8/16/07

Excerpts from David Marr's essay “His Master's Voice”, Quarterly Essay #26, 2007

Excerpt from p 33 to p 40.

14 march: A dawn sweep through Sydney to arrest G20 demonstrators.

Sunil Menon was woken before dawn by a powerful light shining through his window. He would discover it was attached to a camera videoing the raid, but in the first confused moments he was aware only of the light, "serious knocking" on the front door and a man yelling his name. Menon says that in less than a minute the door was kicked open and about ten police poured into the house. One identified himself as a member of the NSW counter-terrorism unit. Another was a man Menon often noticed hanging around demonstrations in dark glasses and cargo pants. "I was scared when I saw him." In front of his housemates gathered in the sitting room, Menon was handcuffed and shown a search warrant. "They told me it was to do with G20."

Between fifty and sixty police from NSW, Victorian and Federal squads were out before the sun came up that day, arresting five students in raids around Sydney. The scale of the operation can't be explained by the chaos of Melbourne's G20 demonstrations last year or the relentless campaign for revenge driven by News Ltd's Herald Sun. The police themselves allude to the real driver behind the raids: the conference of world leaders to be held in Sydney this September. One of the arrested students says he has been told several times by senior police: "If you guys turn up to APEC, we'll smash you."

Tall and black with an unmistakeable face, Menon, 25, works at Sydney University's Fisher Library. A few years ago he was at the centre of a little cause celebre after being charged with helping an escapee asylum seeker reach New Zealand. Menon's prosecution attracted street demonstrations, pleas from civil liberties bodies and an email from Thomas Keneally. The case collapsed. In August 2005, a Sydney judge ordered the jury to acquit for lack of evidence. On the morning of the March raid Menon was taken to the Sydney Police Centre and charged with two counts of aggravated burglary - it's alleged he was among G20 demonstrators who occupied office foyers in Collins Street - and two counts of unlawful assembly.

Daniel Jones, a heavy sleeper, was woken in his parents' house in East Balmain by a policewoman tugging his toe. He faced two or three police in his bedroom - who introduced themselves by name and squad as he lay there - and found another dozen in the hallway outside. Among them were counter-terrorist police. Jones, 20, is an arts student at Sydney University with a face known to many sports fans. He was one of the stars — not quite the word - of the SBS reality show Nerds FC screened during the World Cup. The fight against voluntary student unionism (VSU) drew Jones into campus politics. He was issued with two traffic fines after one of the big anti-VSU rallies in Sydney. He is now the education officer of the university's Students' Representative Council. At the Sydney Police Centre he was charged with affray, criminal damage and riot.

Dan Robins was woken at his girlfriend's place at 6 a.m. by frantic housemates in Newtown ringing with the news: "The police are trashing the house and they're looking for you." Later they told him about being brought into the sitting room in their pyjamas and twelve police searching their rooms. "They videoed my punk t-shirts and all the political stickers on the back of my door," said Robins. "They spread out my documents and videoed them - things like blood tests, union memberships, all these newspaper cuttings. They did the same thing in all the rooms. My housemates were really shaken up." Robins, 23, went to a city police station and turned himself in. A fine-boned, restless kid, Robins has been demonstrating for years. He was a schoolboy among tens of thousands of protesters on Melbourne streets during the World Economic Forum at Crown Casino in 2000. He's demonstrated often since and never been in trouble with the police before. At the Sydney Police Centre he was charged with two counts of affray, two of riotous assembly, two of reckless conduct and one count of intentionally destroying property.

Ten police came for Tim Davis-Frank at his parents' house in the beach suburb of Bronte. "My father answered the door in the dark at 6 a.m. in his dressing gown." As they gathered in the kitchen, Davis-Frank noticed through the window "guys in dark clothing and gloves sneaking around the back of the house to cut off any possible escape." He knew one of the squad: a Melbourne detective who had interviewed and released him on the evening of the G20 demonstration last November. Davis-Frank's parents explained their son was diabetic and he was allowed to eat a bowl of cereal before being taken to the Sydney Police Centre.

"This arrest is the second time I have experienced the force of Victorian counter-terrorism agents in relation to the G20 protest," wrote Davis-Frank in the Green Left Weekly.

On the night of November 18, in Melbourne, I was snatched by about eight unidentifiable men and forced into an unmarked white van as I was walking with friends away from the protest. Without identifying themselves, the men in the van tied my hands behind my back, forced me to lie face down on the floor and proceeded to interrogate me, punching me repeatedly in the face if I didn't answer their questions quickly enough and once for accidentally calling one of them "mate."

Davis-Frank says he was taken to a Melbourne police station where the detective now standing in his kitchen arranged for his injuries to be photographed and told him he would be charged by summons for his part in the chaotic demonstrations that day. "The next thing I heard about it was four months later when they raided my parents' home."

Davis-Frank, 22, studies politics at Sydney University and comes from a political household. He says he was pushed in a pram to an anti-nuclear demo at the age of three months. "If you feel passionately about something, you should make your opinions known to other people," he explained. "Democracy should give space to express your voice. The more people who do, the richer society will be." At the police centre he was charged with two counts of aggravated burglary - those Melbourne office foyers again - three counts of riotous assembly and one of affray.

At the centre, the students saw a fifth suspect arrested in the early-morning raids: a seventeen-year-old high-school boy from Haberfield. He was leaning on the window of his holding cell: a distraught child on one side of the glass and his ashen-faced mother on the other. At some point in the day he was taken to the Children's Court, bailed and disappears from this narrative. The four remaining were taken after a few hours to the cells at Liverpool Central Court and strip-searched while they waited - most of the day - for the formalities of bail to be completed.

Honora Ryan was at Central Station early in the morning handing out anti-war leaflets to commuters when she heard about the arrests. She joined about thirty people gathered at the court to give the students moral support. A young piano teacher, Ryan was days away from graduating as a Bachelor of Music from Sydney University. She was not at G20, but opposition to the Iraq war had seen her demonstrating when Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney visited Sydney. She has never, she says, been violent at a demonstration. "I've shouted a lot. I go there and march and shout slogans. I'm a pacifist. I believe very strongly we shouldn't be violent — any of us."

The students didn't emerge from court until late in the afternoon. As they did, the Herald Sun was waiting. Their photograph would appear all over page one of Melbourne's Murdoch tabloid under a huge headline:

COP THAT

The students dispersed and Ryan went down the hill to choir practice at Christ Church St Laurence, the Anglo-Catholic redoubt near Central. It was dark when rehearsal finished and Ryan emerged to find two big men in suits and dark glasses waiting for her. One held her elbow. They flashed badges. "When I asked to see them again, they wouldn't show me. They wouldn't tell me who they were." But they had a message. "They told me to stop going to rallies. They said they had a file like this on me" - she held her hands a couple of feet apart - "and to watch out or the same thing would happen to me." She took this to mean her house would be raided too. "I was really distressed. Nothing like this has happened to me before."

We don't demonstrate much these days. A million marched over bridges for reconciliation in 2000 - at which point the reconciliation movement died - and huge crowds turned out against the invasion of Iraq. The hard fact is that demonstrations in the last decade have stopped nothing in Australia. At best they've kept a handful of issues alive. Faith in the demo has collapsed - except perhaps when world leaders gather in exotic cities. The 1999 anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle began a triple tradition of large turn-outs, occasional violence and heavy policing. Politicians are particularly gung-ho. National pride is engaged in keeping the streets orderly. After the World Economic Forum in Melbourne in 2000, Costello raged in private against the demonstrators. Bob Carr denounced the blockade of Crown Casino as "street-fighting fascism." Vietnam certainly knows how to meet the challenge: all the world's leaders gathered in Hanoi for APEC last year and there wasn't a demonstrator in sight.

Melbourne hosted the G20 meeting of economic leaders in the same weeks. The press predicted 20,000 demonstrators would turn out. Roads were barricaded around the Grand Hyatt in Collins Street. Police were bussed in from the suburbs. In the end the head-count was unimpressive - somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000. On Friday, 17 November, small groups briefly occupied about fourteen offices in the city. Some water damage was reported at the Australian Defence Force office. No arrests were made. The assistant commissioner of police, Gary Jamieson, described disruption in the city as "minimal."

Next day saw trouble. Early in the morning, about sixty protesters dressed in white anti-chemical suits burst through the barricades in Russell Street and headed for the Grand Hyatt chanting "our streets, our streets." Their way was blocked by a line of mounted police. The Age reported the group, called Arterial Block, rushed the police lines a second time later in the morning but "dramatically dropped to the ground just a metre before the horses and started laughing. They then headed to join the main demonstration, a line of police horses following. There, they stripped out of their suits and masks and dispersed among the other protesters."

Who did what in the ugly afternoon that followed will eventually be decided by the courts. Newspapers reported "hit-and-run sortiesVS" on police lines, a lone motorcycle cop being rescued by mounted police, the windows of an Isuzu riot van smashed with street signs, barricades pulled down, a television journalist assaulted, urine-filled balloons, wheelie bins, milk crates and other missiles thrown, the walls of a bank graffitied. Police were bitten, punched and kicked. A policeman sustained the most serious injury that day: a broken wrist. When the brawling had died down, Costello came out to the barricades to thank the police and condemn the demonstrators as thugs and criminals. "They organised themselves for violence, they prepared themselves for violence, they unleashed violence, they attacked property, they attacked the police, they tried to trash Australia's reputation."

Operation Salver was established within hours of the riot and began rounding up protesters. Police hunkered down to examine 10,000 photographs and 3,500 hours of footage, with the Herald Sun urging them forward. Next day, Drasko Boljevic was grabbed in a shop near RMIT University. "He was thrown into a white van by men who swore at him and failed to identify themselves," reported the Age. "He said he was tied up and one of them sat on his head as he was driven around the city. After being taken from the van near Flinders Street station, he was forced to kneel and was told he had been arrested." Detectives handcuffed him and took him to a police station. "I just think it's really bad what's been done to me," Boljevic said. "I just feel traumatised. I thought I was going to die because you don't know who these people are." He said he was 100 kilometres away in Malmsbury during the previous day's uproar. The chief commissioner of police, Christine Nixon, later confirmed that a man had been mistakenly arrested.

This democratic question is answered differently in every country: how much trouble do we allow demonstrators to cause? Even holding up traffic is verboten in Australia these days. As Dick Cheney's plane lumbered towards Sydney in late February, weighed down with armour-plated limousines, Howard, Kevin Rudd and the NSW premier, Morris Iemma, all insisted anti-war protesters had a democratic right to demonstrate against him - but they could not disrupt traffic. The prerogatives of the car are absolute except when they clash with the security needs of a world figure. While Sydney endured with good humour four days of traffic chaos necessary to keep Cheney safe - even the Bridge was closed to let him lunch with Howard at Kirribilli House - an attempt by a couple of hundred protesters to march a few blocks down George Street on the night of his arrival was met with the full force of the law.

In Town Hall Square Daniel Jones met old-timers who hadn't been on the streets since anti-Vietnam days. "It was a very broad rally. The Hicks issue had brought in a lot of small-1 liberals." When the crowd voted to march to the US Consulate, he found himself in the front line. He claims that after arguing for the right of the demonstrators to move onto George Street, he was punched three times in the face, had his shirt ripped and was being held on the ground when a group of demonstrators dragged him back into the crowd. "I was basically beaten up."

For his part, Dan Robins claims he was dragged behind a police truck, held briefly on the ground, kicked in the groin and grabbed in a move known as the nipple cripple. He says a policeman repeatedly told him: "You've been identified as a wanted person." Wanted for what? The officer wouldn't say. According to Robins, he gave the officer some ID and was then told to clear out. One of the police added: "You're not allowed to be in the CBD today or tomorrow." Robins took the advice.

Early next morning Cheney was speaking at the Shangri-La Hotel in the Rocks. Barely 100 demonstrators turned out, but they included a former Young Liberal with a banner that read: "The world needs more people like Dick Cheney. We love America." Sixty police standing shoulder to shoulder protected the hotel. A further fifty officers, including mounted police and dog handlers plus water cannon, were in reserve. All press reports concur that the gathering was uneventful until a move was made to arrest two members of the Tranny Cop Dance Troupe doing their usual street-theatre routine of mimicking police. In the melee that followed, four arrests were made. The performers were charged with wearing police uniforms when not police officers. Pip Hinman, an organiser of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "It was quite clear to everybody else these young women were simply there as a bit of a gag."

But this is no time for jokes. Demonstrators are despised by the tabloid press and both sides of politics. Kevin Rudd called the old lefties and students who tried to march along George Street the night Dick Cheney came to town "a bunch of violent ferals and they should expect absolutely no sympathy." In the shadow of APEC, tempers are short. Police scrutiny is now part of the everyday life of universities. "They are so obvious," says Davis-Frank. "Old men in surf-brand Ts, three-quarter-length pants and running shoes." When rallies of any size are planned on Sydney University campus, security calls in the local Newtown police. When Senator Kerry Nettle addressed a meeting at Sydney University in March to discuss the US Studies Centre to be established on campus, two plain-clothes police joined university security to keep an eye on about forty students. Police deny the man taking close-up photographs of faces was one of theirs. The university, police and students consider such heavy policing absolutely routine.

The dawn raids in Sydney came a fortnight after Cheney's visit. Menon, Jones, Robins and Davis-Frank presented themselves to a Melbourne court the following week. The bail conditions of the twenty-eight Victorians charged require them to stay out of New South Wales. Going north to demonstrate at APEC will land them straight in gaol. Victoria seems to be planning a single monster trial of all the accused G20 protesters late next year.

The following is another excerpt from p 64 to p 67 of the same essay

As attorney-general, Ruddock is responsible for ASIO, the domestic intelligence service into which has been poured, since September 11, extraordinary fresh resources - money, personnel and legislative powers. Together with the Australian Federal Police, ASIO is aggressively shaping public debate in the name of the nation's security. Whether these actions are justified or not is difficult to assess. At the centre, there have been significant raids, big trials - with more on the way - and some convictions. Though new security rules make reporting these cases difficult, they appear to represent legitimate and successful operations. It's out on the fringes of ASIO's work that more immediate doubts arise, and it's out there that Ruddock is fighting to maintain absolute secrecy.

On a Saturday morning in September 2005, Scott Parkin was sitting in the Kaleidoscope Cafe in Melbourne when ten men arrived and took him to the local police station. An American political activist in his thirties, Parkin had a track record for campaigning against Halliburton, the giant US oil-services company once run by Dick Cheney. The young American had been in Australia for a few months giving workshops in non-violent political activism. He'd also taken part in a few rallies. None involved him in violence. From the police station he rang a friend to say: "I've been told that a competent Australian authority has assessed that I am a national security risk." After being held in the cells for a few days, Parkin was thrown out of the country. There was no explanation, no charge, no trial and no chance to clear his name. Ruddock hinted darkly: "ASIO is responsible for protecting the Australian community from all forms of politically motivated violence, including violent protest activity."

Last November, the Federal Court granted Parkin's lawyers the right to see ASIO's assessment. That hasn't happened. The government was back in court immediately, claiming such a step could cause irreparable harm to national security. At least until the appeal is heard some time later this year, the lid stays firmly shut on the case.

Ruhal Ahmed never made it to Australia. He was one of three British boys who went out to Pakistan for a wedding in 2001 and ended up, after various wild adventures, in Guantanamo Bay. Their story had been turned into a prize-winning docudrama, Road to Guantanamo, by the fine British director Michael Winterbottom. Ahmed's tale had particular interest for Australians: for two years he lived in a cell close to David Hicks. "We couldn't see each other," he said. "But we could hear each other clearly, so every night for six months we spoke." The confessions forced from the three proved to be rubbish and the British demanded their release. The young men were never charged back home. Ahmed had travelled to Germany, France, Iceland, Turkey, Spain, Ireland, Holland and a number of other European countries to promote the film, but Australia refused him a visa "following a prejudicial security assessment by ASIO."

Now this episode becomes deeply bizarre. The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security was asked to investigate ASIO's role in the Ruhal Ahmed affair. He did so - and according to Ruddock's office he cleared the intelligence service. But neither Ruddock nor the inspector, lan Carnell, will release a copy of the findings. Reading from notes which he believed were "very similar words" to those in the report, the minister's press secretary, Steve Ingram, said:

The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security has completed his inquiry into the matter and concluded that ASIO acted legally and properly in making the assessment. They found the test was legally correct and the IGIS was of the view that the material available to ASIO was sufficient to conclude that this test was met, and went on to tell us that there is no indication whatsoever in the records that there was any political or external influence or attempt at such influence.

So the office of a minister who may have been accused of bringing improper political influence to bear can offer only a verbal assurance that the minister has been cleared. Ingram said: "Hope that is useful."

Last September, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) delivered its report on Ruddock's sedition legislation. This was the aspect of the 2005 security package that most directly challenged free speech, and these were the proposals that caused the most public uproar. If Australians are at last stirring about the fate of public debate in their country, it's largely because the Howard government has given fresh life to these ancient laws against political speech. The sedition provisions even gave the attack-dog columnists pause. When a handful of senators threatened to scuttle the legislation, Ruddock eased the bills through by promising an immediate review by the ALRC. The senators were duped.

In its report Fighting Words, the commission proposed thirty changes to draw "a bright line between freedom of expression - even when exercised in a challenging or unpopular manner - and the reach of the criminal law". To date, Ruddock has acted on none of them. He has ignored the recommendation that writers, journalists, performers, artists and academics be protected when going about their work in good faith. And he rejected out of hand the commission's fundamental suggestion that criminal penalties only apply to words intended to provoke violence. Just about every organisation of lawyers in the country backed the commission. They didn't want to see mere blather or angry commentary land people in jail. But Ruddock stuck to his guns: "The urging of the use of force and violence is, in its own right, dangerous and should be prohibited as a separate offence."

As I write this, I'm listening on the radio to the Prime Minister defending the "outstanding broadcaster" Alan Jones in the face of findings by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) that in the week before the Cronulla riots of December 2005, Jones' words on air were "likely to encourage violence or brutality". Neither Howard nor the Labor leader now felt they should dissociate themselves from the guilty broadcaster. Kevin Rudd told ABC radio he had read nothing "which would cause me not to go on" Jones' show.

Not even this? By the Thursday before the riot, Jones was screaming like a race caller whose horse was coming home: "I'm the person that's led this charge here. Nobody wanted to know about North Cronulla, now it's gathered to this." He assured his listeners he "understood" why a text message was doing the rounds and read it on air five times: "Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge. This Sunday every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla to support the Leb and wog bashing day ..." Daily Jones cautioned his listeners not to take the law into their own hands, but he warmed to those who had exactly that in mind. Listeners' tales of vigilante action were read on air.

1 comment:

selva said...

All I want to do is go for three weeks to visit my brother in Australia . I know you really hate illegal immigrants and all - although I can't think why since you incarcerate them all in detention camps and keep them safely out of sight. This much paperwork could take me a lifetime to put together. Maybe I should take my tourist dollars somewhere else where it’s far more exciting and probably easier to get in - like Australia or Iraq.