Mass Demo/Riot in Australia

The Anarchives (
Wed, 21 Aug 1996 02:51:29 +0000 (GMT)

Sydney Morning Herald August 20, 1996


Anger on Budget eve ... Protesters force open the
front doors of Parliament House in Canberra before
running amok in the front hall yesterday. Photo by

By Brad Norington, Industrial Editor

Protesters smashed their way into Parliament House in
Canberra yesterday in a riot that marred a huge ACTU
rally called to oppose the Federal Government's
workplace relations legislation.

About 280 police, many wielding batons and shields,
were called to repel demonstrators after they had
burst through the doors of Parliament and run amok in
the front hall.

The demonstrators surged after police refused to
allow them to cross the forecourt. They forced their
way through, ripping a large stanchion off the doors.
They then used this as a battering ram to smash their
way into the Parliament House souvenir shop, which
they ransacked.

They used a trolley and a flagpole to prise open a
set of doors opening into the front hall.

Police said 40 people were taken into custody. Four
were charged and more charges are expected after
police inspect news footage of the incident.

At least 60 police were hurt, including two with
broken ribs, one with back injuries and another with
a damaged knee. A policewoman knocked to the ground
was kicked and punched.

The riot began as a peaceful ACTU protest attended -
according to police estimates - by 25,000 people.

But it got out of control when a group of unionists,
students and others removed from the main speeches
podium broke away and burst into Parliament House.

The Prime Minister condemned the riot, branding it
"un-Australian and ugly".

After inspecting the damage he called on the ACTU and
the Federal Opposition Leader, Mr Beazley, also to
condemn the violence. "I want to make it clear to
those involved in that violence, and to the
Australian people, that never under any circumstances
will my Govern ment buckle to threats of physical
violence or behaviour of that kind," he said.

Mr Howard cut short a scheduled meeting with the ACTU
president, Ms Jennie George, and the ACTU secretary,
Mr Bill Kelty, after just seven minutes. He said he
would not negotiate under duress but agreed to meet
them again in a fortnight. "This meeting is
terminated," he told them.

Ms George, visibly upset after the riot, said ACTU
organisers had nothing to do with the riot.

"I made it very clear to John Howard that I resented
any inference that any incidents that may have
occurred during the day had anything to do with the
ACTU," Ms George said.

Mr Kelty said the riot was unfortunate but praised
the rally as the biggest ever seen in Canberra and
one in which he took great pride.

"This is the most successful rally in the history of
this country in Canberra," he said. "I know nothing
of the details of [the riot]."

Mr Beazley, who addressed the rally, dissociated
himself from the riot and expressed his condolences
to the injured.

During rally speeches, the Green Senator Bob Brown
said he would vote against the workplace legislation
and "bury it". The Democrats Leader, Senator Kernot,
said she would "make it fair" after Senate debate.


By Mike Seccombe

Well before Parliament House staff began assessing
the material damage caused by yesterday's storming of
Parliament House by an angry mob, the political
operators had assessed the political damage.

Two scenes showed clearly that both Labor and Liberal
people had reached the same conclusion. One was the
tears on the face of ACTU President Jennie George
after she addressed the rally; the other a comment by
a senior parliamentary official, as he watched
Liberal Speaker Bob Halverson prepare for a media
conference in Parliament's blood-stained foyer.

"This is a gift," he said.

The actions of a small minority of the crowd - maybe
1,000 of what the police estimated at 25,000 - had
turned what should have been a media event to
highlight opposition to planned new industrial laws,
budget cuts and broken promises into a police rounds

The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, had no compunction
about blaming Ms George and other organisers for the
trouble and using the riot as a pretext to abandon
planned talks with the ACTU leadership.

Last night police and Parliament House staff still
were counting the cost. More than 60 police hurt,
including at least one policewoman whose ribs were
broken after she was knocked down and kicked and five
who reportedly had paint thinner acid thrown in their
faces, an unknown number of demonstrators hurt, and
damage to the building estimated at $70,000.

As the casualties mounted, ambulances could not get
through. Parliament House nursing staff were aided by
three Liberal MPs - Chris Pyne, Trish Worth and
Brendan Nelson.

The trouble began about 12.30, when police tried to
stop a group of marchers joining the main rally. The
chant went up "Let them through" and officers grabbed
one Aboriginal man.

About a dozen of his colleagues went to his aid, and
while this small group struggled, a much larger mob
skirted around them and ran for the main doors.

But while the arrest provided the spark, it was clear
a small section of the crowd had come prepared to
make trouble. The manager of the Parliament House
shop - which bore the brunt of the damage - Mr Bill
Podmore, said he saw one man wielding what he
believed was a sledgehammer. Other rioters had
brought paint, with which they spattered police and
property. Crowbars, flagpoles and wheelbraces were

At one stage men were hoisted to the ceiling outside
the front door, removed panels, and attempted to pry
open the bolts locking the doors.

Protesters ripped a three-metre brass stanchion from
the front doors and used it as a battering ram to
smash the doors into the bookshop. Heavy brass signs
also were used in the assault.

Perhaps 100 demonstrators made it into the building,
many of them bleeding on the walls and floor.

Ministers were told to lock their office doors. About
2pm, police restored order.


Analysis by Brad Norington

What was meant to be the ACTU's big day out in
Canberra turned into a public relations disaster

It was precisely what ACTU leaders Bill Kelty and
Jennie George did not need. They cannot be blamed for
a riot that occurred at the Parliament House doors,
away from the speeches of their peaceful protest.
They did not condone it either.

But the ACTU could have anticipated the risks of an
angry crowd in such numbers getting out of control.
This was not a sporting event but a protest rally
over an issue that has angered people deeply - the
Government's workplace relations legislation.

Managing a crowd of the magnitude that the ACTU was
hoping for called for some self-imposed discipline,
in the form of unions' own security, as well as the
official police surveillance.

John Howard, despite his strong condemnation of the
violence, must appreciate in a perverse way that the
riot has handed him powerful ammunition. He can
challenge the credibility of the entire union protest
just on the basis of a small contingent that ran
amok. Howard's politically astute response suggests
he is aware of this. While not aligning ACTU leaders
with the riot he nevertheless cut short a scheduled
meeting with them and said he would not negotiate
under duress.

The ACTU's stated objective was to rattle the
Government by mounting the largest rally even seen in
Canberra. While Government officials shrugged off the
rally before yesterday's events and cast doubt on
ACTU estimates of numbers, they were deeply
interested in the final turn-out and anything like
30,000 would have shaken them a bit.

In the end it did not matter. The upfront action
overwhelmed the message the ACTU was trying to sell.

Although the stated target of the ACTU protest
yesterday was said to be the Government, the real
object of the protest was to stiffen the resolve of
the Democrats, the Greens and Independent Senator
Brian Harradine. It is they holding the balance of
power in the Senate, and not the Government, who can
make a difference now that the legislation has passed
the House of Representatives.

Yesterday demonstrates the depth to which union
influence has sunk since Labor was tossed out: the
ACTU can only lobby politicians from outside or stage
direct protests.