The Guardian October 25,2000


Sydney Olympics:
The longer term implications

by Peter Mac

The Olympic Games are over, and the Paralympics are drawing to a close. 
Despite NSW Police Commissioner Peter Ryan's pronouncements that the Games 
would be a "magnet for terrorists" the events proceeded peacefully enough. 
In fact, so peacefully that you would almost think that no uncomfortable 
social issues were present in Australian society.

This was undoubtedly the intention of the Games promoters, who were intent 
on presenting an image of peace, prosperity, harmony and, of course, 
boundless public enthusiasm for the Games. 

However, at least part of the reason for the lack of public dissension 
during the Games was that more subtle means were used to keep protest 
actions by Aboriginal people and the homeless out of the public gaze. 

One group protesting at Darling Harbour on the effects on homeless people 
was abused by private security guards and told that such protests were "un-
Australian". 

In another incident a single homeless man was filmed being removed with 
considerable force by a group of police from a courtyard where he had 
sought shelter, while others were forced to move out of inner city parks 
due to the take-over of the parks for activities associated with the Games.

Homeless people queuing for meals at charity food vans were subjected to 
searches for stolen property and drugs by police, who also demanded proof 
of identity and issued police warrants.

Protests were undoubtedly inhibited by the existence of the special 
Olympics laws. There were, nevertheless, some outstanding and highly 
imaginative examples of protest which slipped under the guard of the 
authorities. 

One of the most effective of these was the single word "sorry" emblazoned 
on the T-shirts of the members of the rock group Midnight Oil, which had 
the effect of immediately focusing the attention of the world's media on 
the issue of the stolen generations of Aboriginal children.

The Aboriginal tent embassy set up in Sydney's Victoria Park also caught 
the attention of the world's media, and was filmed with particular interest 
by film crews from Canada and Japan.

However, in general the approach adopted by the NSW Government was to avoid 
embarrassing confrontations with protesters or the homeless, and certainly 
not to repeat the experience of Atlanta, where some 9,000 homeless people 
were transported out of the city prior to the Games.

As a result, the local and overseas media which covered the Sydney Games 
paid relatively little attention to these issues.

Does this mean that the Games have no major implications for public 
dissent?

On the contrary, it is precisely because the first real test of the 
draconian new laws governing public assembly during the Olympics was not 
accompanied by scenes of wild disorder that the public is likely to accept 
the continuing existence of these potentially highly dangerous laws.

Likewise, the Games experience has serious implications for the homeless 
and for those seeking rental accommodation in Australia's largest city. 

Sydney's ever-spiralling property costs have doubtless been boosted by the 
12-year preparations for the Games.

Tourism in general is now one of the mainstays of the Australian economy, 
and major events such as the Games, the football codes and test cricket 
matches are a tremendous stimulus to the tourism industry.

Despite a general slump in property prices in recent months, prices of 
houses in some Sydney suburbs have continued to increase, with the result 
that rental of one-or two-bedroom inner city houses has climbed to more 
than $300 per week.

Young workers seeking to buy their own house in such areas now face a bill 
of $300,000 for the meanest single-bedroom residence.
One of the results of this tendency over the last few years has been that 
accommodation for the poor and homeless of Sydney is shrinking.

The city's boarding houses are fast disappearing, and are being either 
bulldozed for new development or are being converted to accommodation for 
more well-heeled tenants.

As far as the issues of protest and homelessness are concerned, the upshot 
of the Sydney Olympics is that the patriotic songs may have ended, but the 
malady lingers on.

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