An angry crowd of around five thousand marched on 29 May against the NSW Liberal government. The reasons to protest premier Mike Baird, dubbed “Casino Mike”, are endless, but a common thread connected all the issues: governing for corporate NSW, utter disregard for democracy, the sale of public assets and land to developers, and the criminalisation of dissent.
Under the new police powers introduced in early May, a police officer can issue anyone they deem a threat with a “public safety order”. Greens MLC David Shoebridge explained to the rally that under these orders (clearly targeting Muslims first and foremost), people could be prevented from taking part in political activity again:
“You can’t go to mosque, you can’t go to church, you can’t go to a protest meeting, you can’t go to a union meeting – whatever they like – and you have no appeal against it in any court in the state. And they can say that that order against any one of you will last the rest of your natural life.”
Children as young as 14 can be held for up to two weeks without legal representation or contact with family.
Increased police powers are one of the many draconian laws Baird has pushed through to criminalise dissent. They are probably needed because other government policies are sure to produce many more protests.
In recent months, protesters have been arrested and threatened with seven years in jail for trying to protect heritage homes from being demolished to make way for the $16.8 billion WestConnex tollway.
In May, Baird sacked mayors and councillors from 42 councils and replaced them with Liberal administrators whose task is to ensure no major development project is open to challenge. Recent actions around New South Wales, led by grassroots groups like the WestConnex Action Group and the Knitting Nannas against Gas and Greed, have enjoyed media attention for shutting down attempts by these new pseudo-councils to meet.
In Randwick, one of the most significant and precious finds of Aboriginal history is being demolished and historic fig trees are being uprooted to make way for a $2.2 billion light rail project. You guessed it – another private project to enrich the government’s corporate mates.
Lockout laws have closed down a lot of Sydney nightlife in the CBD Entertainment Precinct – one of the many reasons thousands of young people protested in April and came out again on 29 May.
Conrad Richters, a young musician affected by the laws, came to the protest with a group of friends. His home-made placard read: “Serious crime prevention bill? No thanks”. His friend’s read: “Take a hike Casino Mike”.
Richters told Red Flag it was important to protest to “send a message to premier Mike Baird that we are sick of the way he is governing NSW – increasing powers to police, the ill-advised and ultra-expensive WestConnex con, the unfair and condescending lock-out laws (which don’t affect the casino), and the destruction of local councils. Baird is a despot”.
The protest marched to Parliament House on Macquarie Street and featured contingents from campaign groups as diverse as Keep Sydney Open, the WestConnex Action Group, and Knitting Nannas against Gas and Greed. One chant widely taken up as the crowd pointed first to ourselves and then at parliament was: “This is what democracy looks like. That is what hypocrisy looks like!”
Baird’s push to criminalise these expressions of dissent is an acknowledgment that protesting does work. We need more of them.