There’s nothing that exposes simpering do-gooder liberals and hack Labor politicians for the craven sycophants for power they are like a good police riot. Not any old police riot, of course. If the police beat up protesters in Hong Kong or Russia, it’s deeply disturbing police-state behaviour, and every decent person is wholly on the side of the brave young people whose heads are being cracked in. But if it happens here in Victoria, Dan Andrews’ wonderland of performative progressivism, it’s a different story altogether.
No matter that there is endless footage from this week’s International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) protests documenting police indiscriminately spraying chemical weapons (and yes, that’s what the ultra-toxic pepper spray Victoria Police use is) over dozens of peaceful protesters simply because they refuse to disperse. No matter that police repeatedly rode horses into stationary crowds – a potentially lethal action that sent some protesters to hospital. No matter that police batoned and punched numerous protesters who were at most holding their ground on a picket line, and in many cases were trying to comply with police orders.
None of it matters because, when it comes to police going off the handle and brutalising protesters, there is a time-honoured formula that everyone follows with mechanical precision.
The right wing press refuses to report on police violence, claiming that the demonstrators linking arms are the violent thugs in the situation, not the people punching and pepper spraying them. On occasions where the police are out of control, one or more journalists from these right wing outfits usually end up copping some of the same treatment that protesters have. In this case the person to play that role was Channel 7 reporter Paul Dowsley, who, after being shoved about and yelled at by police, posted on Twitter that “I’m stunned”.
As usually happens in these situations, some protesters hoped that this incident might mean that the media outlets for whom these journos worked might get annoyed and start telling the truth about where the violence was coming from at the protest. Yeah, right. At the S11 protests in 2000, when thousands of people blockaded a meeting of the corporate elite at Crown Casino, police went absolutely spare at the media – smashing their cameras and going out of their way to baton and bash journalists and photographers. None of it had the slightest impact on the lies about “protester violence” that ran on commercial TV and in the Herald Sun. Police shoving a reporter about at IMARC was never going to mean anything for how Channel 7 covered the event.
Then there is the liberal commentariat. You would think in the years since 2016 – when Donald Trump was elected in what is, outside the liberal bubble, almost universally acknowledged as a savage backlash against sanctimonious neoliberal centrism – these people may have taken a deep breath and considered whether they were doing something wrong. Sadly, no. Virginia Trioli has recently taken over Jon Faine’s morning show on Melbourne’s 774 radio and appears enthusiastic about continuing the tradition he established of fawning subservience to power painted with a cheery coloured “objective” liberal gloss.
On Wednesday morning, well after endless videos had circulated on social media, she declared herself “firmly in the centre” of the IMARC violence debate, declaring that there were faults on “both sides”. There was a brief moment in 2017, after the Charlottesville, Virginia, killing when Donald Trump declared there were “good people on both sides”, where the usual liberal practice of making an equivalence between fascists and anti-fascists, or peaceful protesters and heavily armed police defending a meeting of people who are destroying the planet, fell out of vogue. Those days are well behind us now.
The videos of the IMARC protest, which Trioli says she saw, paint an unambiguous picture. Yes, protesters were yelling. Yes, they occasionally pushed back when police charged at, shoved and punched them. But you can’t look at the footage, or have seen what happened (I was there), and have any doubt about where the violence came from. It. Was. The. Police.
In fact, the restraint shown by protesters was extraordinary. We’ve profiled IMARC’s participants here in Red Flag. They’re people like Hugh Morgan, the man who uses his mining profits to fund climate denial, and who called Aboriginal land rights a “step back to the world of paganism, superstition, fear and darkness”. They’re executives from OceanaGold, a company known for mines that have poisoned water supplies around the world – and a company implicated in the murder of environmental activists who stand up to them. Time and again, these wealthy, privileged, powerful climate vandals and murderers would come up and try to break through the protesters’ lines. Not one of them got the punch in the nose that by any moral measure they deserved. People remonstrated with them, got in their face, but that was it. And when the police bashed their way through the picket to help their mining executive mates get through, protesters did nothing but try, in the aftermath, to re-establish their line, chanting “we are peaceful, you are violent”. Unlike one of the other popular chants, “This is not a police state”, that was completely true.
The liberal press is bad, but the Labor government is even worse. Daniel Andrews likes to present himself as a “progressive” leader (never “left” – that’s far too scary). But his government is cut from the same cloth as pretty much all state Labor governments in recent history – Tammany Hall outfits in the pocket of developers and the gambling industry, knee-deep in corruption and beholden to the chief organised criminals in the state, the cops.
Federal Labor has its own litany of sins. But they tend to be of a more meta variety – backing the Liberals’ refugee gulag politics, championing the US alliance even when it means bending the knee to a psychopath like Trump, and offering enthusiastic support for every “national security” measure and expansion of the surveillance state.
State parliament, on the other hand, is for the dregs of the student Labor politics sewer. The benches of parliament are filled with talentless factional hacks and whackos who have organised one too many branch stacks or been involved in one too many semi-criminal clusterfucks to stand the scrutiny of the federal scene. For the Labor apparatus, it's the place you pension off all the dynastic failchilds and timeservers-owed-a-favour.
At the heart of the corrupt cesspit of state Labor politics is unwavering support for the police. Daniel Andrews’ expression of complete support for police actions at IMARC comes directly from the playbook of former premier Steve Bracks, who resolutely defended the savage police tactics at the S11 protest in 2000, when horse and baton charges put dozens in hospital and left hundreds injured. Bracks responded by calling protesters “fascists” and announcing he would host a BBQ for police officers to thank them for their impeccable service (it was later cancelled after public outcry). This time around, Andrews was just as effusive, calling protesters “appalling” and saying:
“Victoria Police are out there now, and they are doing every one of us proud and I reject the criticisms that we’ve seen from some quarters in the past 24 hours. I thank every member of Victoria Police for their commitment and I’d say to them be in no doubt, not only will we guarantee as a government the resources that Victoria Police need but we have a resolve to continue to support them in everything they need.”
It’s not just protests. Every new scandal about police corruption, which is endemic, or about racist harassment of young Africans, or about Aboriginal deaths in custody, is met by the Andrews government with stonewalling at best, but more likely a statement expressing complete confidence in the police.
At the Extinction Rebellion protests, some argued that we need to have a cooperative relationship with the police – that they are just doing their job. In a way, that’s true. But the job of the police, as this week’s protests made crystal clear, is to protect the rich and their system at all costs. There is a reason the police force is riddled with institutionalised corruption and racism, a reason that the eyes of the thugs from the Public Order Response Team and other militarised riot cops fill with hatred when confronted with protesters standing up to corporate power.
Police are the iron fist enforcing a brutal, corrupt, racist, vile social order. They are the hitmen of the powers that be, the thugs who do the dirty work necessary to maintain a monumentally unjust status quo. They are the enemy of everyone who wants a different world. Those who defend them – whether they be smiling liberal journalists or cynical Labor politicians – are no more on our side than those riding horses into crowds of peaceful protesters.
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Dozens of activists were arbitrarily arrested and charged at the IMARC blockade. They're facing fines that could total thousands of dollars each. Please contribute to the online fundraiser set up to help with their legal costs.