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.
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
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.