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/

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EVENT REPORT: Invasion Day Rally and March 2018

26 January 2018

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) fielded a team of seven(7) legal observers at the 2018 Invasion Day Rally and March which was organised by the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR).

The team observed and noted police behavior, crowd control tactics and interactions with the public from 9.30am until the completion of the event at 3.30pm.

Police presence was significantly larger than for previous Invasion Day protest marches in recent years but moderate given the large estimated crowd size which ranged between 40,000 – 60,000 attendees. 

As MALS has discussed previously, protests by or about indigenous rights, black deaths in custody or land rights in Australia have historically attracted a more interventionist and controlling level of policing than an equivalently sized non-indigenous protest.  MALS has observed this over the past few years where peaceful, well organized and even solemn events such as the Invasion Day rallies are heavily policed despite there clearly being no plans for disruptive or violent action.

Police conduct during the 2018 march through the Melbourne CBD primarily appeared to be generally facilitative and designed to manage the movement of the marchers west down Bourke St, to turn south down Swanston Street and then eventually east down Flinders Street to the march endpoint at Parliament Gardens.  Some Public Order Response Team (PORT) cordons were positions across streets at various locations designed to prevent the march interacting with the City of Melbourne Australia Day Parade down Swanston St. This meant that the march was delayed for short periods of time whilst organisors liaised with police and saw the eventual moving of police cordons.

Police cordons during similar protest events in the CBD can infringe upon the rights of peaceful assembly and association contained in section 16 of the Victorian Charter Of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act (2006). The team present on this day considered the limitation in this instance to be temporary, particulary considering the length of time the marchers chose to remain at various intersections along the route which were unhindered by police action.

The Australia Day Parade was completed by the time the march arrived at Swanston Street but metal barricades along both sides of the road posed some problems due to the large crowd size.

MALS was also noted that police were cognizant of the risk that right-wing groups or individuals would make attempts to counter-protest or harass the rally.  The team noted one incident on Flinders Street where a right wing activist was prevented from gaining access to the protest by police.

We note from the Street Medic team present that only minor heat related injuries were treated.

Areas of Concern:

The Victoria Police Mounted Branch (9 horses and mounted police) was present and maintained a position approximately 50 metres in front of the protest march for most of the time. The presence of police horses in crowd situations poses a significant risk of injury given the size of the crowd, the presence of children, prams and the inabilty of people to get out of their way if they are manoeuvred close to crowds. Although they were not utilised to control crowds at this event, their presence remains unecessarily intimidating and MALS strongly recomends that police horses not be deployed in any crowded or populated area at any protest event due to risk of servere injury.

Use of force:

Legal Observers witnessed and received some reports of use of force by police members in the Public Order Response Team (PORT) as the attendees rallied at the Flinders St station intersection.

One attendee reported that her female friend and an elderly male were pushed back by an police member as they tried to move further down St Kilda Rd/Swanston St when the march initially arrived at the intersection. The attendee reported that the officer was unprovoked and had not issued any verbal instructions or warnings beforehand.

A MALS Legal Observer was also subject to physical force (a rough push) by a PORT member upon arrival at the Flinders St intersection. The legal observer subsequently brought this to the attention of the officer in charge.

Identification:

MALS also notes with some concern that many PORT members were not wearing their official ID badge, despite requirements to do so. Notably, the PORT member who pushed the MALS legal observer did not have their ID badge.

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)

As we have noted numerous times previously, the wearing of visible name tags at protest events is inconsistent and this poses serious problems for accountability.

Media and online harassment of activist

We also note with concern that some sections of the media choose to single out and highlight one provocative statement from the rally and even made it into a headline in some cases.

Legal Observers heard the statement in its context and it was clearly a metaphorical and figurative point as was later explained by the organisor herself.  Singling out this one statement amidst an half day of speeches is no more than racist demonisation. It has served to generate outrage and condemnation from parties who were not present and has resulted in online abuse, threats and harrassment of the organisor.

The abuse or harassment of an activist in any online forums is unacceptable.   Resources to deal withthis sort of online harrassment are available here and here.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) supports activists to defend their civil and political rights by fielding legal observers at protests and rallies, and providing training, resources and up to date information on the right to protest in the State of Victoria. This is the fourth year in a row that MALS has provided support to attendees at the Invasion Day Rally.

 

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 enquiries please contact: melbactivistlegal@gmail.com

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https://melbourneactivistlegalsupport.org/