The Guardian 5 September, 2007

"We are demonstrators, not terrorists"



The abuse of new and far-reaching police powers has already started, even before the arrival of APEC leaders for their meeting in Sydney this week. As The Guardian goes to press the police are going to the Supreme Court seeking orders to prevent a protest march including Martin Place on its route.

"Welcome to Sydney"

While the red-carpet treatment is being meted out for this "star-studded" event, others are not finding the "Welcome to Sydney" that was extended to them during the Olympic Games!

The Opera House and a large section of the surrounding area is fenced in by a 2.8 metre wall of concrete and steel.

German tourists were stopped by police and told to delete photos that they had taken of the APEC security fence. The fence is five kilometres long and is creating traffic chaos in the central business district and along certain arterial roads. Some roads have been fenced off completely.

"Reasonable direction" & "shoot to kill"

There is nothing in the APEC Meeting (Police Powers) Act, that makes it illegal to take photos of the fence. "Even if the police argue it is a reasonable direction, the only thing that can happen to a person who has taken photos is that they are escorted from the area. They can keep hold of their photos and distribute them to anyone they please", Dale Mills from the Human Rights Monitor group in Sydney told The Guardian.

State and federal police, ASIO, and foreign security forces and agents are swarming the city streets. SAS troops with "shoot to kill" powers and "rapid response" four-wheel drive riot trucks are on standby.

Secret agents have been planted in the various groups planning protests and students and other activists have been approached to spy on their comrades. There is an attempt to create an atmosphere of intimidation.

Large parts of the city have been declared "restricted areas" or "declared areas" where police have arbitrary powers to prevent entry, search, remove or even arrest and lock up without charges from August 30 to September 12.

Entry to a restricted area without permission is an offence punishable by six months imprisonment.

The Police Commissioner has a public list of proscribed people, 27 of 29 of whose names and photos were leaked to and published in the media. They have been contacted by the police and told they are on the "excludable persons list". This means they are not allowed in the declared area and can be removed by police if they enter. There is believed to be another secret list of people.

There are fears that provocateurs have been organised to turn peaceful protests into violent bloodbaths and so justify the extreme, anti-democratic measures being taken.

Police have failed to give reassurances, as requested in writing by Stop Bush protest organisers, that neither the water canon nor stun guns will be deployed against peaceful protestors. Nor have they guaranteed that no undercover police will be deployed at the event to cause disruption and conflict.

Not happy, John

The government’s message is to keep out of the city unless you have to be there. Tourists lose access to key sites. Stood down casual workers will lose their wages. The lockdown also means a huge loss of trade. Businesses are furious. Some have been forced to give employees a paid holiday on Friday this week. The lives of local residents have been disrupted, their privacy invaded.

It is hard to find anyone in Sydney who is happy, apart from the state and federal governments who get to trial new techniques and equipment for suppressing dissent. Private security guards and police stand to gain loads of overtime.

Bus services have been disrupted, routes rearranged, so commuters have been warned to attempt to locate relocated bus stops in advance and allow extra time for rerouted services. Circular Quay, St James and Museum train stations will be closed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 7-9.

Mobile phones will be jammed as President Bush’s motorcade travels through Sydney streets. Emergency services fear this could cut across emergency signals or signals for essential services.

Sydneysiders are angry and fed up with APEC before it starts. They are asking: why put such a meeting in the heart of Sydney? Canberra would have been more appropriate and less disruptive.

There is no shortage of other suggestions on talkback radio as to alternative venues: some have suggested Villawood or Baxter detention centres, which according to the government are quite comfortable, provide good food and security is built in already.

The cost to taxpayers of APEC and all the police state provisions is already estimated to be well in excess of three hundred million dollars.

APEC agenda

The 21 member economies* participating in APEC have very diverse interests and levels of industrial development. They range from the poorest — Vietnam and Papua New Guinea with average per capita incomes of less than US$700 per annum — through to two of the richest in the world — USA and Japan.

Some of those countries take a strong stand against US imperialism, some are developing along a socialist path; governments range from military through to people’s.

APEC offers a forum for discussions and cooperation, its policies and government commitments are not binding and implementation is voluntary. It works on the basis of equality and consensus, and co-operates closely with big business.

The Australian, US and Japanese Governments have failed in their attempts to turn it into another WTO where they can bully and enforce economic rationalist policies on poorer nations. So far they have also not been able to extend its charter into the military and security fields as they would like to. The fight against terrorism is the nearest they have got to putting these other issues on the table.

At this week’s meeting the Howard Government is pushing for some agreement on climate change and energy security, but is highly unlikely to get what it wants from the meeting. Its free trade agenda looks like stalling as well.

Already Malaysia’s Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz has warned Australia and the US against hijacking the summit to discuss climate change.

"It is unfortunate that people who are talking about climate change like America are not even members of the Kyoto Protocol", said Rafidah.

"If you want to talk about climate change, please join in with the rest of the global community to make commitments about managing climate change", she told them. "There is no point talking about it outside of the Kyoto forum."

Much more is likely to come out of the bilateral and other meetings that take place outside the conference room.

Russia and Australia are expected to sign a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, updating safeguard arrangements to facilitate the export of uranium.

Howard also hopes to finalise a bilateral action plan for nuclear cooperation, including on research and development, and technical training with the US.

Further announcements of agreements with China are also expected.

For the people of Australia, the most immediate danger arising from this meeting is the use of heavy-handed methods against protestors to criminalise legal, non-violent protest and intimidate those who might consider exercising their democratic right to demonstrate dissent with such policies as the Iraq war, globalisation or WorkChoices.

The protests will take place. As Peter Murphy, one of the organisers of Friday’s festival in Hyde Park said: "Our festival will promote the people’s alternative of fair trade, real action on global warming, genuine development to alleviate poverty, opposition to war, and respect for the labour rights and human rights of all the peoples of our vast Asia Pacific region."

And every measure the government takes to dissuade people, appears to be encouraging more people to take part in actions.

As one person intending to join the protests told The Guardian, "We are protestors, not terrorists".

*They are called member economies because two of the members are "China Taipei" and "China Hong Kong" — both regions of China, not separate countries, which is consistent with international recognition of China as one country.

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