Adding to the very specific and targeted media campaign to detail new laws, weapons and technologies to be used by police, as agents of the state, at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Sydney, recent news coverage included details about how 200 people who are under periodic detention order will be given that weekend off – as in they can stay home [link]. The way this is being framed is that it will make facilities available (i.e. gaol cells) for the ‘mass arrest’ of ‘up to 500’ critical of the summit and its economic-rationalist agenda. The major aim of this detailed and long-planned public relations campaign is largely two fold – and it appears to be working. One aim is to further demonise those who are willing to stand up and so no, not any more, not in our name. This is clearly having some impact. Another is to create a culture of fear in the sense that people who may have been willing to join in on the spectacle of a peaceful march are very concerned that their attendance will place them in one of many threats to their liberties or personal safety. What these threats are requires a brief outline.
Over past weeks, stretching back over several months, in a sustained effort at reinforcing the intended ‘heavy-handed’ police ‘interventions’, a variety of new laws alongside a number of new technologies have been paraded before the press and subsequently filled homes via the nightly news programs. The approaches to both of these have been distinct for specific reasons, yet at times quite similar. For the most part, the addition of new laws have been portrayed as in the interest of protection – the populace, public order and participants at the summit. Whereas the new technologies of repression have at times been portrayed as tools necessary to quash the actions of violent dissidents – the typical broad brush. The flagrant and direct demonising appears far more overt (orders of magnitude) than has been seen before in Australia.
To start the new laws, the most efficacious of these is the touted ability to detain people for the entire duration of the summit without charge based solely on suspicion. Added to this, those detained will be denied the ‘presumption of bail’. Whilst some have supported this on the notion that suspicion is enough (i.e. the Dr Haneef scenario – some people still attempt to defend his incarceration and subsequent political intervention in the legal-judicial process), the full details of the changes are important. At the end of this summit, those detained can/will be released without charge or conviction – albeit with their details most-certainly added to a little black book… Corresponding with these changes, a fleet of new white ‘buses’ specifically designed as cells on wheels were paraded in front of the press several weeks back. This is linked with the recent announcements about freeing up gaol space. To give you an indication of the status of electoral politics, shadow attorney-general Greg Smit countered that there are numerous sport grounds that could be used to detain people over this period. Aside from not really being any form of opposition, perhaps a softer approach, it indicates how ridiculous the changes to the law are. Those proposed to be detained are such a threat that they can be kept at a sporting stadium…
Along similar lines to the softer approach of a sports stadium was another public statement that is somewhat novel. Before I introduce this, it is worth mentioning that Ward Churchill has referred to this concept many times: public protest props up democracy. What needs to be noted is that this is protest that is approved by police/other state apparatus. In this specific instance, the leader of the state opposition party (conservative) Barry O’Farrell, called for the creation of an ‘additional protest zone’. Whilst normally critical of any form of protest, part explanation can be attributed to real politik. It can also (more based on the actions of the police) be seen as partof a strategy to further denigrate participants in the actions. To illustrate, O’Farrell called for the Domain (an open air park/amphitheatre in the city) to be designated as an official protest zone during the summit. Extending from this (whilst also independent), the Deputy Police Commissioner in NSW stated that if ‘protest organisers’ do not agree to changing their plans to what the police want – in what is perhaps a sign of things to come – they will take action in the Supreme Court.
To give you an idea of what has already planned, a 5km long 2.8m high ‘security barrier’ was announced months ago, and stated it would be in place from September 2-9. This will be extended even further from September 6. Not to rest on the laurels, as of today, barriers were being erected today. The exclusion zones created already restrict public access, with the aforementioned police actions regarding ‘official’ zones for protest further attempting to restrict this. Such proposals could also be more sinister. With broad public opposition emanating from the perceived disruption the summit will cause, it appears this action affords the opportunity for any further disruptions to be blamed on those refusing to agree to police terms for acceptable protesting. The NSW Police Association is also critical, given that 20% of the states police being in the Sydney CBD…
Shifting in focus, the most recent technology paraded is a new high-pressure water-cannon – far more powerful than those already used by the police, acquired at a cost of $600,000. Media coverage specifically resulting from the public relations campaign does two things worth noting, one being a further attempt to exacerbate fear. The other implying that it is those critical of the APEC summit are the reason why such repressive anti-people technologies are needed. It does not address any of the reasons why such a large number of people have serious concerns about the summit and the broader direct impacts of the policies of the entity.
There is much more I can go into here, though will leave that for another time. Aside from my ongoing outrage (I have not had dismay with government for a long time) at what is transpiring, a brief conversation this morning – if it could be considered as such – inspired me to write. This extends from discussing similar issues with other people over recent weeks, with there being direct linkages between the APEC summit and the Dr Haneef situation. Concerns about my intended participation in criticising the APEC summit and my non-consent for what is transpiring have been raised. A significant basis for these concerns is a fear for my personal safety at the hands of the police. Somewhat contrasted though indicative, was framing such concerns alongside supporting the police intentions – delegates to the summit ‘need to be protected’. Without denigrating this person, a number of things are left unconsidered. Whilst they do not necessarily agree with the extent of the pending police interventions, they have uncritically bought into staying away partly based on a fear of the implications (injury, detainment, etc) – not that they would participate anyway (which I will come back to). By not being critical, we provide tangible (at the least) support for what will transpire. This is implied consent. As we have seen very clearly and starkly very recently, actions that do not directly challenge the status quo, irrespective of how many participants, have little impact. The demonstrations calling for non-involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq by/supported by a handful of countries – despite being arguably the largest every in the history of Australia – achieved very little (notwithstanding the benefits to those who participated).