Australia: New laws force an end to Sydney tent city protest
Virginia Browne and Richard Phillips
17 August 2017
About 60 homeless people involved in a long-running tent city protest in central Sydney’s Martin Place were forced to leave the area last Friday morning, two days after the Liberal-National state government in New South Wales (NSW) imposed repressive new laws giving police explicit powers to arrest and fine the homeless.
The protest, which began last December, sought to pressure the state government and the Sydney city council to boost crisis accommodation for the increasing numbers of homeless in the city. Known as the 24/7 Street Kitchen and Safe Space, the protest encampment was located outside the Reserve Bank of Australia and close to the state parliament.
The state government responded with draconian legislation—the Sydney Public Reserves (Public Safety) Act—which it pushed through the parliament in just 24 hours last week, rejecting minor amendments from Labor and the Greens.
This measure will not just force the homeless out of Sydney’s central business district and city tourist locations but punish and potentially jail them. Its provisions extend far beyond the homeless, to cover any protest or other activity in a public reserve.
Not only can people be evicted, their tents and other possessions can be seized. They can be fined up to $5,500 for failing to comply, obstructing police or committing any other offence prescribed by regulations under the Act.
The legislation hands sweeping powers to a police officer to give a direction to anyone, or any group of people, if the officer believes that the people’s presence “interferes with the reasonable enjoyment of the rights” of any “section of the…