The Guardian June 23, 1999


GST protests can't be silenced

by Rohan Gowland

On Monday, the day the GST was being tabled in the Senate, anti-GST 
protesters in Sydney had to battle with a hostile police force. What 
started off as an anti-GST protest became a struggle for the right to 
exercise our most basic democratic right to take to the streets and 
protest.

"I've never seen anything like it!", was a common exclamation amongst the 
protesters who were successful in marching a good kilometre through the 
central business district to Prime Minister John Howard's office, despite 
police attempts to stop them.

Police shoved protesters, including many elderly pensioners, all the way 
from the Town Hall to Howard's office.

They initially forced them onto the footpath, but after walking one block, 
protesters managed to break through the police line and stay on the road 
for the remainder of the march.

With leather gloves on, the police never let up, shoving young and old 
alike, for the rest of the march.

On reaching Howard's office a line of mounted police filed in behind 
protesters, ready to charge if called upon.

In front of Howard's office a new anti-protester weapon was revealed for 
the first time: a chest-high metal barricade with a metal foot plate on the 
protesters' side so that protesters attempting to push the it over would 
have to step on the plate, their own weight then keeping the barricade 
upright.

There was a line of police waiting on the other side of the barricade, 
which had a step attached for police to stand on.

Whatever it was that the police were prepared for they must have been 
disappointed as speakers peacefully raised the issues.

Pensioners spoke of how they will "be worst hit by the GST", none came 
forward to assault Howard's "siege tower".

Single mothers spoke about the hardship a GST will cause them.

The students pointed out that books will be taxed, but luxury items like 
jewellery and sports cars will be taxed less, none pushed or shoved the 
police back.

And of the unionists, who declared the GST anti-working class, none sought 
a war with the police.

The heavy police presence was to stop the protesters from marching. During 
the speeches, the rally was informed that police were no longer allowing 
marches on weekdays.

One organiser said she had only seen this type of police action once 
before, in the US. It reminded another of the Bjelke-Petersen days in 
Queensland.

In reclaiming the street and winning the right to march, protesters had a 
significant victory over the first real attempt to stop street protests and 
trial new crowd control techniques in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Activists in Sydney can expect further attempts to encroach on their 
democratic rights from both the City Council and State Government as well 
as the police and private security forces.

The success of Monday's actions were added to by the relatively large 
turnout and broad participation, including trade unions.

Jennie George of the ACTU told the rally it was not too late to stop the 
GST legislation and to apply pressure to the Democrats. "We'll have to keep 
the Democrats honest!", she said.

Doug Cameron of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union said the GST is 
the same as the Government's other policies: pro-capital and anti-working 
people.

He said that this position was also behind the Government's so-called 
"reforms" to education and industrial relations.

To cheers from the crowd, Lee Rhiannon, Greens MLC, told the rally, "We've 
just had an enormous victory, we've won our streets back!".

Ms Rhiannon also pointed out that police numbers would be swelled by the 
State Budget handed down on Tuesday, with extra money for police and cuts 
to social services.

Keep fighting

Ms Rhiannon said that the campaign must continue, even if the Senate passes 
the GST, and the strength of that campaign must give backbone to the ALP so 
they "don't do what they've so often done and leave all those rotten things 
that the Coalition have put in place, so they've got the backbone to get 
rid of the GST" (cheers, and chants of "No GST!").

Ms Rhiannon said that in all but two countries in which a GST has been 
introduced, the rate of the tax has increased (by as much as 150 per cent!) 
and the compensation measures introduced as a sweetener have been eroded.

She said, "This tax is a disaster for working people, for all the 
disadvantaged people, it's just for the rich. No GST  no way!".

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