BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Sunday, 9 September 2007, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Apec security leaves bitter taste in Sydney
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

After Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics, a compelling case could be made for holding the games in the city every four years, such was the panache and energy which pulsated through its staging. After Apec, most Sydneysiders are saying "Never again".

Security officer on the roof of the Sydney Opera House
Snipers were among the thousands of security officers deployed
One of them is Christopher Brown, the normally good-humoured head of TTF Australia, a powerful tourism and transport lobby group which had lent strong support to Sydney's hosting of the 21 Pacific Rim leaders.

Like many, he is incensed by what he regards as the needlessly aggressive and restrictive policing, which carried a heftier security price tag than the 16-day-long Olympics and led to the construction of the 5km ( three mile) "great wall of Sydney".

"I'm so embarrassed and annoyed. Where was the sense of proportion? We replaced Olympic volunteers with riot squads," he says.

"Somebody in the security operation got very carried away with their own self-importance, and nobody in the state or federal government counterbalanced them.

"It was totally and utterly disproportionate."

'Iron fist'

Consider the experience of Greg McLeay, a 52-year-old accountant and father of three.

On Friday, with his 11-year-old son looking on, he was arrested by the police in the central business district. Thrown in jail under special Apec powers which allowed the police to hold people without bail, he was strip-searched and forced to spend the night locked up with a drug addict.

His offence? Crossing the road incorrectly during Apec near a cordoned-off area.

From demonstrations of its new high-powered water cannon to night-time exercises involving riot police, the New South Wales police were determined to show they were ready for large-scale protests with the possibility of turning violent.

But had they war-gamed against the wrong kind of protests?

They had geared up for so much trouble, it almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy
Christopher Brown
In court this week, when they successfully persuaded a judge to re-route the largest protest march of the week, they argued 20,000 demonstrators would turn up. In the end, though, only about 5,000 showed up, taking part in an overwhelmingly peaceful protest.

Similarly, they had cleared hundreds of prison cells, in anticipation of filling them with protesters. In the end, there were 17 arrests. Two police officers were injured - one was hit by a dart.

At the tail-end of the protest on Saturday, many marchers and journalists were mystified by the appearance of riot squads, backed up with the ominous presence of the water cannon.

As the Sun-Herald noted: "Police ruled Sydney's streets with an iron fist."

But the paper's headline "Police Rule" could just as easily have read "Overkill".

"They had geared up for so much trouble, it almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Christopher Brown.

Police under fire

For many Sydneysiders, comedians from the already popular The Chasers War on Everything have become folk heroes - they managed to breach the million-dollar security set-up with a few shiny black hire cars, some wrap-around sunglasses, a few fake passes, a colour printer and a handful of bonnet-mounted Canadian and Australian flags.

Almost 5,000 New South Wales police officers, 1,500 defence personnel, 450 federal police, teams of sharp-shooters, patrol boats zipping across the harbour, Black Helicopters swooping above - all upstaged by 11 members of a TV comedy show.

Police tackle a protester (Saturday 8 September)
Police were determined to show they were ready for large-scale protests
This is not the first time in recent months that the Australian police have copped an enormous amount of flak.

There was the fumbling handling of the Mohamed Haneef case, which involved an Indian doctor arrested and then released over the failed car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. The Australian Federal Police were labelled the "Keystone Cops", by no less a figure that the state premier of Queensland.

Similarly, this is not the first time that the authorities have been criticised for over-zealous policing.

Ahead of the Ashes tour by the England cricket team, Morris Iemma wrote to the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to identify known hooligans travelling with the "Barmy Army".

Then there were the decisions to ban the Barmy Army's trumpeter and ban Mexican waves - all of which seemed like the over-enforcement of the "Killjoy Act".

Prime Minister John Howard, a proud Sydneysider himself, may pay a political price for Apec, even though many of the security arrangements were put in place by the Labor-controlled New South Wales state government.

Trailing badly in the polls, he hoped the summit would boost him ahead of the upcoming federal election.

With the signing of the Sydney Declaration, a rather vague statement on cutting greenhouse emissions, improving energy intensity and increasing forestation, John Howard has gained some much-needed green credentials - even if environmentalists claim the statement is largely worthless because its targets are non-binding.

But he has also done a very dangerous thing: hosted and been the figurehead of a summit which was deeply unpopular with the residents of Australia's largest city, where his own increasingly marginal constituency resides.


Apec leaders reach climate deal
08 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Apec 'muddies the climate waters'
07 Sep 07 |  Science/Nature
US seeks stronger Asian democracy
07 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
TV show breaches fortress Sydney
07 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
China, Australia discuss security
06 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Bush and Howard in Sydney talks
05 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Q&A: The Kyoto Protocol
16 Feb 05 |  Science/Nature


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific