I covered the protester aspect of the 2007 Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Sydney for the Sydney Morning Herald. Using direct reporting and a series of Freedom-of-Information requests I found that police were forced to make a payout for wrongly arresting a protester, spent $2 million on a giant fence and included Greenpeace activists on a list of “dangerous people”. Another notable story was a botched police attempt to blackmail an activist into spying.

March 6, 2010: Activist Padriac ‘Paddy’ Gibson lands payout after APEC arrest
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POLICE made a substantial payment for a secret amount to an activist wrongly arrested during the 2007 Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit and then used this payout as an excuse to stop an internal investigation into the arrest, documents released under Freedom of Information laws reveal.

NSW Police made the payment to activist Padriac “Paddy” Gibson after he launched a civil case over his illegal arrest and detention after the major anti-APEC rally in September, 2007.

Documents released to news.com.au through Freedom of Information laws show that police then wrongly cited the civil action as a reason to stop investigating the officers behind the arrest, a move called a coverup by Mr Gibson and his supporters.

This new revelation comes after news.com.au yesterday revealed that NSW Police paid $2 million for the APEC fence, a pricey wall that was unable to even stop The Chaser comedy team.

The documents were released after a 16-month battle with the police.

Mr Gibson is a long-time activist who police put on a list of 61 “excludable persons” considered so dangerous they were not allowed into the APEC security areas.  This was despite him having no criminal record.

Mr Gibson says he was sitting with other activists in Hyde Park just after the September 2007 anti-APEC rally when they were approached by a group of heavily armed police.  In front of hundreds of onlookers and international media, the officers aggressively arrested Mr Gibson and dragged him to a holding bus.

Despite Mr Gibson repeatedly telling the officers he was not in a restricted area he says he was detained for about 20 minutes because an officer released him, sheepishly admitting it was all a “mistake”.

Afterwards Mr Gibson’s father, Dr Peter Gibson, wrote to police demanding the officers involved in the “gratuitous and illegal violence towards” his son be disciplined.

The documents released to news.com.au show that the internal investigation was brief, with the investigators never bothering to identify the arresting officers.  The investigators then decided to close the case because they argued the civil action could be considered a “satisfactory means of redress”.

But Stephen Blanks from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said the investigator’s action seem like a coverup.  “It’s inappropriate for officers to decline to investigate a complaint simple because they have had the opportunity to (try to) buy confidentiality,” he said.

“The public has a legitimate interest in knowing the outcome of complaints and that appropriate action has been taken.”

Greens Member Sylvia Hale said the revelations were particularly troubling given the new powers NSW Police were given this week to secretly search homes and computers of suspects.

Paying for protests

Mr Gibon said he was unable to say how much he was paid but said he was “surprised and very happy” with the amount.

“I’ve used part of the payment to fund my campaigning against the Federal Government’s racist intervention in the Northern Territory and to support those who are still facing charges over G20 in Melbourne.”

With a smile, he added: “So I can thank the NSW Police for helping me help these causes.”

Mr Gibson’s lawyer, Lisa Powell, said she was now arranging for a number of other activists who were also arrested to make civil claims against NSW Police.  NSW Police did not respond to written questions.March 5, 2009: The APEC great Wall of waste

Front page story

The APEC wall that couldn’t keep The Chaser out cost $2m

THE steel and concrete fence that became a symbol of the 2007 Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, cost an amazing $2 million to hire for seven days, documents released under Freedom of Information laws reveal.The “Great Wall of Sydney” – which left police and the NSW Government red-faced after it was breached by members of The Chaser comedy team during APEC – infuriated locals and tourists by caging off the Sydney Opera House and large sections of the CBD.

Told of the price tag, The Chaser’s Andrew Hansen said the fence was “the biggest waste of money in Australia since the movie Australia. Even Baz Luhrmann couldn’t waste this much money promoting Australia on the world stage.”

Police have been fighting a Freedom of Information request for the full price tag of the fence for more than 16 months.

It was only after the intervention of the NSW Ombudsman that the force relented and released the costings to news.com.au.

The documents revealed a previously undisclosed charge of $330,754 for “accelerated works for fence removal” NSW Police paid Coates Hire to quickly get rid of the wall once APEC ended.

Senior police and the NSW Government were humiliated after The Chaser team managed to get themselves through the unprecedented security cordon despite wearing identification that gave their titles as “insecurity” and stated “It’s pretty obvious this isn’t a real pass.”

Had police had a closer read, the APEC Official Vehicle sticker would also have revealed “This vehicle belongs to a member of The Chaser’s War on Everything.”

“This dude likes trees and poetry and certain types of carnivorous plants excite him.”

Definitely not laughing is Greens Member Sylvia Hale, who is scathing about the cost of the fence.

“The APEC fence was an expensive, intrusive mechanism for intimidating Sydney residents,” she said.

“The Government spent $2 million on a fence that blocked the streets, caused massive disruption and made Sydney look like a prison camp, yet it couldn’t keep a comedy troupe out.”

Detailed expense documents obtained exclusively by news.com.au show police made four payments totaling $1,547,452 to Coates Hire Operations. Added to this was the $330,754 “accelerated works for fence removal” and $98,100 for “extra gates for security fence”, bringing the total to $1,975,306.

Police have first option to re-hire the fence for up to three years.

The Chaser’s Andrew Hansen suggested it be used against a certain conductor and violinist: “If only the fence had been used to keep Andre Rieu out of the country, it would’ve been worth the money,” he said.

The police and NSW Government did not react well when The Chaser team breached the fence during the APEC summit.

Then NSW Police Minister, David Campbell, called the stunt “inappropriate” and refused to acknowledge its comedy value.

Assistant Commissioner Dave Owens also declared: “While I enjoy like everyone else a good laugh, this isn’t funny.”

And a furious Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione went even further, saying that snipers positioned around the city could have mistaken the comedians for terrorists and shot them.
Police charged two of the show’s stars, Julian Morrow and Chas Licciardello, and nine production staff with entering an exclusion zone.

Despite this, another Chaser member, Craig Reucassel, told reporters at the time: “I have no comment, other than to say they were the least talented members of the team, and the show will go on.”

The charges were later withdrawn last April.  A response is being sought from NSW Police.

Read more about Freedom of Information laws at Peter Timmon’s excellent Open and Shut blog here. He has written a short piece about my article here.

September 5, 2008: Beware of police bearing lists

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In the months before the 2007 APEC forum, the NSW Government passed special legislation so police could create a list of “excludable persons”, who were considered so dangerous they would be immediately arrested if they entered Martin Place and other public areas around the Opera House during APEC Leaders’ Week.

It turns out that university activists and Greenpeace members made up a third of the secret list of 61 people. Pictured above are nine of the excluded. Read more at The Sydney Morning Herald.

August 24, 2007: Cheney protester convicted

June 18, 2007: Spy for us and we’ll drop charge

June 19, 2007: Those on APEC black list ‘know who they are’

June 21, 2007: Protesting at APEC a bad idea, activists told

June 29, 2007: Cages on wheels: APEC plan to keep the peace

Audio slideshow: Thousands march against APEC in Sydney

JOSHUA CAMERON was 19 when he overdosed on a cocktail of prescription drugs in his cell at the maximum security Long Bay Correctional Complex.

Tests would later show he had four drugs – the painkillers codeine, morphine, paracetamol and tramadol – in his system, any one of which could have killed him. He was being prescribed paracetamol at the time.

December 21, 2008: The tricks used to get a hit in prison

Postscript: February 16, 2009
A 19-year-old prisoner did not intend to commit suicide when he took a range of prescription drugs at prison where officers admitted there was an open trade in medications, a coroner has found.

Joshua Cameron, who was not prescribed three of the four painkillers found in his system, was found dead in his cell on June 28, 2006.

A coronial inquiry into his death had heard there was an open trade in prescription medications in Metropolitan Special Programs Centre but Coroner Paul McMahon did not find enough evidence to recommend that any of the other inmates be charged.

Delivering his findings on Friday, Mr McMahon did not make any recommendations against the Department of Corrective Services despite officers admitting they knew about the trade but could do little because of the lack of staff.

Speaking afterwards, Joshua’s mother, Sheryl, maintained that the department had failed her child.

“There’s got to have been something they could have done to make sure another family doesn’t have to go through with this,” she said.

September 24, 2006: Careers ruined: guards who feel like prisoners

JOHN Heffernan spent more than half his life managing prisoners. As the former  governor of prisons in Tamworth, Glen Innes and Grafton, John Heffernan  knew how to handle “disruptive” inmates. So he was quick to recognise  when the same tactics were being used on him.

I was part of a team of reporters at The Sydney Morning Herald who looked at the state’s prison system. We found that inmate numbers in the state have exceeded 10,000 a year and are forecast to reach 12,300 by 2015, with predictions that a new prison will be required every two years.

In addition, each prisoner costs the state about $73,000 a year, and the total cost of Corrective Services was $883 million in 2007-08, according to the latest Auditor-General’s report. The Wellington Correctional Centre, built last year, cost $125 million. Read the main story here.

A punishing regime

NSW jails are the most violent in the country. Former inmates talks about the harsh reality of prison life.Read more here.

Watch the video of Frank and ‘Douggie’ Walsh here.

More prisoners returning to jail

NSW has the highest reoffending rates in the country and is unlikely to meet its own targets to reduce this, according to prison experts. Read more here.

Prison watchdogs lose their teeth

Hard time … former official visitors Michael Brereton, Ray Jackson and Margaret Holm believe the position has become almost meaningless.

THE NSW Government has quietly gutted all of the oversight bodies meant to police the state’s jails over the past five years, according to prison experts. Read more here.

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On January 7, 2006, pregnant mother-of-one Jody Galante was reported missing by her husband Mark. A week later Jody’s body was found in bushland at Bilpin, in the Blue Mountains. She had died of a single gunshot wound to the head. Police investigated the murder and made an arrest in March 2006. The case came to a conclusion in April 2008.

I covered this story for The Sydney Morning Herald from when it was a missing person’s inquiry and have written a book about the investigation. Visit the book website here.

January 10, 2006: Woman vanishes in market mystery

January 12, 2006: Silence meets missing mother plea

January 17, 2006: Missing mother Jody murdered

January 25, 2006: I’d never hurt her says husband

March 2, 2006: A wave then accused wife killer led to cells

April 11, 2008: My daughter’s killer: I held his hand

November 16, 2008: Honours for catchers of wife-killer

BOOK EXCERPT: Blood, tears and lies


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Gillian Sneddon told the police about child sex allegations involving former NSW minister Milton Orkopoulos in late 2006. This led to her being ostracised by her party and the NSW Government. She was fired by the NSW Parliament on same day she took the stand in Orkopoulos’s trial and is seeking compensation. Orkopoulos has since been convicted on 28 charges. Ms Sneddon first told her story to the Herald in November 2006.

November 10, 2006: Sex cover-up victim tells

November 27, 2007: Child-sex inquiry: another tip-off revealed

March 15, 2008: Sacked: the woman who told on Orkopoulos

May 20, 2008: Whistleblower rejects payment offer