Occupy Melbourne protesters are facing down State Library of Victoria management, who told them this morning to vacate the institution’s front lawns by noon.

As British authorities launch legal action to shift their comrades from outside St Paul’s Cathedral, the global movement’s Melbourne chapter were informed, in a heated confrontation with a library bureaucrat, that their presence contravened “public safety”.

Around 50 protesters camped last night on the Library’s grassy slopes, following a 5.30pm “general assembly” attended by about 150 activists.

One protester, Sean Bedlam, told Crikey he and others were informed by a harried employee at about 9.30am today — following an initial approach from police — that they couldn’t remain on-site due to “concerns about public safety”.

The staffer said he was acting on a directive from the Library’s acting CEO Sue Hamilton.

When protesters raised the spectre of their recent violent eviction by shield-wielding riot police from the City Square as an actual example of dangerous unrest, the employee turned puce and repeatedly screamed “let me finish”.

As Crikey hits the publish button early this afternoon, senior State Library officials were locked in crisis talks to determine the protesters’ fate. A spokesperson for the hallowed institution, Matthew van Hasselt, said that as far as he was aware the library “owned” the land up to the Swanston Street footpath.

Occupy Melbourne participants have been living a fluid existence ever since they were violently forced from City Square ten days ago by officers acting on the orders of Melbourne Lord Mayor and former Liberal opposition leader Robert Doyle. The latest eviction follows an extended game of cat and mouse with the government and police.

On Saturday, activists had converged on Treasury Gardens before resolving to camp temporarily at Bowen Lane behind the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. But Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardner deigned they were not welcome to occupy the campus and that she had delegated their expunging to the plod. There were also concerns amid protesters that the boxed-in lane was a natural target for police “kettling tactics”.

Late on Saturday night, the group shifted 100 metres to the State Library lawn, a traditional meeting place for local dissenters.

Bedlam said that sleeping on the lawns was “a completely harmless activity … what we seem to be discovering is that there’s no such thing as public space in Melbourne”.

While last night’s tents had now been packed away into vehicles “to avoid confrontation”, Bedlam said there was a possibility of a resurrection tonight, depending on the outcome of a democratic vote.

“There’s a six o’clock general assembly, we will work out our next move,” he said. “It’s very much an hour-to-hour thing.”

A similar ban on camping equipment was levied on Saturday in the Treasury Gardens, when police ruled the presence of “tents or infrastructure” would be interpreted as a breach of the law.

The State Library lawn has a long history of accommodating extended protests, with an anti-war peace camp persisting for several days and nights a decade ago.

The Melbourne tumult comes as an Essential Research poll, published elsewhere in today’s edition, shows 29% of respondents supported the protesters with just 13% opposed.

Peter Fray

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