More on Arrow paying for police at Kerry

There’s been a fair bit of discussion surrounding the whole Arrow-paying-the-police arrangement.  (To make things less cumbersome, from now on I’ll refer to it as “APtheP”).

Responses to the original post have been many and varied.  Most private responses have involved surprise and even outrage in some way.  However, a few people I’ve listened to (or read) have taken pains to downplay the arrangement (“standard practice”, “quite normal”, “you wait ‘til it’s a real police state” etc) to such an extent that I wonder perhaps if my first post came across as a little hysterical.  Sorry.  I meant only to voice some concerns and perhaps generate some more information.

So first, here’s some more information about the actual legals.  Thanks to Ian Ratcliff and Sue Higginson of the Environmental Defenders Office in Lismore and Aidan Ricketts of Southern Cross University for pointers on where to find the information.  (Although any errors of fact or interpretation are mine not theirs!)  Again, here’s the legals.

As I mentioned in the original article, I have a number of concerns about the APthP arrangement.  I hope to clarify them further in another post (did I hear a yawn there?).  I also want to set out as clearly as I can the information available about whether the Arrow-paid police are on or off duty, and whether they have a choice to accept the work, whether they wear uniform or not, and how the whole arrangement works.

But what I really wanted to post about here is that “ho-hum”/“standard practice”/“quite normal”/“you wait ‘til it’s a real police state” view.  I understand that any emphasis on downplaying the APtheP arrangement may have simply been a polite attempt to calm any unseemly shrillness on my part, but still, something in me rebels at such easy dismissal of a situation that I would have thought should at least merit further consideration.

There seem to be two main arguments put forward as justification for the “ho-hum” view  of APthP.  (Please comment if you have another one!)

1. “Police impartiality”

The first argument is that under the APthP type arrangements, the police aren’t working directly for the mining company.  They must still impartially uphold the law, and the usual police chain of command still applies.  Well, I should hope so.  If my original post came across as a little hysterical, then watch out for the one where I discover that police working for mining companies don’t officially have to act according to the law.  (This would be Naomi’s 10th step…)

My concern with this official “police impartiality” line is that it just doesn’t hold up in practice.  Incidents have already arisen where police officers have used deceit and intimidation to suppress legal avenues of community expression of dissent, to the overall benefit of mining companies.  It appears that this tactic is not illegal, or at least, prohibition is not enforced.

Here’s an example of the “police impartiality” argument.  This is what an article on Qld Police Service News had to say a few days after the original APthP blog post.

“The payment of specials does not influence police performance or response. Officers on specials do not take instruction from the organisation that has paid for the specials. The Service manages thousands of protests each year. Our primary role is to ensure the safety of all involved and, where necessary, to carry out law enforcement.”

Unfortunately, there is ample evidence to suggest that the payment of specials does influence police performance or response, regardless of where their instructions “officially” come from, or what their “official” primary role is.

Police behaviour at Tara blockade

For example, eyewitness reports from blockaders of QGC operations on the Tara estate, near Chinchilla, Qld, tell a consistent story of police intimidation, harassment and deceit.  These police actions were directed solely at the protestors and Tara residents, and not at QGC, the mining company involved.  Impartial?  My foot.

The culmination of the campaign of harassment of blockaders and residents (including repeated ID checks and roadworthy inspections) was when about 40 police officers, at least some of whom were in camouflage gear, were discovered hiding in the bushes near the protest camp.  Unlike the protestors, who had a legal (and in my opinion, moral) right to be there, the police did not have permission from the landowner to be on the landowner’s private property. As far as I am aware, they also did not have a warrant.  (If you’re associated with the police force, and can upload a scan of the warrant, I’ll take that back.)

Once discovered, the police proceeded to intimidate the protestors into moving away from the protest site.  There are two problems with that action: the first is that I suspect there was no legal basis for police insistence that protestors were obliged to move.  Again, if you’re a police officer and can show me the legislation that gave those officers the right to move protestors on, please do and I’ll take back what I just wrote.  Bear in mind that it was private property and that the landowner had given permission for the protestors to be there.

The second problem is that the effect of the move was to hamper the ability of the protestors to express their objections to QGC activities.

It is known that at least one senior police officer was driven to the site in a QGC vehicle.

Police behaviour at Kerry blockade

At the Kerry blockade, a campsite was established nearby for blockaders who were staying overnight.  It was on private property, and the sympathetic owner had given permission for blockaders to camp there.  One day, according to eyewitness reports, a pair of police officers turned up at the campsite.  The police officers lied that the owner had given permission for them to be there.  As a result, the community members camping were subject to what was in effect an illegal police inspection of their campground.  It was sufficiently intimidating to have the potential to discourage some people from attending the next community protest.  The owner of the private land also had their property illegally intruded upon.  If anyone can show me legal grounds for police to lie their way onto private property, I will post it and take back what I just said.

On a second occasion, a police ATV containing two officers barged in to the campground, also without permission.  No-one was game to try to physically stop them, so again, they made an intimidating, illegal, inspection of the campground.

(These weren’t the only examples of police actions seemingly designed to hamper protestors’ expression of their views.  Others included what I will call the “horn tooting incident” and the whole “no-one allowed on the driveway” issue.  Unfortunately, time constraints mean that I haven’t been able to follow those up properly, so I’d be grateful if anyone with more information could elaborate in a comment.)

It is known that several of the police at the Kerry blockade were paid for by Arrow.

So what…?

In the course of research for this blog, I came across numerous examples of similar police behaviour in relation to protests over other issues.  Perhaps that’s another blog?  However, to keep this post under the length of a novel, I’m limiting its scope to these three examples of recent CSG-related policing.  And that’s because I think that the three examples above are more than sufficient to demonstrate this point: that it would be outrageously naive to accept that just because the Queensland Police Service says that “payment of specials does not influence police performance or response”, that in fact it doesn’t.

Having said that, it may very well be that in fact police are like this normally, and that the Qld Police News website is actually correct in saying that “payment of specials does not influence police performance or response”.   But if that’s the case, then it’s of even graver concern that I originally thought, and we should be making every effort to discourage police tendencies to illegally suppress peaceful public protests.  Allowing our police forces to accept money from mining companies for anything, when police are directly involved in policing community protests against those same mining companies, gives police significant incentive to shut down legitimate expressions of protest by law-abiding communities.

So it’s not enough to confidently claim that police paid by mining companies are supposed to be impartial in any situation involving the mining company.  It’s quite obvious from events on the ground that this is not the case.

2. “These arrangements are nothing new”

The second argument put forward in favour of the “ho-hum” attitude is that these user-pays police service arrangements are a long-standing practice – they’re nothing new, so nothing to worry about.  Apart from the obvious answer  (that just because it’s been going on for a long time without people knowing about it, that doesn’t make it OK),  it’s also not entirely true.  Or at least, if it is true, we’ve got even more to think about here.

It might be that it’s a long-standing practice for events organisers and/or the RTA to have hired police in situations where there is no obvious conflict of interest, and where there is an obvious community benefit, but I’m pretty sure that business interests hiring police to attend peaceful assemblies that are protesting about the business’s own activities is a new thing.

Although, as I wrote that, and thinking about the examples I found of police behaviour at protests over other issues, I realise I’m suddenly not so sure.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that despite official protestations to the contrary, the fact that we allow business interests to pay for extra police services is something that deserves some serious attention, rather than offhand dismissal.

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