Calling out Australia at the United Nations

MALS Endorses Joint NGO Submission to Australia’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review

Concerned with narrowing space for civil engagement and protest across Australia, Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) endorses in whole the joint non governmental organisation (NGO) submission to Australia’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review that was released on Thursday 9th April.

The submission was endorsed by 200 organisations and is available online here.

In particular, MALS supports the submission’s recommendations to:

  • Repeal laws in Queensland and New South Wales that criminalise peaceful protest;
  • Repeal metadata and encryption laws and severely restrict the use of facial recognition technology;
  • Establish of independent investigative bodies that meet international standards to investigate potential human rights abuses by police;
  • Implement of a comprehensive audit into policing law, policy and procedure to identify and eliminate discriminatory policing; and
  • Introduce a comprehensive, judicially enforceable national Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to further enshrine protections into law.

2019 Budget: The Verdict Part 2 | Pursuit by The University of ...

MALS supports the submission’s consideration of the “intersectionality of inequality and compounding nature of discrimination and disadvantage” in Australia not meeting its human rights obligations.

MALS also supports the submission’s recognition that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are significantly over-represented across all low social indicators as a result of the continuing impact of colonisation, marginalisation and racism.”  MALS strongly urges national and state consideration of its role in perpetuating or redressing such over-representation.

The UPR is conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council and cyclically addresses the human rights conditions in all United Nations member countries.

Universal Periodic Review of Australia 2020 | Human Rights Law Centre

Coordinated by the Human Rights Law Centre, the Kingsford Legal Centre, and the Caxton Legal Centre, the submission draws attention to areas of concern in upholding Australia’s human rights obligations. The submission was authored in consultation with 57 Australian NGOs and is to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council for consideration early next year.

Although its focus is Australia-wide, the submission relates to concerns often voiced by MALS in Victoria.

Specifically, MALS continues to be concerned regarding the rise in coercive and excessive crowd control tactics, increased monitoring and surveillance, and use of force with less-than-lethal weapons employed by Victorian police to obstruct peaceful protest.

Peaceful protest is recognised as a human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights right to free expression (Article 19) and peaceful protest and assembly (Article 20).  Amongst other texts, the UPR process utilises the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a yardstick for review.

The submission also shines an important light on the lack of improvement since Australia’s last review in 2015. This is because, despite accepting recommendations to “prevent the excessive use of force by the police and investigate all complaints thoroughly,” (Recommendation 199) and to “review the extent and scope of laws
governing secret surveillance and moderate the powers and discretion conferred on authorities in this regard,” (Recommendation 226), these areas still arise as areas of concern in the joint NGO submission.

MALS welcomes the opportunity to raise these concerns and strongly urges concrete efforts be made by both the Commonwealth and Victorian governments to protect civic space and peaceful protest.

The full submission is available here (PDF).

By Jen Keene-McCann

Melbourne Activist Legal Support

Are governments violating human rights and civil liberties in coronavirus response?

Historically crises have been exploited to introduce dangerous policies—right now may be one of these moments.

Airport in Hong Kong. Photo: Lei Han / via Flickr CC

With the rise of far right, nationalist governments over the past few years, the world has seen more measures to systematically target voices of dissent and political opposition—resulting in the rapid shrinking of space for civil society organizations, including human rights groups, activists, and academics. And these efforts to restrict civil space may have just received a boost from the global pandemic we’re now facing.

By far, COVID-19 is the widest spread global pandemic of our lifetime, and its cost in human life, livelihoods, and community structures is devastating. Governments and authorities on both local and national levels have started using extreme emergency measures to contain the spread of the virus.

While public health should be a priority for everyone, these extreme measures are sounding alarm bells. Governments and corporations have historically used crises as opportunities to introduce new policies that would otherwise be impossible to pass, normalizing them in a new status quo—what author Naomi Klein calls the “shock doctrine.” COVID-19 may be one of these moments.

On March 16, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights published a statement advising states to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic responsibly, voicing concerns regarding the possible human rights violations within measures being undertaken to slow the spread of this virus.

In an environment where many governments have failed to take adequate steps to protect public health through proactive investments in care capacity, research, supplies, and planning—often because their focus and resources have been directed at systems of militarized security rather than human security—it is doubly concerning that many of these same countries’ response to this crisis has been more focused on social control than public health.

We must monitor the measures our governments are taking, organize communities in this new environment of physical distancing, and demand that any emergency measures are focused solely on advancing public health and well-being—and restricted in time and scope so that they cannot be used beyond containing the virus.

Criminalizing dissent

One concerning tactic that governments are taking to control the spread of the virus is the criminalization of citizens breaking quarantine, citizens spreading fake news, or citizens not reporting sickness. While these measures are reasonable responses from a public health perspective, how they are being implemented and the vague language in which they are passing may allow them to be used against dissident voices.

In Myanmar, the government has made “not reporting an illness” a criminal offense and designated military bases to forcibly intern quarantined citizens. Many political activists have fled cities in fear that such a broad definition can be used against anyone the government wants to criminalize.

In Hungary, new legislation suggests up to five years in prison for circulating “misinformation.” With such a broad definition, activists fear it will once again allow the government to arrest whoever they see fit.

In Switzerland, France, Iran, Israel, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, South Korea, Vietnam, Poland, U.K., Palestinian Authority, the United States, China, and other countries, gatherings of a certain number of people (in most cases over 10) have been completely banned, criminalizing most forms of protest. In a protest in Israel on March 19, against the de-facto shut-down of Knesset (parliament), nine people were arrested under the “people’s health” emergency decree barring such public gatherings.

With reports coming in from across the globe of thousands being arrested for breaking lock-down rules, there is sad irony that little has been done to address public health in detention facilities worldwide, where crowded conditions and lack of access to soap and other implements of basic hygiene are more the rule than the exception, and threaten devastating consequences.

Expanding legislative authorities

Countries around the world have already declared states of emergency, which allow drastic measures to be taken quickly. While in most cases these declarations are temporary and time bound, a bill put forward by the Hungarian government will allow for the state of emergency declaration to be valid throughout 2020. Further, the Hungarian proposed bill cites the possibility of a “forced parliamentary break,” which has raised concerns that this bill is purposefully setting the stage for the suspension of parliament.

Despite just coming out of elections, the exiting speaker of the Israeli parliament is citing the COVID-19 crisis and the need for the (exiting) government to not be challenged in this time, as a justification for his refusal to step down as speaker and allow the newly elected parliament to operate.

Increasing technological surveillance

In the era of smartphones, most people walk around with a potential tracking device in their pockets. Digital surveillance, specifically based on geolocation, is an extremely easy measure for states to implement as a means to try and track the spread of the virus. While there is a clear appeal in knowing where infected people were, are, and will be–and who they have come in contact with–this raises important questions of privacy and normalization of technological surveillance by our governments.

Through enforcing the use of a GPS phone application, South Korea is using geolocation surveillance to monitor quarantined citizens. More intrusive measures are being implemented by the Israeli government, which allows the General Security Service to collect historic and present geolocation data on the phones of COVID-19 infected people to locate and enforce quarantine of those who were in close proximity during periods of contagion (regardless if there was a wall or a few floors between them–geolocation has its clear limitations). China and Iran are doing the same, and these mass data collection tools are already being sold to other countries by the Israeli company NSO, notoriously famous for their role in surveilling human rights activists.

China and Russia have taken this one step further, employing facial recognition software to track people’s locations, including through developing new abilities to identify people wearing masks. In both countries, which have seen mass protest movements in recent years, masks have been primary protection tools for protestors against state persecution.

To these, we can add the normalization of the use of drones for civilian surveillance purposes (China and Europe), electronic tracking bracelets (Hong Kong), assigning QR codes to citizens to control movement (China), and tracking of credit card use (South Korea). And we are seeing new surveillance measures every day.

While these measures may certainly aid in ensuring public health and safety and could be vital in stopping the spread of this pandemic, there should be certain minimum, rights-based standards and considerations for these regulations and policies. Such standards are critical to ensure they are not later normalized and perpetuated once the spread of the virus is controlled. These may include:

  • Clear and short time limits for the use of these measures (that can be extended for further, short periods of time as needed);
  • Clear regulations about the storage, access, and deletion of private information stored during this time, as well as restrictions on what information is taken;
  • Transparent decision-making processes based on guidance from public health professionals, answering questions such as: Whose professional opinion is being taken in order to decide on such measures? Whose opinion will be taken to determine when they will be lifted?

Careful monitoring of these measures and clear messaging that they cannot be used to suppress civil liberties will allow us to mobilize and demand their lift once the crisis has ended. In the meantime, we must not allow these tools to be normalized. For this, we can use social media and other online platforms to keep a conversation going, to raise awareness of these dangers, and to make sure our authorities know that we’re paying attention.

About the Author

Sahar Vardi has served three prison sentences for her refusal to be conscripted into Israel’s military service. She works with other refusers and serves as Coordinator of AFSC’s Israel program in east Jerusalem.

Article republished under Creative Commons,

What is ‘Strategic Incapacitation’?

What is ‘Strategic Incapacitation’ and why is it important for activists to understand it?

Photo: MALS – Police cordoning an Extinction Rebellion protest on Princess Bridge. September 2019

This is an excerpt from our recent Legal Observer Report: The Policing of the IMARC Protests

A PDF copy of the full 45 page report is available here.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support has tracked the rise in coercive and excessive crowd control tactics by Victoria Police over several years at protest events throughout Victoria.[i]

Victoria Police’s approach to protests has been characterised by a lack of willingness to tolerate community disruption when unfamiliar forms of protest are used, indicated by unnecessarily aggressive arrests, the unlawful use of police powers, an unnecessarily antagonistic attitude toward people engaged in protest combined with a disregard for their dignity and welfare.[ii]

The continued misuse of OC aerosols, dangerous use of police horses, weaponry and excessive use of force is taking place in the context of a near total lack of any clear, effective accountability processes when allegations are raised.

The repertoire of public order tactics employed by Victoria Police reflect the rapid expansion of the Public Order Response Team (PORT) as the primary riot control capacity in Victoria, and the intelligence and strategic planning centered within the Operations Response Unit (ORU).

See: Who’s who in Victoria Police

Over years we have seen Victoria Police move away from a ‘negotiated management’ approach to protest policing to adopt more of an approach scholars have labeledstrategic incapacitation’, reflecting a global trend in public order policing since 2001.

Strategic Incapacitation is described as a multidimensional policing strategy characterized by the deployment of massive police presence, the use of barriers, ‘preventative’ arrests, selective use of force with an array of less-lethal weapons, combined with efforts to control both the production and dissemination of information, media management and unprecedented levels of monitoring and surveillance.[iii]

This report will argue that this tactical repertoire is dangerous and harmful when applied against defiant, disruptive but peaceful protest events and is certainly not fit for purpose in an era when Victoria Police is presenting itself as working within a ‘human rights compliant’ model of protest policing. It suggests that Victoria Police’s commitment to a human rights approach to protest facilitation is contingent upon the focus and form of that protest and varies accordingly.

‘Strategic incapacitation’ serves policing imperatives by deliberately containing and hampering and even neutralising protest movements, limiting their growth, size and political effectiveness. The sheer number of police at events and ever-present threat of violence deters new and a broader range of people becoming involved in protest groups, intimidates and scares people from public participation and serves to further the often conflictual and antagonistic attitude toward social movements from some sections of the wider public.

By applying levels of force designed for riots against peaceful protests, police, in alignment with conservative and simplistic media reporting, can successfully reframe a peaceful protest as ‘violent’ thereby adding to the existing demonisation of protest groups by some sections of the media and government. We saw this in the Victoria Police media management during the IMARC protest event.

From a policing perspective this approach serves to keep disruptive or potentially disruptive protest movements smaller and easier to control. It is very apparent that this operational imperative outweighs human rights considerations.

Victoria Police command invests a great deal of energy in ensuring that government and key public agencies sanction their tactical repertoire. This investment acts to shield parliamentarians, human rights bodies, journalists and the wider public from awareness of the substantial danger in this sort of policing. By permitting, encouraging or tolerating policing which undermines the civil and political rights enshrined in Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter) we risk reducing the vital political space we need to maintain and enhance an effective democracy.

 

This is an excerpt from the Legal Observer Report: The Policing of the IMARC Protests. (published 7 December 2019). Download a PDF copy of the full 45 page report here.

Photo: MALS – cordoning the Extinction Rebellion protest on Princess Bridge, September 2019

 

 

 

 


[i] We note that numerous activists involved in the much smaller protests against the International Mining And Resources Conference (IMARC) in 2018 had their homes raided and searched by members of Victoria Police Operational Response Unit in the months following that event; they were arrested, detained and interrogated and had phones, computers and other belongings seized. Some of the charges resulting from this event are still before the court.

[ii] Melbourne Activist Legal Support: Statements of concern and protest reports can be found at: https://melbourneactivistlegalsupport.org/news-issues/

[iii] Gillham, Patrick F. 2011. “Securitizing America: Strategic Incapacitation and the Policing of Protest Since the 11 September 2001 Terrorist Attacks.” Sociology Compass 5(7):633-652.

What is this thing called Activist Legal Support?

Activist Legal Support is not just Legal Observing

Many people these days equate Legal Observing with “legal support” partly due to the relatively high visibility and profile of Legal Observing, particularly in Victoria – Legal Observers stand out whilst back-end legal support training / arrest support / court support is far less visible to anyone and therefore less understood.
In reality however- Legal Observing is one of the least important legal support roles in mass arrest scenarios – far less critical than arrest support roles, liaison with lawyers and the months of court support if and when people are charged.
In many ways activist groups, with limited resources,  should focus on building their own dedicated legal teams, forming relationships with friendly lawyers,  arranging legal briefings for activists and organising people to take on arrest support roles – long before they even think about organising their own Legal Observer Team.

So, what is Activist Legal Support?

A good legal support structure for groups engaging in protests that could be arrestable includes:
1) A Legal Support Team: 
 A dedicated team within the activist group who plan, organise and coordinate legal support. This includes speaking with / advising and seeking regular confidential advice from lawyers about actions that are planned, what are the potential charges, whose jurisdiction a particular site is and what are the possible penalties.  The team should be planning logistics, a network of lawyer contacts, organising police liaison, and coordinating a potentially large team of activists providing various legal support roles.   In some mass civil disobedience actions, the legal support team has an office, its own roster, comms system and budget.  Read about the S11 Legal Support Team here.

The Occupy Boston Legal Team Image: National Lawyers Guild US

2) Legal Information:
Arranging for clear, accurate, practical and realistic legal information to be provided to everyone who may be part of an action or campaign.  Information should be drafted and verified by a solicitor, written in ‘plain’ language – (avoiding legal jargon) and always couched in terms of what is potential or possible.  Police have discretion about when and what charges they lay, and courts have a lot of discretion in what penalties they provide so nothing is definite when providing activist legal information.   The aim is to provide information so that people can make fully informed decisions about whether to place themselves in an potentially arrestable scenario but not to scare people from taking action.

Two fabulous lawyers providing activist legal training. Image: MALS

This information can be provided in pamphlets, handbooks, blog posts or during activist trainings or in briefings before and during actions.  Legal briefings can happen anywhere, anytime but they need to be planned as part of the action and people need to be prepped to provide them.  They are best written or provided by lawyers or very well briefed para-legals.
3) Arrest Support: 
Arrest support roles are people who commit themselves to looking after the needs of people who are facing arrest or who get arrested at an action.  They need to monitor who is arrested, find our where they might be taken,  make sure  personal belongings are safe, friends contacted and ensure that someone is there to collect them when they get out of police custody.   Arrest support is a critical role. It might mean liaising assertively with police or watchhouse staff regarding the welfare of people inside, making sure people are not isolated or targeted, arranging lawyers, ensuring people in and have water and medical treatment – are safe and being treated properly.  Arrest supporters can also observe, record and make note of police behavior and monitor arrests for later legal defense – particularly if there are no Legal Observers present.   You dont have to have any legal training to do arrest support.

An Extinction Rebellion activist and their arrest support person at Oxford Circus in London. Image: BBC

It is easy to loose track of arrestees at mass actions. Good arrest support can make the difference between someone having a traumatic experience and someone coming out of custody inspired to get to the next action.
4) Court Support: 
Court cases can go for many months, sometimes years.  The activist campaigns should plan to support ALL those who face charges resulting for the action for the entirety of their court case.  This means helping them find legal representation / plan a legal strategy, support them if they plead guilty or not-guilty, fund-raise for fines,  organise for people to turn up at court appearances, assist with media throughout the case, be there for a victory celebration at the end, support the activists physically, emotionally, financially throughout.     You don’t have to have any legal training to do court support.

Three activists with their legal team. Image: Geco.org.au

Why is Legal Support Important?

We stress that a plan for on-going, hands-on legal support for protestors (such as during arrests and for court support) is essential, and is normally the most important aspect of legal support for activists.  It is even more important as public order policing becomes increasingly paramilitary – by deploying violence and force against groups of unarmed people.
We strongly encourage activist groups to look into and organise these forms of on-going legal support as a core part of your campaign planning.
The website www.activistrights.org.au has resources and downloadable PDF arrest support templates – https://www.activistrights.org.au/support_team_resources – which were originally designed for mass-arrest scenarios . – See below:
People in social movements are in it together, and we all have different roles to play.  Facing the full might of the police and the criminal justice system is frightening but something people have done throughout history. Planning good activist legal support builds movement resilience and make it more likely we will come out of it stronger
Our rights are routinely violated but movements are made stronger when people know their rights, vocalise them, and we respond collectively and assertively when they are.  Solidarity, in the streets, in police custody and in the courts is our most powerful tool.

There are three core aspects of Activist Legal Support: information, support and solidarity.

Legal information is best provided by lawyers or legal practitioners. Support is best provided by a well-organised legal support team. Other activists can only really provide solidarity. All three of these are crucial in good activist legal support.

What is the difference between Legal Observing and other forms of legal support?

Legal Observing is most effectively done by external / independent groups who can focus on civil and political rights rather than on the action itself.
Legal Observers (LOs) act as an independent, third party who monitoring police behaviour at protests and actions. This is known as ‘legal observing’.
Legal Observing takes activists away from these other arrest support roles so it is always wise to ask another group or organisation to take on that role.  MALS is one of the only legal support groups in Australia who regularly trains and fields Legal Observer Teams but community legal centres, church groups, human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have all organised Legal or Human Rights Observer teams in different states in the past.
For big civil disobedience events it might be wise to approach one of these larger independent groups, with plenty of notice,  to provide a team of volunteer observers if they can  – and allow your activists to focus on the actual action.
In monitoring the police, Legal Observers compile evidence which can later be used in court if protesters are wrongly prosecuted, or wish to bring actions against the police.
Legal Observer teams aim to widen the political space to take protest action. Their presence can also provide both a feeling of safety and a deterrent effect on police.
As observers, Legal Observers are removed from the protest itself, which allows them to objectively and independently describe events. It is in this form that Legal Observers are most effective in monitoring police behaviour.
You can think of Legal Observing as just one of the many parts that provide shared social movement infrastructure , along with medical support (street medics) and groups that are dedicated to providing food to protesters (Food Not Bombs).
We may be able to help but we cant do everything: you can get in contact with MALS if you would like to request that MALS provide a Legal Observer Team at actions or demonstrations – or come along to one of our trainings.
But we are a small, all volunteer and entirely unfunded group.   There is simply no way we could organise legal support for every activist group, action or campaign in Melbourne.
YOU need to do that.
WE can just support, advise and provide resources where we can.
You can always contact us at melbactivistlegal@gmail.com

STATEMENT OF CONCERN: Policing of Invasion Day March 2019

On Saturday 26 January 2019 Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) fielded a team of ten (10) trained Legal Observers at the Invasion Day march that took place in Melbourne’s Central Business District.  The march, which was organised by the group Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, began with speakers at Victoria’s Parliament House on Spring Street, proceeded down Bourke St, turning south down Swanston Street and culminating at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders Streets out side Flinders Street Station.

Legal Observers monitored and recorded interactions between Victoria Police and protesters throughout the four hour event.

Areas of Concern:

We are concerned about several aspects of the policing of the event that in some instances pose unjustified limitations of rights within the Victorian Charter of Human Rights & Responsibilities Act (2006) and the implied freedom of political communication in the Constitution.

High-level of policing

  • Legal Observers noted the high level of police presence for a peaceful event, namely the deployment of a brawler van and other public order vehicles, the use of mounted police, the Public Order Response Team (PORT), a Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), and an Evidence Gathering Team that was filming attendees throughout the event. We stress that these annual Invasion Day rallies and marches have been  solemn, entirely peaceful and well-organised commemorative events involving tens of thousands of people, including families, children and elderly people. This highly visible level of policing understandably causes anxiety among attendees and may dissuade people from attending and/or bringing their children to the event in future. It also creates the impression among onlookers and the general public that the attendees pose a risk and must be policed. As we have stated previously, we believe that over-policing such as displayed at this event constitutes a form of discrimination.

Prevention of public address system

  • Police refused to allow a vehicle with a small public address (PA) system) to accompany the march to its ending point at the corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets.  No clear reason for this restriction was provided to organisers. The same vehicle was utlised in the 2018 march safely and effectively with no problems reported by police.  A police member involved in negotiations with the event organisors was reported to have stated that the command not to allow the PA vehicle to proceed this year came from an Assistant Commissioner.  Organisor attempts to compromise and have the vehicle meet the march at its end point were also prevented by police.  This restriction on the peaceful assembly effectively removed the ability for march organisers to communicate important messages to the many thousands of attendees and therefore increased risk to attendees.   Organisers of the march were reduced to using small megaphones to direct, provide instructions and communicate with attendees. These could not be heard by the vast majority of the many thousand people who occupied several city blocks at any one time.  We believe this limitation by Victoria Police to be unjustified, dangerous and a form of suppression of political communication.

11:46 am  Police speaking to driver of one of two PA vehicles which were prevented from accompanying the march. Photo: MALS.

Temporary restriction of march

  • At 11:30am, minutes after the march had begun and moved forward for one block, a line of standing police blocked the march proceeding down Bourke Street. This caused a delay for approximately ten minutes and created a range of potential issues for the march including increasing the risk of a crowd crush as thousands of people moved forward, and health impacts of keeping people longer in the midday sun. It is not clear why the decision to prevent the march was made by police at this point however it occurred at the time when negotiations about the PA vehicle were underway.   In this scenario, police ought to have deferred to the well-organised and easily identifiable rally marshals to allow the march to proceed or pause as required for cohesion.

    Police forming a physical barrier to prevent march continuing down Swanston St. (Photo: Facebook)

    11:34am Police forming a physical barrier to prevent march continuing down Swanston St. Photo: MALS

     

  • It was observed by and reported to Legal Observers that on numerous occasions, police presence intimidated attendees by positioning themselves, horses or large police vehicles in very close proximity to attendees, often following, or parking very close to people.  Police should be aware of the impact of their presence upon members of the public. We recommend that police maintain safe and reasonable distances from members of the public during public events.

11:38am Brawler van positioned facing attendees at a distance of approximately five metres Photo: MALS

11:38am A large police brawler van and large buses followed the march at often close proximity. Photo: MALS

Use of Mounted Unit

  • The deployment of the Police Mounted Unit at the front of the march was unnecessary, and as noted above, signaled to the public that the march posed a public threat. The presence of police horses in crowd situations pose a significant risk of injury especially given the size of the crowd, the presence of children, prams, people with disability access requirements and the inability of people to freely move out of the horses way if they are maneuvered close to crowds. While they were not utilised to control crowds, their presence remains unnecessarily intimidating and increases the risk of severe injury to attendees. We remind readers that the past six Invasion Day marches have proceeded entirely peacefully and without any incident that would warrant the use of horses.

11:55am Police Mounted Unit at the front of march down Bourke Street. This is what the public saw as the march approached. Photo: MALS

Open carriage of weaponry

  • Legal observers noted police members openly carrying paramilitary-style equipment such as flash/noise distraction devices designed to shock and disperse crowds, and possibly the newly acquired stinger grenades. As we have asserted previously, the open and visible deployment of repression technology at peaceful events serves no safety or operational purpose aside from intimidation. For example, one police officer was observed casually carrying a container of OC spray outside a vehicle for no operational purpose.

11:52am Police Evidence Gathering Team were observed constantly videoing attendees throughout the event.  Photo MALS

ID Badges

  • Some Victoria Police were observed without official ID badges on display. We continue to stress, as we have in past years, that by their own regulations, VicPol members in uniform are required to wear current issue name tags that specify first name or initial/s, surname and rank (Victoria Police Manual, Uniform and Appearance Standards, Oct 2016).

General observations

We note that no rally attendees were arrested, but observed two far-right supporters being arrested and removed from the area directly in front of the Flinders Street Station clocks (1.20pm).

Legal Observers also noted numerous incidents of police speaking with, deterring or preventing far-right, nationalist or patriot identified individuals or small groups from approaching the march throughout the day.  While we note that Victoria Police were cognizant of the risk that far-right ‘patriot’ groups or individuals would attempt to counter-protest or antagonise the march, MALS does not believe this accounts for or justifies the level of over-policing, tactics, and open carrying of weaponry witnessed.

END

This Statement is a public document and is provided to media, Victoria Police Professional Standards Command, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), and other agencies upon request.

For inquiries please contact: melbactivistlegal@gmail.com

https://melbourneactivistlegalsupport.org/

EVENT REPORT: 66 Records Label Launch, Collingwood

Published: 4 September 2018

Available for download here (PDF)

On Saturday 1st of September, to the morning of Sunday the 2nd, September, 2018 Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) fielded a team of nine trained Legal Observers at the 66 Records Label launch that took place at the Gasometer Hotel near the intersection of Alexander Parade with Smith Street, in Collingwood, Victoria.

Legal Observers were present in three shifts from 9.00pm on Saturday 1st until 4.00am on Sunday 2nd September. The team was present upon request by the event organisers after Victoria Police informed the event organisers that police would be attending the event.

The presence of independent Legal Observers at events which receive particular policing attention and media scrutiny is critically important. Having trained independent witnesses can be vital for providing objective evidence and accounts after the fact for public and legal purposes. Legal Observer event reports or Statements of Concern are often utilised by journalists, human rights bodies, police complaints departments and legal teams to ascertain contemporaneous evidence and objective data.

Organisors and legal bodies are acutely aware that any events and incidents involving young people of perceived African background are highlighted and subsequent media coverage can distort public perceptions and increase discriminatory and harmful associations. These associations are commonly utilised for political purposes by commentators including politicians. It is often the case that media depictions or characterisations of an event can vary significantly from actual observed reports.

It is important to note that journalists and commentators were not present on the night and did not have contemporaneous eyewitness accounts of events as they unfolded. Having trained and independent observers at events such as these is something we would encourage under these circumstances.

MALS works closely with a range of human rights and legal bodies including community legal centres and teams are often made up of legally trained people, laws students and solicitors who volunteer their time for such events.   All Legal Observers work with MALS in a volunteer capacity.  Observers do not interfere with or hinder police work. Legal Observers closely observe the actions of police, private security and other parties in their interactions with members of the public, provide basic legal information to members of the public about their rights and responsibilities. Legal observers help ensure police and private security agents act according to their lawful powers and do not infringement upon the civil and legal rights of members of the public.

Legal Observers are identified by high-visibility vests with Legal Observer printed across the back and front.

 

Direct Observations

The Legal Observer Team on the night reported that the event was well organised, and the attendees were peaceful up until approximately 2.20am on the Sunday just prior to when the event was due to finish.

Police patrols visited or conducted walk-throughs in the venue eight times over the night. Police were polite and communications with venue staff and legal observers were cordial during each patrol. There was no indications that any altercations would break out during each of these patrols.

The final police patrol was present just outside the venue when the initial fight broke out inside.

At approximately 2.20am Sunday morning arguments and physical fights broke out amongst some event attendees. These fights began inside the venue and later broke out outside as people were exciting the venue.

The large crowd of approximately 200 people were outside the venue due to the event finishing and them being ushered outside. By 2.40am all attendees had left the venue. It is important to note that only a proportion of this crowd were actively involved in fighting. Others were trying to calm the situation or were in the process of leaving the area.

At 2:25 several PORT (Public Order Response Team) had arrived on site and began cordoning off the lanes to Alexander Parade.

At 2.41am Observers noted eight police vehicles stationed along Alexander Parade and Smith Street. By 2.45am an unmarked police 4WD and a police truck had arrived on site. And a line of 14 police were observed moving south down Smith Street.

Observers were not present at the location at the corner of Emma and Maton Streets when a car collided with the event attendees at approximately 2.45am but were present soon after. Three police members immediately attended to the injured person.

Police cordoned off this area as police and paramedics attended to the injured person. The remaining crowd dispersed over the next 60 minutes.

By 3:31am only 10 people remained in the area who identified themselves as either friends or family of the injured person.

Observers remained on site until approximately 4.00am.

Commentary

MALS asserts, based upon our observations, that policing was at appropriate levels throughout the night of the event with regular policing patrols – commensurate with an event of that nature and size. Observers notes that police responded quickly to the incidents outside the venue and more police members and resources, including the Public Order Response Team were in attendance within minutes.

Based upon our observations at the event, the calls by some parties for more police resources, powers or numbers after this event are duplicitous.

It is untrue, as some media outlets have claimed, that “200 people were involved in the brawling. Whilst a minority of the crowd were involved in sudden physical assaults, most others were attempting to stop the fights or were moving away from the venue in the process of dispersing from the area.

The Legal Observers did not witness any evidence of ‘gangs’ or ‘gang like behaviours’ at the event. The physical violence witnessed by observers was predominately between young men who were affected by alcohol.

Whilst the media commentary surround the event has been politicised by commentators almost immediately afterwards we wish to highlight some clearly evident factors missing from the public discussion of the event to date.

Alcohol is involved in approximately 60 per cent of all police attendances.[i]

Excessive consumption of alcohol is a major cause of physical and social harm. Victoria Police’s own data indicates that the availability of alcohol, either in concentrated entertainment precincts or liquor outlets acts as a substantial driver of assault and related offences.[ii]

There is a considerable amount of research and data from the health, hospital and justice sectors about alcohol related harms and strategies about reducing it. The association between the violence that occurred at this event and the perceived ethnicity of those involved is not only simplistic and incorrect; it diverts attention away from evidence-based factors and their solutions.

Our thoughts go to the people injured on the night, their friends and family members.

MALS will field legal observer teams at future events upon request if capacity allows.

For further information about Melbourne Activist Legal Support please see https://melbourneactivistlegalsupport.org/

 

 

 

[i] Miller, Peter (A/Prof). 2013, Patron Offending and Intoxication in Night-Time Entertainment Districts (POINTED). NDLERF Monograph Series No.46.National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund. Canberra

[ii] [PDF]Policing Alcohol Harm in Victoria – Victoria Police

https://www.police.vic.gov.au/retrievemedia.asp?Media_ID=108141