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Issue #1497      13 April 2011

Perth prepares for CHOGM

In six months time Perth, will be host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), where leaders from more than 50 countries meet over three and a half days to discuss how the capitalist order of the their group will do business in an increasingly unpredictable and rapidly changing world.

The biennial conference was last held in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009, whilst the world away from their Caribbean hideaway was in the grip of the global financial crisis.

There will be 3,000 CHOGM delegates and up to 1,000 media members visiting Perth which will bring a number of logistical, accommodation and security challenges to the city which the organisers revealed at two recent public hearings at the Perth Convention Centre.

These include a lockdown of a vast tract of the Perth central business district stretching from the Causeway on the city’s eastern side to Kings Park on the west.

The proposed legislation which will give police extraordinary powers is similar to the notorious Stop and Search bill which was prevented from becoming law last year through widespread community campaigning. In February this year WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlamw said the passage of the laws would allow the police to draw up “hit lists” and exclude individuals from certain areas of the city.

While most of the disruption will be on Friday October 28, when the city will be locked down for the movement of the CHOGM delegates and a royal motorcade for Queen Elizabeth, up to a dozen city blocks will have restricted access for the entire weekend.

It was also expected that roads from the city’s airport to the CBD would also face closure to accommodate the motorcades that would bring the business and governmental elites to the CHOGM venues.

To distract from all this the CHOGM Taskforce has organised a Commonwealth Festival which includes four days of activities, sport and entertainment – mostly at the Perth Cultural Precinct and other venues away from Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre and a new venue in Kings Park.

What will CHOGM officially discuss? The notes from the CHOGM Taskforce, which sits inside the Department of Premier and Cabinet, says, “Leaders from more than 50 countries will meet to discuss global and Commonwealth issues such as international peace and security, health, the environment and democracy.”

However, the organisers are not sure that everyone in Perth believes this which is why Assistant Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said in a news conference on April 4, that the police are preparing for the possibility of violent demonstrations. It is also why the Barnett state government has pre-emptively booked every park and reserve in and around the City of Perth – making it impossible to organise or stage an eventment or protest.

These types of restrictions have, however, not deterred a diverse group of social and political activists organised under the CHOGM Action Network from meeting to plan a series of events to challenge the agenda of the meeting and offer alternatives to the corporate and neo-colonial visions being offered by those attending the CHOGM conference.

The CHOGM Action Network have met three times to date and the first meeting was attended by over 40 representatives from a range of community and political organisations. They include Aboriginal groups protesting the occupation of their land and continued deaths in custody; activists protesting the mining of uranium-often on sacred Aboriginal land; climate change and environmental destruction; mandatory detention of refugees.

There are plans for a People’s March on CHOGM and an alternative conference at which workshops and discussions will take place with street theatre and cultural celebrations.  

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