The war on dissent in Queensland

November 7, 2014
One of the Courier Mail's front pages.

“The Battle of Brisbane.” These were the words that greeted readers of Queensland’s Courier Mail on October 28.

The article, taking up the front cover and several subsequent pages, dealt with the alleged threat of violent protests at the G20 summit to be held in Brisbane on November 15 and 16.

The police, according to the Courier Mail, should meet the protesters with brutal suppression. The actual threat of violence was left vague.

In many ways, the phrasing of the subhead for the piece told it all: “Cops vow to crush G20 ferals”.

In the piece, “violent” protesters are relegated to the status of feral animals, with no real concerns or criticisms of the G20.

This article was followed a few days later with another headline. Sporting an image of Australian soldiers holding machine guns, the Courier Mail screamed: “WELCOME TO BRISBANE, FERALS”.

The implication is plain, the police and army should be brought out to repress “violent” protesters.

The trio of astounding headlines was completed by a cover on October 31. The digitally altered image on the cover showed the Brisbane skyline punctured by search-lights and helicopters, with the words “Swarm and Destroy”, in reference to an alleged plot of anarchists to descend upon the city. The “source” was an unnamed spy agency.

The Courier Mail has published an article connecting the possibility of violence at the G20 Summit with a fugitive Australian anarchist, Felicity Ryder, who is alleged to be connected with a bombing in Mexico in 2012. The paper cites no evidence that Ryder would be involved in any attack, instead hoping to carry the story on the grounds of throwing scary words like “anarchist” and “bomber”.

These incredible headlines are not just a sign of laziness or even a profound lack of journalistic integrity on behalf of the Murdoch press, though both are at play. This fearmongering by the Courier Mail occurs amid a war on dissent in Queensland. A growing nexus of police intimidation and media sanction of possible state violence is being justified with the spectre of a vague yet menacing anarchist threat.

On November 1, the ABC reported that the Queensland Magistrate’s Court would run 24 hours a day during the summit to process any arrested protesters with the utmost ease and speed.

The Queensland court system has prepared for a sudden influx of thousands of protesters, and has even arranged to hook up videos in cells, so that people can have their day in court from the comfort of the prison cell.

In a Queensland first, these trials will be broadcast over the internet for reasons that have not been explained by the Queensland judiciary.

Importantly, imprisoned demonstrators may be forced to prove their innocence, as increasing restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly come into play in downtown Brisbane.

In a taste of things to come, Brisbane City Council workers moved on November 3 to shut down Jaggera Hall, an Aboriginal cultural and community centre. The doors were locked, as was the front gate, and documents were taken from the centre.

This was met with outrage from the Aboriginal community, and a delegation of Aboriginal elders and supporters crashed the public gallery at Brisbane Town Hall, forcing the city council to cede control of the hall to the Aboriginal people of the area.

The closure that sparked this small but important victory was allegedly due to renovations. However, Aboriginal leader Sam Watson reports that the real reason for the closure was the impending G20 summit, and the police have fears the hall will be used to support protesters.

Much of the state and media furore has been around the threat of anarchism and the violence that anarchists could unleash in Brisbane. In some cases, the media have cited the black bloc, and one article referred to the common protest tactic as an “international anarchist collective”.

A quick browse on the internet could have enlightened them to the fact that no such organisation exists, and the tactic has been used by unrelated groups in a variety of political contexts around the globe.

The emergence of a website called “Plan B” has led to further rampant speculation. The website, which argues for decentralised protest actions to disrupt the summit, is barely a call to arms, and only briefly mentions property damage on a list of proposed actions, a list which also included general strikes.

Certainly, the list in no way amounted to any systematic plan for concrete violent actions in the city. Along with this anonymous page, groups like the Brisbane Solidarity Network, an anarchist network that does community campaigning in Brisbane, have been targeted by the press for allegedly calling for violence although the group has done no such thing.

Emerging from all of this is a general policy that is being observed throughout the lead-up to this summit. What we are seeing is the consolidation of a police state in Queensland, which could be used against demonstrators during and after the summit.

It is for this reason that we must protest the G20.

[The People’s March will be held on November 15 at 11am at the Roma Street Forum.]

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