, said that the new police laws would have a "profound impact on the rights of people to assemble" (see accompanying article).

Hale said that while the NSW government needed to ensure the safety of the visiting APEC leaders, it also has a responsibility to "balance this with the fundamental democratic right to peaceful protest". According to Bozic, "From past experience in this state, the police have very little tolerance towards demonstrations against politicians".

Anna Samson from the Stop Bush Coalition, which is organising the anti-APEC protest on September 8, said the police "already have more than enough power to deal with any terrorist act". She said the new law "targets protesters. It's about political intimidation of those who are prepared to protest and has nothing to do with protecting the public. The police minister wants to terrify people into not protesting."

Samson said that the Stop Bush Coalition is also concerned about the excluded persons list. "NSW police are currently approaching activists to warn them off coming to the APEC protests. We want these lists made public."

Hale said that it was more than ironic that the new laws are hardly distinguishable from similar laws from repressive regimes, including Russia and China, which will be represented at APEC. "Creating secret lists with no right to know if you are on the list and no right to judicial review is a very dangerous path for a democratic nation to pursue", Hale said. "We should not be reverting to the 1960s and 1970s when special branch kept files on activists."

Issue