Jeff Bracks is continuing his fine impersonation of his predecessor with the Commonwealth Games Act looking remarkably like the notorious Grand Prix Act and Ron Walker is once again the man who will get to trample over people’s rights.
The Act laid waste planning and environmental provisions. It abrogated common law rights. It gave unfettered power to the Grand Prix Corporation and its officials to assume control of designated areas surrounding Albert Park. The Victoria Police, confused and annoyed by their role as a security arm of the Corporation, made hundreds of arrests of protesters only to have their prosecutions thrown out of court. The Act was found to be fundamentally flawed.
Now, in a breathtaking display of ignorance, the Bracks Government is preparing to introduce the Commonwealth Games Arrangement Act and what sordid a piece of legislation it reveals itself to be. The very group which berated Kennett for the excesses of the Grand Prix Act has now instituted its own attack on the democratic process.
Like its predecessor, The Games Act overrides earlier legislation which was drafted to ensure community consultation and input. Out the window goes the Planning and Environment Act, the Heritage Act, the Environmental Effects Act, the Coastal Management Act and the Building Act. The Games Act will remain in force the end of 2006.
Moreover, Section 56 of the Act empowers the police to remove people from any Games site without arrest if the constabulary believe they are damaging property or engaging in violent behaviour and the offenders numbers are so great that public order cannot be preserved. This section frees the police from the troublesome – and time consuming – procedures of dealing with protesters. It appears to be designed purely to facilitate police action against those citizens who may feel aggrieved by certain actions of the Games organisers.
And what actions might they be? Well, there is the small matter of the reconstruction of the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Games. The Bracks regime is well aware that the Members’ Stand, which includes the famous Long Room, is heritage listed. Its projected destruction is, and will continue to be, a matter of vigorous public debate. The National Trust and a significant section of the public argue that the MCG can be refurbished without the Stand’s demolition.
Then there is the issue of where to place the Games Village. The favoured location is in Royal Park, just north of Melbourne’s CBD. The Royal Park Protection Group and other community bodies strongly oppose this option. Section 56 would be a useful tool to suppress dissent within the park. Without the protection of the Coastal Management Act, the shores of Port Phillip Bay are open to the possibility of hasty and inappropriate developments. In the face of the Games Act, locals will be powerless to oppose them.
The Bracks Government has joined hands with the power behind Melbourne’s major events, Ron Walker, and consequently stand accused of gross hypocrisy. By introducing an anti-social piece of legislation, a mirror image of the Grand Prix Act, the administration has given Walker cart blanche to realise his boy’s own agenda. It appears that the businessman has made himself indispensable to government in Victoria. Bracks is frequently photographed in his company and is now spouting Walker’s tired lines concerning the monetary value of the Grand Prix, ludicrously claiming that 350 million people are glued to their televisions to watch the race.
It was only in March of this year that Bracks informed this writer, in an off the cuff comment, that he would rather be anywhere else than the Grand Prix but “there are some things I can’t get out of.” His relationship with Walker, his willingness to follow the Kennett path of devising illiberal legislation to advance sporting events, suggest that he was lying. The Commonwealth Games Arrangement Act is a disgrace to any Government; that it should come from a group of men and women who espoused democratic ideals in opposition defies further comment.
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