LEADERS from more than 50 countries, representing more than one-quarter of the world’s nations and two billion people, are meeting in Perth, Western Australia this weekend at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
They will be discussing global and Commonwealth issues such as trade, international peace and security, health, the environment and democracy.
Serious questions are being raised about the rights of Australians to freedom of speech and their right to protest peacefully, as the West Australian government introduces new laws and police powers to hamper protests.
Peaceful anti-war, human rights and environmental activists planning protests are being subjected to threats and intimidations by police and government.
Many protesters were assaulted by Australian police at the Occupy Melbourne protest last weekend, which is very intimidating for Perth protesters.
Western Australia’s conservative Premier, Colin Barnett, has been accused of introducing ill-defined new stop-and-search laws, anti-association laws, anti-disruption laws and prohibited behaviour orders in preparation for CHOGM.
This is seen as an attack civil liberties.
Some of these new laws have been allegedly introduced to address disorderly behaviour around night club areas or to deal with terrorists.
But many now speculate that the these new laws and police powers will be used against peaceful protesters during CHOGM.
It is also feared that some of the new powers will remain after the event.
Australian Greens spokesperson for legal affairs, Senator for Western Australia Scott Ludlam, said the CHOGM (Special Powers) Bill 2011 now in WA’s state parliament was ‘extreme and draconian’.
The shadow police minister Margaret Quirk says the ‘measures sounded arbitrary’.
Also disturbing are the Government’s measures in sweeping the streets of the homeless and removing ‘delinquent children’ to clean up the city centre for the visiting dignitaries and media.
The CHOGM Action Network, a coalition of caring peaceful anti-war, human rights and environmental activist groups, have planned protests beginning on the 28th of October at 10am, in Forest Place in the city.
This date will also be the start of Occupy Perth.
The Perth metropolitan area has an estimated population of almost 1,700,000.
It is the most isolated city in the world by distance.
It is supposedly one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
It is tied for eighth place in The Economist’s 2011 list of the World’s Most Livable Cities.
Despite its low population and relative prosperity, Perth has a very high level of homelessness, much more than larger Australian cities such as Melbourne and Sydney.
There are 105,000 homeless people in Australia.
The divide between rich and poor is rapidly increasing.
Major church groups and NGOs report that families once considered middle class are rapidly slipping below the poverty line due to the ‘two-speed economy’.
Those in the mining sectors are doing well, but the rest are suffering.
Many people can no longer afford rising rents and are being forced out into the distant outer fringes of the city.
Unlike other countries Australian housing prices have not gone down with world economic crises, because of the mining boom.
Like the federal government, the West Australian state Liberal Government is made up almost entirely of right-wing conservatives.
They are less vocal, but share similar ideologies to Texan Republicans.
In Melbourne last weekend, there were violent clashes between demonstrators and police when officers broke up the week-long demonstration at City Square.
Police used capsicum spray, horses and dogs to push hundreds of protesters out of the city centre, dragging many of them away.
At least 20 demonstrators against corporate greed were arrested.
The sit-in was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.
In a statement, the protesters condemned the police actions, labelling them ‘excessive use of force’.
‘Our observers have witnessed and been told of numerous incidents of excessive force and violence against the peaceful protesters,’ said Erin Buckley, coordinator of the legal observer team.
‘We are very concerned at the level of violence, and concerned particularly about the welfare of young people who have experienced significant police brutality today.’
The protesters’ legal team said it recorded more than 40 arrests.
Three protest organisers claimed their Perth homes were unfairly raided and accused police of heavy-handed tactics including surveillance and harassment.
Two men and a woman from the CHOGM Action Network, which revealed it would target ‘war criminals and parasites’ in ‘non-violent’ protests, were arrested last Wednesday on suspicion that they spray painted the word ‘protest’ on public property.
The trio was released without charge and did not comment on whether the allegations were true.
They said police confiscated their some of their property and suggested they had been under surveillance.
One of the protestors, Colleen Bulger, said that while her house was being raided police suggested they had been conducting surveillance on her.
‘They kept asking about CHOGM and were very interested in leaflets we had around the house,’ Ms Bulger said.
‘When they arrested me they kept saying “we know more than you think”, suggesting that I had been under surveillance.
‘It’s absolutely harassment and an attempt to intimidate us into stopping lawful activities.’
The group said their phones were confiscated in a move by police to download information in ‘an unnecessary breach of privacy’.
Seamus Doherty said his car was confiscated after he was released without charge.
Mr Doherty, who is disabled, said he told the police that his car and phone were his lifelines to work and family and without them he risked losing his job.
Pearl Lim, from civil rights action group Search For Your Rights said the police action was heavy-handed.
‘How can we claim to promote civil democracy across the Commonwealth when peaceful activists are intimidated by police in our own state?
‘If the police were so interested in getting flyers about the protest, they could have saved themselves the manpower and downloaded them off the website – it is an approved, public event.
‘This kind of behaviour is deplorable, and is a worrying sign of what is tolerated by the government that supports stop-and-search laws, anti-association laws and prohibited behaviour orders.’