Monday, September 10, 2007

They doth protest too little

I managed to get the hell out of Sydney before the APEC fiasco began in earnest (hence my blog absence), but my heart went out to fellow Sydneysiders whose lives were temporarily thrown into chaos, largely for a fool who wasn’t even sure what the name of the summit was or the country in which it was held!

When even Miranda Devine of all people devotes an entire column to the aggressive, and at times violent extremities of the NSW police force when dealing with civilians on the wrong side of the 3-metre high fence (albeit perhaps because the poor bastard in this situation was a mate of hers), you know both the state and federal government went too far curtailing civil liberties for the sake of an indulgent show of force. Sydney had all the signs of a classic police state: barb wire fencing, helicopters, trigger-happy policemen and water cannons at the ready. And for what? An overblown talk-fest, with few if any long-term, tangible strategies and agreements achieved.

John Howard may have thought holding onto the prime ministership just long enough to brown-nose George W Bush before such a huge international conglomerate would reinforce the elder statesman image he desperately wishes to project going into the election, but frankly associating himself with a president now well beyond farcical in his stupidity and uselessness – and making Sydney residents suffer for this – will not do his re-election hopes any good. And blaming protesters for the ridiculously overblown security measurers also rings false when you notice which side has the weapons, dogs and safety of numbers, and which does not.

This isn’t to say that no security measures at all were required. As the police and security forces unfortunately have their extreme minority element itching to abuse their power, so too do some of the more feral protester groups and individuals seeking to make martyrs of themselves by antagonising police until they retaliate, just in time for the news cameras. But the issue is one of proportionality, and remembering how important protest is in any functioning democracy.

The irony seemed lost on Bush (a lot of things are lost on Bush, really) when he condemned Burma for using its military regime to repress demonstrators. The US and Australia have traditionally been able to distinguish themselves from countries like Burma, or even Saddam’s Iraq, through their citizens’ right to free speech and protest. In fact, Australia has a proud (though violent) history of civil disobedience instigating good reforms, from Sydney’s first gay and lesbian Mardi Gras and anti-Vietnam moratoriums, going right back to the Eureka Stockade.

But none of this was evident in the last week. All we saw was just how far desperate governments and leaders will go to quash legitimate dissent among their citizens.

I read one theory suggesting that Premier Dilemma (the Member for Lakemba) set his cops on uber-fascist mode just to piss off Sydneysiders enough to turn on Howard. Smart politics if so - evil, but smart. And if Howard loses this election by the whisker of a few disgruntled Sydneysiders, worth it too. Just.

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At 11/9/07 12:09 pm, Anonymous Adrian said...

I wonder whether Miranda Devine would've taken such interest in police aggro had the victim not been a mate from the North shore. It's hard to see MD getting worked up over police treatment of indigenous people, or anyone, for that matter, who lives west of the bridge. Police brutality tends to become an issue only when it affects one of your own.

Agree with you about APEC -- an expensive, unnecessary talkfest!


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