At Crikey we’ve given World Youth Day plenty, particularly about the outrageous amount of taxpayer funding showered on the event by the NSW and Federal Governments. But none of the outrage over the anti-annoyance laws should be directed at the Catholic Church. As WYD spokesman Jim Hanna — who is really earning his money — told Crikey, they’re copping a hiding over this and it’s entirely unjustified.

Neither the WYD organisers nor the Catholic Church asked for these regulations and, as Hanna rightly says, they would’ve been mad to do so, quite apart from the rights or wrongs of them.

The NSW Government’s chief WYD apologist, Kristina Keneally, defended the regulations in the SMH today, by arguing that they’ve been repeatedly used at other occasions such as major sporting events.

That’s just the problem. The NSW Government has an appalling record of savagely infringing civil liberties in its quest for law and order at “special events” (many of which are unwanted by Sydney residents). The entire CBD was locked down, businesses closed and hundreds of thousands of people subjected to massive inconvenience as part of the Government’s over-the-top APEC security measures last year — which the Chaser exposed as being essentially hollow.

Last November, they made permanent extraordinary “temporary” police powers to stop, search and seize established in the wake of the Cronulla riots.

The NSW government is not alone in this sort of garbage. All Australian governments since 2001 have been guilty of a national security state-style hysteria under which they have dramatically expanded their powers of surveillance, harassment and criminal enforcement under the pretext of protecting their citizens.

These are governments that are afraid of their own people, or significant sections thereof, and see in any expression of legitimate protest a threat to themselves. Of all our Federal and State leaders, only Jon Stanhope in the Socialist Republic of the ACT has had the guts to question this.

But under this relentless pressure, bit by bit, our conception of what is reasonable and tolerable has slid toward absurdity, as any trip through an airport these days shows.

Keneally also conveniently omits one point from her apologia for her government’s attack on its citizens’ rights. Have a look at the regulations. The requirement not to annoy or inconvenience WYD participants (I refuse to use the rather Chaucerian term “pilgrims”) doesn’t just apply to Randwick Racecourse or the Sydney Opera House or wherever noted homophobe Joseph Ratzinger (stage name: Pope Benedict) is putting on his act.

The affected areas encompass a huge part of Sydney — every Catholic school and church, a huge number of public schools, and all railway stations as well as much of the CBD. Be careful where you talk about child abuse during the World Youth events.

This is a government that tries to manage the media cycle by relentlessly expanding its powers to inconvenience, arrest and imprison its citizens, in the vain hope that its heavyhandedness will be mistaken for the competence and good judgement it so clearly lacks.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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