NSW Police and City of Sydney Council threatening civil liberties in the CBD

| July 16, 2019 | Reply

In a further crack-down on civil liberties in NSW, NSW Police have prevented a human-rights march through the Pitt St Mall on July 20.

The march is part of the ‘Six Years Too Long’ demonstration being organised by the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) to protest against six years of the offshore detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.

Before marching, the demonstration will be addressed at Sydney Town Hall by representatives of the Greens and Young Labor Left, Rita Malia, NSW President of the CFMEU, and the comedian Dan Ilic (who visited Manus Island in January this year).

Demonstrations in the CBD have included the Pitt St Mall on their route for many years. The police’s decision to oppose the march has been taken following a meeting with the City of Sydney and Pitt St mall management (and other ‘stakeholders’) , excluding either RAC or any other group that regularly organises demonstrations in the city. The City of Sydney has supported the police’s position.

The police have cited ‘safety’, including the presence of buskers, as the reason for their decision, telling Refugee Action Coalition members that this concern only applies to marches of over 500 people.
But they have not explained why a march that moves through the mall in a matter of minutes is a greater problem than the frequent presence in the mall of static groups of very large numbers of people, often in concentrations much higher than the projected march.

‘This is an attack on the right to protest effectively in the CBD,’ said Nick Riemer, from RAC. ‘We choose the Pitt St Mall because it’s a dedicated pedestrian space which allows the greatest possible visibility for protests and the most effective communication between participants in the march and the public.’

‘It’s disgraceful that the police and the city council put buskers and profit-making ahead of civil liberties and human rights. Public spaces are not just retail spaces,’ Riemer continued.

‘In a context where journalists and the ABC are being raided, asylum seekers being driven to suicide offshore, and the government wants to roll out heightened surveillance on ordinary people, this authoritarian and anti-democratic decision must be opposed.’

‘For human-rights marches to be limited in numbers and therefore effectively banned from the CBD’s most public thoroughfare would be highly prejudicial to the democratic character of the City of Sydney,’ Riemer said. ‘It would send the strong signal that under the current council, political expression is not an appropriate use of the very public spaces most suited to it.’

‘The police refused to negotiate about how the demonstration could move through the mall – they clearly more concerned to act in concert with the City of Sydney to restrict protest groups.’

‘The extraordinary public demonstrations in Hong Kong recently underline how the ability to hold events like marches without arbitrary impediments is the hallmark of a healthy public sphere,’ Riemer said. ‘Human rights marches aren’t an inconvenience — they’re inherent to democracy itself. The police and Sydney Council should be concerned to facilitate people’s desire to express their political views, not obstruct it.’

‘On this occasion, in the face of significant costs associated with any court hearing to challenge the police decision, we’ve been left with no alternative but to accept the alternative route that the police have offered. But we’re currently approaching the NSW Council of Civil Liberties and other along with activist groups we’ll be considering every option available to us to effectively contest this unacceptable and anti-democratic infringement of the right to protest in Sydney.’

The “Six Years Too Long – close Manus, close Nauru” rally will be held 2pm, Sydney Town Hall, Saturday 20 July.

Contact: Nick Riemer mob: 0481 339 937; Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Category: Press releases

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