Victoria: S-11 protesters criticise police; police defend their actions towards demonstrators


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13-09-2000 07:30 PM



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13-09-2000 07:30 PM


7.30 Report


13-09-2000 08:08 PM

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2000-09-13 19:30:37

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O\'BRIEN, Kerry, (journalist, ABC)

JOHNSON, Natasha





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Victoria: S-11 protesters criticise police; police defend their actions towards demonstrators -

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Legitimate force or brutality - the row over police tactics in the Melbourne demonstrations

KERRY O'BRIEN: Public opinion is polarised tonight over the conduct of the Victoria Police at the World Economic Forum in Melbourne.

Overnight, another violent confrontation erupted as conference delegates were ushered away from the venue by bus.

One of the major criticisms levelled at police has been their failure to wear badge number identifications, which is against regulations.

The Victorian Ombudsman told the 7:30 Report that he is seriously considering a major investigation into whether the police used excessive force.

At the same time, Victorian Premier Steve Bracks has commended police for their conduct.

Natasha Johnson reports.

STEVEN JOLLY, S11 ORGANISER: They acted like police in a Third World dictatorship and they hoed in.

Is it any wonder the people walking around here today are absolutely disgusted with the Victorian police?

NEIL O'LOUGHLIN, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, VICTORIA POLICE: Well, I've said right from the word go it has been appalling and disgusting and they've really tried to hold the city to ransom.

I think the police actions were firm and fair last night and have been right from the word go.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Just how much police force is reasonable force?

That's the question being asked after one of the worst confrontations between police and protesters in Australia for years.

As they had yesterday morning, last night an army of police wearing riot gear launched a sudden baton charge bursting forth from behind the blockade at Melbourne's casino complex to let out delegates at the World Economic Forum.

It was a dramatic change in tactics from Monday when the force was roundly criticised because a third of delegates couldn't get in.

NEIL O'LOUGHLIN: Well we are dammed if we do or don't.

Some people say we weren't hard enough on the first day and wanted more pressure.

And some people say that we've used too much.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Was it as a result of that criticism you changed tactics yesterday?

NEIL O'LOUGHLIN: We've always had options and we've always prepared for a worst-case scenario.

The circumstances altered and our tactics altered, as they did again this morning.

MARCUS CLAYTON, LAWYER, SLATER & GORDON: Last night, many people were batoned and sent to hospital when there was no suggestion that they were being arrested.

They were beaten into submission by the police.

That is unlawful.

Whatever one thinks about the protests, whatever views you have, that is unlawful.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Legal advisers operating on site have recorded more than 100 complaints.

24-year-old Sydney man, Jonas Barnes, is one of them.

He took a day off his work-for-the-dole project to attend the blockade and claims he was punched in the face by an officer.

REPORTER: It wasn't just a bit of an accidental push as part of the jostling that went on in trying to break-up the blockade?

JONAS BARNES, PROTESTER: No, no, it was a punch to the eye.

As you can see the evidence.

He aimed for my eye and struck it quite hard and it was a cheap shot.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Media crews were also caught up in the violence.

LUKE ROCHE, SBS CAMERAMAN: I was knocked to the ground, I wasn't sure what happened.

I rolled over to try and get a couple of point of view trampling shots as they occurred and I copped a couple of batons as they went over.

And it's pretty obvious why I'm there.

I was making myself known to as many police as possible that I'm part of the media and I'm there doing my work.

NATASHA JOHNSON: The State Ombudsman, Dr Barry Perry, is considering a major investigation in the style of Criminal Justice Commission inquiries in Queensland where senior police are seconded from the force for the duration of the investigation.

It's understood he will inform Chief Commissioner Neil Comrie of his decision this evening.

Dr Perry previously criticised baton charges at Richmond Secondary College seven years ago as "excessive use of force".

30 of those demonstrators are suing Victoria Police and one claim has been settled.

STEVEN JOLLY: It's unparalleled.

I was down at Richmond Secondary College.

It disgusted the Victorian people and I can speak with authority about it.

But what happened at Richmond was nothing, it was baby stuff compared to what happened here last night.

NEIL COMRIE, CHIEF COMMISSIONER, VICTORIA POLICE: Let's test these allegations in the appropriate environment and let's just understand that the police didn't dictate the terms of this particular activity.

We were there to facilitate a peaceful, law abiding protest.

But when our people are being spat on, have urine tipped over them, when they have objects fired at them, ball bearings, screws, nuts, to the point where their sight and their health is at risk, I think it's time for us to say enough is enough and put appropriate measures in place to deal with that sort of behaviour.

NATASHA JOHNSON: While S11 claims 30 protesters were injured, police say so were 25 of their members.

Their tactics might face further scrutiny, but individual complaints are hampered by the fact that most of the officers removed their identification badges.

NEIL O'LOUGHLIN: I don't condone it.

REPORTER: You're not doing anything to stop it?

NEIL O'LOUGHLIN: How do you know I'm not doing anything about it?

I've given instructions that they are to wear name tags.

REPORTER: And if they taken them off, what are the consequences?

NEIL O'LOUGHLIN: Well, they shouldn't do it.

I've spoken to people about putting their name tags on and I'm aware the name tags were stolen and I'm aware of the concerns of the members in relation to being unnecessarily identified as being persons who may or may not have assaulted them.

STEVE BRACKS, VICTORIAN PREMIER: Yes, I think the police have acted appropriately all the way through, including last night.

I had chance this morning, or just recently, to move around to move around the police and congratulate them on, the restraint they showed.

NATASHA JOHNSON: In fact, the State Government believes they should be rewarded with an extra day off for defeating protesters it believes were hell-bent on capturing world headlines by recreating the scenes of Seattle.

STEVEN JOLLY: If we thought violence would stop that we could have stopped it like that.

I'm from Ireland and could have put a bomb in there like that.

We could have had a bomb scare.

We could have had people down here with batons, with Molotov cocktails.

We're not pacifists, don't be mistaken about that.

NEIL COMRIE: This is a day when we in Victoria police can say "mission accomplished".