Greens Senator Larissa Waters has written to Queensland Police Minister Neil Roberts to demand action after multinational miner Arrow Energy paid rent-a-cops to act as private security at a coal seam gas protest.
After a recent CSG convergence at Kerry, south of Brisbane, Arrow admitted to paying police to draft in armed special services, or “SS” forces, to stare down protesters, leading to 15 arrests.
Waters has also asked Roberts to reveal whether Queensland Police was working in league with the Australian Federal Police to spy on protesters using covert surveillance.
Around 100 police were in attendance at the tense Kerry stand-off, some paid the going commercial rate of about $110 per hour. Queensland regulations permit companies to pay police where a local commander considers a response is warranted “over and above” usual rostering.
Companies are asked to submit a written application outlining their security needs, conveniently available on the QPS website. “Police escorts or road works traffic direction” cost about $108.35 per hour or $216.70 on public holidays. A horse is a relative bargain at $6.65 while a 50 horse power boat goes for $162.15. A stationary vehicle costs $21.70.
In January, Queensland Police released a statement explaining its stance, claiming it was unfair to burden taxpayers with the cost of protest patrols. It said it was not profiting from the exercise and was simply recouping revenue. Police remained under the direction of the Commissioner at all times, the force added.
Last week, about 50 police, some from the tactical response unit, attended a protest 250 people (including a sweat drenched Alan Jones) at a New Hope Group coal dump at Jondaryan, west of Brisbane.
However, in a statement provided to Crikey, New Hope — a large Liberal party donor — admitted to liaising with Queensland Police but said it did not pay police for attending. A spokesperson for the force confirmed that the Southern Region officers present were all on rostered duty at the time.
Queensland Gas Company — the target of CSG protests last year — also said in a statement that it had never paid police.
Lock the Gate campaigner and veteran activist Drew Hutton told Crikey that the current arrangements were “completely inappropriate”.
“It reminds me of our how police were used in the strike breaking days. That’s the danger, it’s one thing for a community group to pay for police as security or a street festival — that clearly is in the public interest. But where there’s a private company trying to shut down protests, police are conflicted from the outset.”
Feisty Katter Party MP Aidan McLindon said the practice of paying police was akin to a military attack on an innocent population.
“During World War II you bombed the ports what we’re now seeing the same thing with miners and financial transactions. We’ve now got a situation where foreign owned miners are subcontracting to arrest citizens. It’s become an absolute farce,” he said.
Arrow is half owned by PetroChina and half by Royal Dutch Shell following a 2010 foreign takeover.
Senator Waters said she had also asked the Minister which provisions of state legislation permitted police to be hired by private interests and also asked him to explain how discretion is exercised during the protest.
“Citizens and community members have a legal and legitimate right to protest the actions of the mining industry, especially when those actions pose a long-term risk to the viability of our farmland, water resources, environment and regional communities,” she told Crikey.
Last week, Roberts denied that there was any conflict of interest in mining companies paying police.
“I do not accept that there was any conflict of interest in police officers performing special services at the recent CSG protests at Kerry,” the Nudgee MP said.
“At all times police officers are subject to the direction of the commissioner of police. Officers never become the employees of the person or organisation paying for special service duties. All officers work to uphold the laws of the state and do so without fear or favour.”
But Waters was unimpressed: “We believe the primary role of the police at mining rallies is to ensure the safety of everyone involved, and not to advance the interests of mining companies. It is difficult to see how police can do their job ‘without fear or favour’ when they are accepting money from private interests in the mining industry.”
Yesterday, the Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee nixed a Waters-sponsored private member’s bill that would have granted the federal government the right to veto rogue CSG operations.