The Guardian

The Guardian August 8, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Reasonable Victorian police to use "reasonable" violence

Those gallant lads and lasses of the Victorian state Labor Government 
have decided it's high time to do something about the old "Unlawful 
Assemblies Processions Act" of 1958. 

Whereas the old Act interfered with the rights of the ruling class to 
disperse gatherings of the masses  whether a march, rally, picket or what 
have you  requiring the use of magistrates and cumbersome procedures like 
"reading the riot act" and so forth, the new modernised version will be so 
much easier to use. 

In future, assuming the new bill is passed in this session of the Victorian 
Parliament, all that will be necessary for a rally, march or picket to be 
dispersed is for a copper of the rank of senior sergeant or above to direct 
the marchers, picketers, etc, to disperse if they are acting in a manner 
"involving unlawful physical violence to persons or unlawful damage to 
property". 

But that's not all! The coppers can also give a direction to disperse if 
they "reasonably believe that those involved may act in a manner "involving 
unlawful physical violence to persons or unlawful damage to property". 

Further, if the wicked marchers, demonstrators or picketers don't disperse 
within 15 minutes it will be legally OK for the cops to "disperse or cause 
to be dispersed" the assembled people, so long as the coppers use "no more 
force than is reasonably necessary". 

This legislation, which recognises and indeed authorises police violence at 
all types of demonstrations, has  in a move Dr Goebbels would have 
admired  been given the name "Peaceful Assemblies Bill". It supposedly 
recognises "the right to assemble peacefully", but only within the strict 
guidlelines set by the ruling class. 

Just as anti-globalisation protestors in various countries are being told 
they can protest only in the designated areas and no where else, so we in 
Australia  or at least, in Victoria  can assemble, providing the police 
think the assembly will remain peaceful, and providing the assembly obeys 
restrictions claimed to be necessary in the interests of "public safety" 
and of maintaining "public order". 

Even then, you still may not assemble if your assembly is likely to 
interfere with the "rights" of other people to "enjoy the natural 
environment" or "carry on business". 

The former presumably means that you can't block someone's view, impede 
their progress (by blocking a road?) or stop them from chopping down trees. 

Making it illegal to interfere with "the right to carry on business" (a 
"right" big business denies small business every day) would make it 
impossible to picket your employer during a strike, to picket and leaflet a 
shop selling sweatshop-produced clothing, or to demonstrate outside 
McDonalds against the multitude of things McDonalds do that merit protest. 

But then, that's really what this draconian legislation is all about, isn't 
it? It's certainly not about protecting people's democratic right to 
protest. 

* * *
Reagan's legacy Ronald Reagan's Presidency was undoubtedly one of the low points in US history. But no matter how inept, incompetent and inhumane a person is, there will always be some clown who thinks they were great. Reagan, of course, is admired by those right-wing Republicans who believe what they see on TV. They think Ronnie's Presidency was a time of "greatness" when the USA was able to "kick butt". They have small intellects but that didn't stop Ronnie so why should it stop them? The grandly named Ronald Reagan Legacy Project is responsible for the US national capital now being home to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (which elevates Reagan to the same status as JFK for heaven's sake). The same people have a bill before Congress to erect a monument to Reagan (also in Washington) and have started a campaign to have the statesman and War of Independence veteran Alexander Hamilton removed from the ten dollar bill and replaced with a picture of our Ronnie. Now that's what you call debasing the currency.
* * *
The International on film People's Weekly World, the paper of the Communist Party of the USA, reports that a film about the socialist anthem The International is to be shown on the Public TV system in the USA this month. A new documentary by Peter Miller, the film features renditions of the famous song by Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg, who have apparently re-written the lyrics. Others have done that over the years, too, but Eugene Pottier's original words still hold sway. (Did you know there are five stanzas to the original? Most people can only sing the first.) Just how good the film itself is we will only find out if SBS or the ABC buy it for broadcasting. I notice that Miller includes an interview with a "student leader from Tienanmen Square" amongst those who talk about the song. It was also a finalist for this year's Oscars as Best Documentary so it can't be too revolutionary.

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