The Occupy Melbourne Protest was brutally attacked on October 21 by Victorian Police, who used extreme force... Having set up an occupation site at City Square on Swanston St in the Melbourne CBD on Saturday October 15 as part of the global Occupy Together movement, the Occupy Melbourne protests were starting to consolidate. As most Melbourne activists expected, Occupy Melbourne was large on its first day attracting 1,000 people, declining to about 300 on the following day. Approximately 100 people remained on site each day and night over the course of the following week. Throughout the week, the protesters continued to consolidate their ongoing presence and attract a solid periphery. Regular meetings and general assemblies occurred, several protests with other activist groups were organized, as were several film screenings. In this sense the protests not only kept their presence going but managed to generate significant political discussions within the Melbourne CBD about problems in our society and potential solutions.
In this context Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle (also former State Liberal Party Opposition Leader) told protesters on Thursday, 20 October that they had “made their point but it was time to move on.” In reality this movement is only just finding its feet.
At 7am on October 21, Occupy Melbourne protesters were notified that they would be evicted from City Square. By 9am the eviction began. In what appears to be one of the most significant police actions in Victoria's history, more than 400 police converged on City Square. Along with the specialist police units generally entrusted with policing protests, police were also brought in from a variety of police stations in the outer Melbourne suburbs.
Having received notifications from several people about the demonstration being under attack, I arrived at City Square around 11am to find 100 protesters surrounded by the police, kettled in on all sides. Police had erected fencing around the edge of the Square to prevent anyone else entering the Square. As a result, approximately 600 supporters of Occupy Melbourne were forced to remain outside City Square, prevented by the fencing and police lines from joining protesters inside the Square. We watched on as police pushed protesters to a corner of the Occupy Melbourne camp. Many protesters were injured, including at least one person who had to be hospitalized. Many other protesters were badly beaten, dragged and choked by the police. Videos of protesters which quickly appeared on the internet and in the mainstream media showed several protesters with blood streaming down their faces. Police then proceeded to trash the activists’ camp, loading the tents and equipment into council vehicles. According to a media release issued later that evening by Occupy Melbourne, “17 truckloads of personal property were also forcefully removed from Melbourne’s City Square [by police]” and “13 of these truckloads were instantly crushed. Property included; generators, cooking equipment, backpacks, tents, bicycles, computers, cameras, marquees and other personal items.” The police then began moving protesters into vans as activists surrounding the Square linked arms and refused to be moved on. At this point I was arrested. I was placed in the back of a police vehicle with five other people. One of those people had been punched in the face; another had his legs crushed by the door of a police vehicle.
Without being charged we were driven to Laverton on the outskirts of Melbourne, with our destination only revealed on arrival. We were released on the side of the freeway, and had to make our own way back to the city. By the time we arrived back in the CBD the protest had grown to about 1,000 people. The protesters were being pushed slowly up Swanston Street by police who simultaneously pushed people up the street and picked of people from the back, liberally using capsicum spray. Shortly after they also began using police dogs.
I was arrested for a second time simply for being part of the demonstration moving up the road. It was about 2.30pm when I was arrested but it was 5.30pm by the time we were transferred from the back of the police vehicle to Heidelberg police station. Nineteen of us were put in two cells and released between 7.30pm and 8pm. For the entire time we were incarcerated the police provided no food or water, nor did they inform us of what would be happening. With all our possessions confiscated, I and the other people arrested exchanged stories and discussed politics for several hours.
One of my cell mates said he had simply been taking photos, while two other cellmates recounted that they had just been walking down the street on their lunch break and were arrested by the police.
We were finally released and given a letter from Senior Sergeant Jason Gaffee. The letter stated that he had “formed the view that if you return to the City Square (corner of Collins and Swanston Streets) or its environs within 48 hours there is likely to be a breach of the Peace. Accordingly, pursuant to my authority at common law I direct you to not attend within the precinct bordered by Queen Street, La Trobe Street, Spring Street and Flinders Street Melbourne.”
The letter then went on to say “A failure to comply with this direction may result in your arrest as an obstruction of the police in the execution of their duty.” I was told at both arrests I was in “Breach of the Peace” however having been taken away the police decided not to pursue either charge.
The police at Heidelberg clearly stated that I was not being charged but if I re-appeared I would be. This means that despite having no charges against me and hence my not being out on bail, the police still exerted powers usually confined to bail conditions to prevent “re-offending.” In essence the police are preventing me from re-entering half the city and denying me the right to protest, saying my simple presence in and of itself would be an “obstruction,” based on a belief that my presence would lead to a “breach of the peace.”
In total more than 70 people were arrested throughout the day and night by the Victorian Police.