The NSW government is planning to give police extraordinary powers of arrest and detention around the time of the APEC summit in Sydney in September. Activists planning the protest when US President George Bush is in town say the new powers are about intimidation, not public safety.
On June 7, police minister David Campbell, who presented the bill, said that the NSW police had "identified the threat of large organised and sustained violent protests" and that the new powers are to ensure that "police have sufficient powers to prevent or to stop such violence".
The APEC Meeting (Police Powers) Bill 2007 will, according to the Morris Iemma government, prevent protesters from "terrifying the public".
The law would: create "restricted" and "declared" areas in large parts of central Sydney; allow the police to stop and search anyone in or around these areas and confiscate items considered "prohibited", including banner poles; allow for six-month jail terms for simply entering a restricted area without justification and two years' jail for carrying a "prohibited item"; and presume against bail for many offences (meaning people arrested could be detained for up to two weeks).
The law would also: severely limit police liability, raising the possibility that the police will be allowed to break the law with impunity, and allow police to create secret lists of "excluded people" including those who fail to comply with a police order during APEC and those who the police consider pose a "threat" to people or property during APEC. These people will be prevented from entering parts of Sydney during APEC.
It is likely that these laws will be passed by parliament with only the NSW Greens and some independents voting against them. The Stop Bush Coalition, which is organising a protest on September 8, the day of the leaders' summit, has issued an open letter calling on NSW MPs not to support the bill.
Anna Samson from the Stop Bush Coalition told Green Left Weekly that the laws are unnecessary and the bill should be rejected outright. "We also want the NSW government to publicly affirm the right of all people to engage in public protest activity, free from police intimidation.
"The NSW government is turning our city into a mini-police state. This bill markedly abolishes our civil liberties in the name of protecting powerful individuals, such as the US president. These extraordinary police powers, aimed at protesters, are designed to deflect the public discussion [around] APEC away from the real and terrible violence and injustice in the world today: the wars in the Middle East."
The Stop Bush Coalition sign-on letter, which is supported by, among others, Dr Tim Anderson, John Pilger, Humphrey McQueen, Mary Crock, NSW Greens MLC Sylvia Hale, Wendy Bacon, Claude Mostowick and the NSW fire brigade union's Simon Flynn and Jim Casey can be found at <http://stopbush2007.org>. To sign on, send an email to <email@example.com> or phone Anna on 0401 900 690.