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Australia

Aug 28, 2015

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Operation Fortitude was called off this afternoon after protesters descended on Flinders Street Station, blocking a major intersection and streaming into the train station. Australian Border Force officials were nowhere to be seen, with Victoria Police’s media officers informing the media the planned press conference was postponed, back on again, and then cancelled. About 300 protesters chanted that the Australian Border Force was not welcome in Melbourne, comparing them to the Nazis and Gestapo. The protesters focused on the concern that the operation would involve racial profiling.

The Australian Border Force’s press release this morning said that Operation Fortitude would be a joint operation between ABF, Victoria Police, Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, the Sheriff’s Office and the Taxi Services Commission to “support the best interests of Melbournians, targeting everything from anti-social behaviour to outstanding warrants”. ABF regional commander for Victoria and Tasmania Don Smith said in the release: “ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with.” While the release said the operation was aimed at anti-social behaviour, it also quoted Smith warning visa over-stayers –  “You need to be aware of the conditions of your visa; if you commit visa fraud you should know it’s only a matter of time before you’re caught out.”

But a “clarifiying statement” released early this afternoon said “In this operation, ABF officers will assist partner agencies by conducting background visa checks on individuals who are referred to us. To be clear, the ABF does not and will not stop people at random in the streets.”

“The ABF does not target of the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity.”

The event was due to commence at 2pm on the iconic steps of Flinders Street station, but as 2pm passed, the show of force was nowhere to be seen. Protesters outside chanted “refugees are welcome, Border Force is not”. Victoria Police officers stayed inside the station, until protesters moved to block traffic on Swanston Street and Flinders Street. At this point, media officers from Victoria Police told Crikey the event would be held inside the station. Victoria Police media staff and Australian Border Force staff were waiting inside the small Victoria Police hub at Flinders Street Station, where they could not be seen by the public due to the mirrored walls. After word spread that the event was to be moved to inside the station — past the Myki gates — protesters moved inside the station and continued to make themselves heard.

The peaceful protest ultimately ended when word spread that the Victoria Police had decided to cancel the event — for the second time.

“We’ll be back,” protesters shouted.

After the crowd dispersed, Border Force staff quietly fled the station flanked by six Victoria Police officers.

After the operation was cancelled, Victorian Police Minister Wade Noonan slammed the Australian Border Force, calling the announcement “unfortunate and inappropriate charatcerisation” of what he called a “standard police operation”.

“The State Government was notified this month that Victoria Police would lead a joint-agency operation this weekend in the CBD aimed at keeping Victorians safe.

“We were advised it would target anti-social behaviour and commuters to ensure people got home safely. The community’s safety and wellbeing is always the government’s priority.

“Operation Fortitude was intended to be a standard police operation.

“We fully support the decision by Victoria Police to cancel the operation after the unfortunate and inappropriate characterisation by the Australian Border Force today.”

The operation has been criticised by many corners of politics. In a statement, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm said “either the Border Force are doing racial profiling, in which case they should stop it, or they are harassing everyone, and they should stop that as well. We do not need any more uniformed goons. This indicates that the Border Force should be radically downsized and its workers allowed to do something useful for a living.”

Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles said: “There is no question that there is an appropriate role for the government’s newly established Australian Border Force to be playing in cracking down on visa fraud.”

“We support those efforts — but what we have witnessed in the last six hours has been a complete debacle on Peter Dutton’s watch.”

The Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young said: “There’s questions now by lawyers as to whether this has been a breach of human rights. It’s definitely overreach by the minister, but overall it’s border farce.”

Australia

Mar 25, 2015

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In 2014, my colleague Jake Lynch, the distinguished peace-journalist and academic, head of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, made international news by defeating a racial discrimination lawsuit brought against him by an Israeli “lawfare” centre for his support for the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign for a just peace in Israel-Palestine.

But less than a year after his BDS victory, Lynch is once again the object of a concerted campaign, this time calling for his dismissal from Sydney University.

Lynch’s critics charge him with “a shocking incident of vile anti-Semitism”. This is not the first time Lynch has faced this claim: as any Palestine supporter knows, anti-Semitism is the go-to allegation in the face of opposition to Israel.

Even so, the present charge of anti-Semitism must count as one of the most risible Lynch has ever faced. A brief indication of the circumstances shows why.

Along with other BDS activists on the Sydney University staff, Lynch and I were in the audience at a March 11 talk on conflicts with non-state armed groups by Colonel Richard Kemp, who is in Australia as a guest of the United Israel Appeal, an organisation that “works to further the national priorities of the State of Israel and Israeli society”. Kemp is a well-known apologist for the Israel Defence Forces, with a track record of defending their murder of Palestinian civilians. In reference to last year’s war in Gaza, responsible for the deaths of over 1,500 Palestinian civilians, he described Israel as “world leaders in actions to minimise civilian casualties”.

Kemp had been speaking for about 15 minutes when a group of protesters walked into the lecture theatre, denouncing him for his complicity with Israel’s state-sanctioned murder of Palestinians. As I’ve argued elsewhere, this protest was entirely justifiable. But it’s what happened next that has provoked the ferocious attacks that may jeopardise Lynch’s career.

Very shortly after the protest started, university security began forcefully ejecting protesters. I saw one protester being dragged by his heels out of the room, his back being harshly jolted along the ground. As is confirmed by video evidence, at one point someone turned off the lights, presumably in order to prevent the ejection being properly documented.

Shortly afterwards, Lynch calmly walked to the front of the lecture theatre, telling security that their role was not to take sides in a political dispute, still less to use force as a first resort. It is then that the incident occurred that has made Lynch the target of the present campaign.

An audience member, a purple-haired woman probably in her 60s, embarked on a bizarre series of physical attacks on both Lynch and some of the protesters. She repeatedly threw water from a bottle — first over two of the protesters, including one young, headscarf-wearing woman standing quietly at the front of the lecture theatre, and then over Lynch. Video evidence of two of these incidents has been published here; I was a witness to the third. I also saw the woman snatch Lynch’s phone, and Lynch has said she kicked at his groin twice. The police were called as a result of these attacks.

As the woman continued to lash out at him and others, Lynch told her that she risked a costly court case if she continued, since he would sue her for damages. The financial price of confrontations with the Israel lobby must be at the front of Lynch’s mind; during the case against him last year, he stood to lose his house.

The intention of Lynch’s remarks is beyond doubt: as his own video of the incident records, he made it explicit: “Give us another bottle of water, another hundred dollars,” he said. “Go on, another few thousand, another few thousand of damages.”

In the course of these exchanges, he briefly took a $5 note out of his top pocket to emphasise the point: a blurry still photo of this moment was, for a number of days, exhibit No. 1 for the prosecution, and was circulated endlessly on the internet as unambiguous proof that Lynch — who has a long history of involvement in human rights struggles against apartheid and against Sri Lankan oppression of Tamils — is actually an egregious bigot.

What Lynch’s supposed anti-Semitism boils down to, then, is threatening to sue someone who lashed out at him while he was trying to dissuade security guards from manhandling students.

It doesn’t matter to his critics that there is no indication at all that Lynch thought the woman to whom he mentioned money was Jewish — indeed, her identity is still unknown. It doesn’t matter that the video evidence, in the public domain since last Wednesday, shows beyond any doubt that the explicit context of his references to money was the warning that the woman risked being sued. It doesn’t even matter that nothing in the woman’s reaction suggests that she made any other interpretation. The allegations of anti-Semitism, it seems, do not require the support of any facts to be levelled.

These irresponsible accusations gravely discredit those responsible for them. Writing in The Guardian, Dean Sherr has stated that “the image of a leftwing academic brandishing money in the faces of Jewish people clearly evokes the crude antisemitic falsehood that Jews are obsessed with money.” Sherr’s description is accurate despite himself: it is not the reality of Lynch brandishing money in the concrete context in question that evoked antisemitic stereotypes, but a subsequent, vexatiously interpreted image of it, endlessly trafficked by sectional Israeli interests to smear one of their most prominent, and successful, ideological opponents.

Various commentators have tried to present the protest and its sequel as evidence of a worrying decline in racial tolerance in Australia, in which Jews are particularly victimised.

Quite the contrary. What threatens race relations in this country is not the ordinary exercise of democratic prerogatives, among which disruptive protest holds a central place. What undermines Australian racial harmony, such as it is, is the politically motivated instrumentalisation of a very serious charge — anti-Semitism — for short-term political gain. This trivialisation of racism risks tainting, by association, the very real racism — against Aboriginal people in particular, but also against Muslims, Jews and Asians — that is an undeniable blight on Australian life. It is irresponsible; it must not be entertained.

Claims of Lynch’s anti-Semitism should be dismissed as what they are: a deplorable attack on one of the strongest voices for Palestinian justice in our community.

The University of Sydney has responded to the allegations by launching an investigation into the incident.

*Nick Riemer is a member of Sydney Staff for BDS, a group of University of Sydney employees campaigning for the university to endorse the academic boycott of Israel.

Federal

May 22, 2014

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If you’ve read the Murdoch press in Melbourne today, you’d think yesterday’s student protests outside state Parliament House were violent clashes between feral students and police. The Herald Sun advised “delinquent” students to “GET A JOB!” after a front page implying the protesters were attention-seekers with some mummy issues …

Herald SunHerald Sun

Similarly, on The Australian’s front page, David Crowe wrote that the young protesters “show the political fringe at work in an attempt to steal the limelight with a rallying cry, based on personal hatred”.

But when Crikey headed down to Melbourne’s Spring Street yesterday afternoon, the protest seemed much less dramatic than portrayed in the Murdoch press. Parliament was sea of neon green (pictured below), with police far outnumbering protesters. A line of police blocked access to the road and Parliament steps, on horseback and on foot. About 100 protesters stood in front of the lines of cops, hurling abuse about the “brutality” of the Victoria Police.

protest

“You need to look at your own attitude guys,” one of the students yelled. But all Crikey could see in the police’s attitude was exhaustion.

A young protester, Lachlan Stirling, told us that most protesters had left after a few speeches, realising they would not be allowed on the steps of Parliament. Another protester leaving the event told Crikey it had been “a peaceful protest”. At around 4pm, at the end of the demonstration, 13 protesters were arrested for staging a sit-in on the road.

Only a very few protesters became unruly and interacted with police. Stirling said a 15-year-old-girl (now made infamous on the front page of the Hun and the Oz) who was supporting the protests had declared she would “exercise her right” to sit on the Spring Street tram tracks. About 20 people joined her, linking arms. He said the police then began to “tear people out”, and estimated that each individual was carried off the road by six or seven police.

The police repeatedly told the protesters to move off the road before taking action.

As things calmed down and the 13 “troublemakers” had been taken away, police began to leave. An announcement was made to the crowd that a few protesters were going down to Melbourne West Police Station to support those arrested.

The bulk of the protest looked to include harmless marching, speeches and chanting, with most protesters courteous and well-behaved. It wasn’t until after most of the Melbourne demonstrators had headed for their trains home that today’s headlines were created.

Tips and rumours

Mar 20, 2014

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

What’s happened to The RiotACT? It looks like The RiotACT, a popular and long-lived Canberra gossip website much loved by public servants, is in some trouble. The RiotACT has been around since 2000 and since then it’s launched countless troll wars and brought us many quirky Canberra tales (think spy tunnels under mysterious Canberra security buildings). Now this is appearing on ASIC’s website:

“External administration” means “administration, receivership and liquidation”. The page also shows this:

So is this the end for The RiotACT?

We knew the site, which is free and carries advertising, was troubled back in January when key writer and provocateur Johnboy (aka John Griffiths) got the sack. Here’s the man himself in a memorable Skywhale tribute hat:

At the time Johnboy posted: “I’ve been informed my services cannot be retained. A new buyer for the site is potentially in the wings and who knows what their plans will be?” In the comments stream, “Jazz” (aka RiotACT managing director Tim Hyde) said: “We’re trying to find a way that we can do to retain John and Barcham as i think they do a great job but the reality is that it costs us about $100,000 a year more than we make from advertising …”.

The site appears to have gone downhill somewhat since then, and the trolls have taken over. There are rumours it was sold. We’ve heard minor investors may have moved to liquidate the company to buy the assets from the liquidator. Here are some user comments from the last few days on the site’s future:

“Jazz told us yesterday that he doesn’t work here anymore, either.”

“So who is steering the ship? Is it going to get all ‘Lord of the Flies’ around here now?”

“I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see the whole site shut down in the near future. It was fun while it lasted.”

We’ll keep you posted. We’ve asked the site’s management for comment.

Qantas snouts in the trough? We heard this from an anonymous mole:

“Interesting that after Qantas executives Alan Joyce, Jayne Hrdlicka, Gareth Evans and Andrew Parker appeared before the Senate on Tuesday night crying poor and talking about how all in the Qantas ‘family’ had to tighten their belts to help the airline survive that they all managed to find enough cash to host quite a large dinner at one of Canberra’s most expensive restaurants immediately after their appearance — quite a few bottles of top-shelf wine were consumed before they and their large entourage bedded down for the night at the Hyatt. Not quite the same austerity measures that the rest of us at Qantas are now expected to abide by.”

But did they really live the high life? We put the tip to a Qantas spokesman, who responded:

“Like most Qantas rumours out there, this one is false. Qantas executives, including Alan Joyce, stayed at Rydges Hotel, not the Hyatt. They did eat dinner. It was not at ‘one of Canberra’s most expensive restaurants’ as suggested nor was expensive wine consumed.”

For non-Canberra types, the hotel is significant. The Hyatt is a posh place on Commonwealth Avenue, right near Parliament House. It’s a famous people’s pied-a-terre when they want to check out Parliament. But Rydges is a pretty standard joint in the CBD — so it sounds like the Qantas team were not in the lap of luxury.

We’d be intrigued to hear where Joyce and Co did have dinner and what wine (if any) was drunk. Was it the funky Chairman and Yip diner, perhaps? Looking at the Qantas books, they should have gone to Timmy’s Kitchen for egg fried rice. If you spotted the Qantas team dining, fill us in here.

Nervous flyers, tune out now. We’ve been running tips of late about how airlines censor out reports on airline disasters from inflight news. Not in the US, a reader told us:

“I flew United from Los Angeles to Newark [in New Jersey] on Monday and was surprised to see a lengthy report on MH370 on the news bulletin piped to all seats prior to takeoff. The following story was about a Delta aircraft which lost part of its wing during a flight on Sunday. Obviously the US doesn’t share the same sensitivity for nervous fliers.”

Ms Tips would have checked off the plane by then.

Protest: you be the judge.There’s been plenty of debate in the wake of March in March around political protests, how far they should go, and how they should be covered by the media. People protesting against a planned massive tunnel right underneath Melbourne (the East West Link) have circulated this video of protesters standing in the way of Premier Denis Napthine’s car yesterday. A protest spokesman said Napthine “directed his driver to ram through our protest! In the process he ran over one of the protesters (Toby Dite) foot and they had to be taken to hospital.”

We’ve looked at the video and it seems the protesters are trying to block Napthine from driving away, and in doing so they have put themselves in danger. What are politicians supposed to do in these circumstances? Watch the video for yourself, and feel free to post your opinion in our comments stream. Do the protesters go too far?

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Victoria

Feb 3, 2014

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Victoria’s Parliament is poised, without much fanfare or scrutiny, to pass a bill that would drastically increase police powers and severely curtail our basic human rights.

I’m talking about the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013. Haven’t heard of it? The bill was introduced last year during the Christmas rush and represents a significant expansion of the “move on” powers, which currently allow police officers to give a direction to a person or group to leave a public place for 24 hours. At present, there is a protest exception to these provisions, meaning they do not apply to pickets, demonstrations or speaking and publicising a point of view.

If passed, the bill would bestow unprecedented power upon police officers to issue “move on” orders in a range of new situations and could be used to move homeless people along. If you are part of a group, an officer can issue you a “move on” order if he or she merely suspects you are likely to breach the peace. You do not have to get this order personally for it to apply.

The protest exception has also been watered down, meaning any kind of direct action, including picketing a workplace, will no longer enjoy protection from the expanded “move on” powers. The effect is that people exercising democratic rights can be arrested, fined and — here is the kicker — ultimately could face jail. If the bill is passed, police could apply to the court to obtain an exclusion order against certain people to prevent them from entering or remaining in a public place for up to a year. If you breach an exclusion order, you could be sentenced to up to two years in jail.

The proposed reforms essentially serve to criminalise a whole set of behaviours that form the bedrock of liberal democracy. Quite simply, this is an assault on freedom of association and freedom of assembly. A law like this would have fined that pesky Mahatma Gandhi, would have cleared the lunch counters in America’s Deep South and issued the Freedom Riders with an exclusion order. This law would have locked up the union movement that started the eight-hour work day campaign here in Melbourne, which took off around the entire world.

I get where the government is coming from, I really do. It is hard defending millionaires like Daniel Grollo, whose construction company Grocon is currently facing accusations of obstructing the investigation into the wall collapse at its site in Swanston Street that killed three pedestrians. If those nasty unions continue to protest about Grocon’s safety record, in future the police will be able to use move on powers to end that swiftly.

It is also hard for the Liberal government to defend a policy like the East West tunnel, a project so good the government is just too nervous to show everyone why the investment of $8 billion of taxpayers’ money is justified. But now they can relax! The police will be able to seek exclusion orders all over Collingwood and Fitzroy so they can drill in peace, without all that trouble caused by people rudely trying to prevent the demolition of their homes.

News flash, Victorians: this bill is a scandal. It sits in stark contrast to a number of provisions in our Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (let alone many international standards). It is a small-minded response from a small-minded government, but it has potentially big effects.

The bill could be pushed through Parliament before February ends. So it’s time to start a freedom ride of our own. We need to remind the government that power is not theirs to abuse; it is the people’s to bestow.

*Opponents have organised a protest rally against the bill on February 18 at 10am on Spring Street

COLUMNS

Nov 28, 2013

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Just like books, forms of government and haircuts, protest has a history of styles. The style of liberal democracy unfolded in France, for example, thanks in no small part to the books of a man who had the same haircut as Michael Bolton. While Voltaire was legitimising future freedoms — including that to wear a reverse mullet in public — one of the protest styles of his time and place was the Grain Riot.

These Grain Riots were an early industrial flashmob: the hungry rural poor would descend upon a market for a morning of synchronised shoplifting. Only bread or grain was stolen; fancier goods like cake remained strategically untouched. The food, whose cost was now contingent on the emerging market economy, was then bought and sold by the rioters to each other at a just price.

Inflation might have produced famine, but it also gave us French peasants with a cunning protest style. Late capitalism has produced richer peasants and with us, milder expressions of dissent. The old revolutionaries had economic uprising; we can buy Awareness ribbons.

Of course, Awareness is not all we have in what sociology calls a repertoire of contention. The developed world, the digital world and dependent nations all continue to produce new and noteworthy forms of protest, which I hope to canvass in this weekly diary. But there is an awful lot of Awareness about. The last months of the year are particularly bright with ribbons.

October is annually awash with the optimism of pink and, more lately, with the impatience of the breast cancer survivors it purports to assist. Not only are some commentators exasperated with the use of pink as a disingenuous marketing tool, others have become convinced that this month is less about awareness than it is obfuscation; many critique what they regard as bad medical information. One recent academic study that set out to examine the campaign’s effectiveness unexpectedly found that the pink brand made women perceive their risk of breast cancer as lower and tended to dissuade them from donating to breast cancer charities. While it is almost certainly true that the month affords comfort to many breast cancer survivors, it is also almost certainly untrue that it does much more than that. October is a month where some women get to feel individually good.

And November is a month where men are required to feel individually bad. This month’s signature colour is white, and its chief Awareness moment occurred this past Monday with International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Also known as White Ribbon Day, this campaign which urges awareness in men receives broad and uncritical attention from football teams and and the Murdoch press.

Of course, only a nut and/or a men’s rights activist would critique the objective of this campaign. Every reasonable person wants to diminish the incidence of violence in the world. But, perhaps not all reasonable people would agree that “Awareness”, such as it has come to exist, is an effective way to achieve this end.

Awareness is less a form of social protest, perhaps, than it is a form of introspection. Inward-looking may not be a great problem when it comes to thinking about cancer. Here, the act of liberating the individual is, at worst, a feel-good indulgence. In considering the matter of their own potential for violence, however, subjects might be best swayed away from solitary thinking.

While it might seem noble for a man to wear the ribbon and declare that they are deep in thought about the matter of their own violence, it is also anti-social. Given that violence itself is an anti-social expression, awareness seems a bad choice.

Take the oath, the website promises, and you can end violence toward women. Such is the power of one.

The Awareness movement is not concerned with the social but with the self. Here, the individual is responsible for taking the “oath” not to physically harm women. As Awareness has it, there is not greater or more forceful authority than the individual; problems and their solutions all start and end with introspection. A less forgiving psychologist might diagnose this as narcissism.

The news that NSW police wore white ribbons yesterday to the trial of murderer Simon Gittany was enormously well-received on traditional and social media. While the flourish may have comforted those grieving the victim, Lisa Harnum, it likely does little else but call the morality of the NSW police into question. That those professionally sworn to serve and protect citizens from harm would take an extra oath is curious.

This is Awareness: an anti-social form of social action in which there is no higher authority than the individual. Not even the NSW police.

Townspeople of the 17th and 18th centuries stealing bread are, rather arguably, more socially connected in their protest than these officers or the well-intentioned ambassadors of breast cancer. The rabble sought to defy social order. The awareness campaigner seeks only introspection.

So this Sunday on the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day — the bright red, near-forgotten antecedent of all this Awareness — perhaps we should not pause to reflect. Perhaps we should just act to steal, buy and sell anti-viral drugs to those who most urgently need them. Awareness is the cake we can ill-afford to eat.

* Helen Razer describes herself as a semi-professional bellyacher and Marxist of convenience

Europe

Apr 16, 2013

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By now, the right-wing commentariat and desperate Tories must be wondering if it was a good idea to turn Margaret Thatcher’s funeral into such a naked and triumphal political event. Had they left it as the mid-level public/private send-off due any PM, the protests might have ceased with the Saturday evening party at Trafalgar Square, by all reports something of a half-hearted occasion (your correspondent skipped it for the launch party of a 3D printing anarchist makerspace in Berlin — the future of post-capitalism, as opposed to its defeated past).

But with the military lining the room, dress listed as “ceremonial … without swords”, and the coffin to be borne by a selection of Falklands veterans (old joke: Thatcher’s walking among the homeless of ’80s London, sees a man with a sign saying “Falklands veteran”, gives him 20 quid, he replies: “muchas gracias, senora”) who retain all four limbs, the event has become one that anti-Thatcher protesters can’t ignore. It’s a fusion of state, politics and ideological power that has to be cracked open.

Thatcher couldn’t not have a state funeral — in essence because her role was not to free people from the state, but to reinvade a contested social space with state power, thus making sovereignty possible again. That’s why, in the end, Thatcher confused herself with the sovereign (“we have become a grandmother”). For her not to have a de facto state funeral would be an absence, a gaping lack.

Her domestic policy was always proto- and paramilitary. Any imposition of neoliberalism has to be. A classic example of neoliberalism — Pinochet’s Chile — was also the template, and subsequent impositions were merely variants on it, designed to allow for the messy business of elections and actually existing democracy. No wonder Thatcher retained her loyalty to Pinochet to the end. (I can’t really hate her for it — I’d defend Fidel Castro to the last, no matter what the violent idiocies the man has perpetrated.)

So protest is essential. Inevitably it has become the occasion for assessing how the contemporary state thinks about civil activities. Police announced they were monitoring social media, discussion sites, etc, for protest activity in order to “prevent crime”. This repressive conception of policing — the police are there to investigate crime afterwards, not to investigate “pre-crime” — went unremarked upon. By the weekend the police were talking about section five of the Public Order Act, under which it could be an offence to cause someone “insult or distress”.

Ah yes, it’s our old friend “insult” again. The word that should have no place in the law books, the word that no one on the Left should tolerate for a second in any statute, rears its head to impose order, to reach beyond the purview of law — the management of bodies in public space — to make a series of interpretations. By Monday, the police had officially confirmed that it would not be be an arrestable offence to turn your back on Thatcher’s funeral cortege as it passed by. What better demonstration of the profoundly repressive nature of Thatcherism — and the social management policy of Blairism bolted onto it — that it would not be criminal to rotate your body 180 degrees in a public place on a Wednesday afternoon?

“Trouble is, the folks who know how to use these technologies may not be predisposed to become engaged …”

How is the Left to respond to police lurking in the cybersphere to detect pre-crime? In the UK we’ve had an example of this when a half-dozen anarchists were rounded up the day before the latest royal wedding after making vague online talk of planning a disruptive republican party. Principally, what struck one was the otiose stupidity of the people concerned, most of whom were anthropology lecturers at polytechnics-turned-universities, amazed that the state that paid them to teach that it would wither away would actually collar them. Most were arrested at their homes, the simple expedient of couch-surfing for a few nights to go off-grid clearly beyond them.

Now it’s happening again. Plans for civil disobedience at what has long since ceased to be the burial of a senile 80+ grandmother (Carol Thatcher, the daughter, was so upset at her mother’s death that she rushed back from sunny Spain — a mere seven days after her death was announced) have been discussed, as usual, across a range of open social media, as if this were not the equivalent of talking it over in the forecourt of New Scotland Yard. Quite possibly there will be the same roundup on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, with the same gobsmacked amazement.

It’s a measure of the degree to which Left politics has become a cultural activity, defining identity for an information-era elite class, rather than a real form of challenge to power. What remains of the Left has become so laced into power that, at some level, it doesn’t really want to challenge it; it wants to perform a challenge within the domain authorised by the state. Being arrested before you do anything is thus in some way a relief.

But behind this might be another layer of activists, and they won’t be communicating via social media. They’ll be communicating via Tor or another form of encrypted communication, which has now become essential to the conduct of free political activity. Tor is an encryption system, originally a product of the US Navy, that was “liberated” by hackers such as Jacob Appelbaum. Any encryption system relies on the simple character of large prime numbers — multiply two together, and the resulting huge number is practically impossible to factor into the original primes. Those primes thus serve as a sort of broken ring, a la Tolkien — the message can only be communicated when the two primes (controlled by receiver and sender) are matched up.

Continue reading “Time for Tor at Thatcher’s funeral”

Australia

Mar 28, 2013

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There are always difficult questions on what, if any, should be the limits to free speech. Should people have their right to demonstration taken away if what they are saying is upsetting? Politically difficult? Hateful? Offensive to the vulnerable?

As reported in Tuesday’s Courier-Maila group of anti-abortion protesters have copped verbal abuse from strangers during their 40-day around-the-clock prayer vigil outside a Brisbane abortion clinic. Daniel Edmonds (the only person quoted in the article), a 40 Days for Life spokesman, was involved in the anti-abortion protest, which tried to maintain a 24-hour presence outside the Dr Marie Stopes clinic. The group engaged in “sidewalk counselling” of women seeking to enter the clinic. He told the paper:

”We’re not there to harass people. We’re there to reach out a hand to help people in a desperate situation.”

Demonstrations like this are common outside women’s health clinics and can upset both staff and clients. There are calls to ban such anti-abortion protests. As a long-term feminist — and one who once had an illegal abortion — I have even protested against such demonstrators who create upset and pain. However, I am concerned that banning such demonstrators might also interfere with my and others’ rights to protest against what annoys us politically.

As a long-term protester and change advocate on a range of issues, I am concerned about giving too much power to the state. Despite the frequent gut reaction of wanting to ban behaviour we find offensive, we need to consider the tendency of governments to ban what they don’t like, which offers serious dangers to free speech. When I grew up, these types of powers were used to bans contraceptive advice and leaflets for promoting legal changes relating to homos-xuality. We need to be very careful not to overuse the law to stop offending people.

A February High Court decision ruled preachers’ free speech rights were not being infringed by a new bylaw prohibiting them from preaching in the Adelaide Mall. The ruling shows the state already has some such powers to limit expression. The Advertiser‘s Sean Fewster writes:

“The court held the bylaw banning street preachers weighed upon a person’s freedom of speech but, crucially, did not infringe upon it. Or, in non-legal speak, the bylaw restricts where you can express yourself but does not stop you outright. No one can stop you from speaking your mind, but they can control when and where you do it for the sake of those around you. The sense in this ruling is obvious.”

The judgment supports free speech but allows restrictions to ensure the protection and safety of others, meaning laws exist to protect people entering abortion clinics. Some protesters will be able to put forward views that could damage vulnerable patients, and there are options for protecting these people without stopping the possibility of vigorous and even sometimes uncivil debates.

However, we all may need to take on broader issues of cultural change. Putting civility back into public and private conversations would undermine the accusation of political correctness that is often used to silence discussion of communal or individual sensitivities. Civility, being aware of the feelings of others, almost became unfashionable. We should challenge those who upset  the vulnerable and show them how to argue vigorously but respectfully.

Courier-Mail readers left the following comments on the article:

“I think the poor women who have to use these clinics are under enough pressure as it is and should be left alone.”

“Imagine you are having an abortion. Imagine you have thought about what you are going to do, wrestled with it in your mind, and know this is really the only way. It really is the best thing you can do for yourself, the father. And you’re faced with THIS.”

Had those comments been made by passers-by, might that have helped support staff and vulnerable patients while at the same time maintaining civil discourse?

Australia

Feb 20, 2013

5 comments

As about 100 protesters gathered outside Geert Wilders’ speech in Melbourne last night, it was not so much a violent clash with police as a clash of political ideologies.

There were plenty of angry profanities being shouted through megaphones as people arrived to listen to the Dutch anti-Islam crusader speak at the Lebanese-owned La Mirage Convention Centre.

The location of the speech was kept secret to try to stop protesters gathering, but word got out through the magic of social media. Lifts were on offer from Roxburgh Park station to shuttle activists to the gig, which was in the treeless working-class suburb of Somerton, an industrial estate about 40 minutes’ drive north of the city.

A collection of self-righteous slogan-shouters from various left-wing activist groups like the Socialist Alternative, the United Struggle Project and Students For Palestine rallied out front.

“Here comes Nazi scum!” they chanted. “Racism! No way! We’re gonna fight it all the way!”

Signs included “F-ck off we’re full — of wankers already”. Or “Fascism is not to be tolerated — It’s to be smashed.”

I attended the protest, talking to people — and I never felt threatened. In fact, I felt a jovial spirit of solidarity emanating from the left-wing comrades.

Ten mounted police guarded the venue’s high wrought-iron gates. The horses looked relaxed and stood sedately on loose reins. I gave one of them a pat.

About 60 cops formed a line to allow speech attendees to safely enter the venue by car. There was a police car to guide them into the turning lane.

One attendee — young, with a shaved head — entered the venue on foot. He gave the protesters the one-fingered salute. “Racist scum!” they yelled back.

A man from the Australian Defence League — an anti-Muslim group with 57 “likers” on Facebook — tried to infiltrate the protest and hold up a sign. His presence was not tolerated by the indignant crowd. “You’re just a crazy loon who talks bullshit about Islam,” one shouted in his face.

“That’s racism. You’re a racist. You don’t want Muslims coming to this country,” shouted another. The bloke just stood there quietly.

Ben Coggins, a 31-year-old from Coburg, from Students For Palestine, was protesting against Wilders’ support of Israel, “which is committing acts of genocide against Palestinians and using a kind of Islamophobia to justify it”.

Another perspective was provided by protester Hillel Freedman, aged 41 from East Bentleigh: “I’m here as a Jewish person. This kind of thing compares to the same kind of thing Adolf Hitler said before he rose to power,” he told Crikey. “Hitler’s original intention was to [expatriate] Jews from Europe. I draw parallels to Geert Wilders, who wants to expat Muslims to back where they come from.”

The irony of some Arabic writing on the convention centre’s entry sign was not lost on Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance councillor for Moreland City Council. “It’s no accident that the right-wing organise their meetings here in a working-class suburb with a high population of Muslims,” she said.

The crowd cheered when it was announced via megaphone that Wilders’ Perth speech (he‘s touring the country) was cancelled and money would be refunded to ticket-holders.

After a couple hours of rallying, one of the organisers announced that everyone needed to leave in an organised manner so that “we don’t have to be here all night waiting for these f-ckers to come out”. Banners were rolled up, the activists left and the police horses moved elegantly away.

Crikey Says

Sep 5, 2007

5 comments

Another sole subscriber, Crikey reader Ben Pearson, has been musing on APEC.

The ongoing campaign by police and pollies warning against ‘violent’ protests at APEC — dutifully reported by the fourth estate -– masks the fact that all three of these actors actually benefit from a bit of public argy bargy and thus exaggerate both the threat and occasional occurrence of it.

Premier Iemma rails against ‘vandals’ and ‘violence’ to show that he is tough on law n order. Prime Minister John Howard, on the other hand, is hoping that a couple of university proto-anarchists will distract attention from the fact that APEC is nothing more than the mother of all inconveniences for Sydneyites. As for the media, they are hoping for the kind of dramatic stories and photos that sell papers. As the industry says – “if it bleeds, it leads”.

For the cops, APEC is a vision of the world as it should be. Expanded powers, new equipment, media support, and maybe a chance to try out new toys like the water cannon.

The warnings and hype about ‘violent’ protests mask another agenda in which politicians and certain elements in the media stigmatise the very notion of protest, and by creating and reinforcing an association between mass protests and violence, they seek to de-legitimise the former. Public protest is the right of all Australians. Pollies may not like it, and it may not sell many papers, but it’s part of what democracy is all about.

And we think Ben has a point.