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A Failure of Leadership


The Herald Sun

Tuesday, September 12, 2000


Behind the softly, softly police attitude at the big protest lies a failure of politicians and business to defend sensible policies, argues DES  MOORE


Several thousand protesters opposed to capitalism and “free market” reforms tried on the first day of the World Economic Forum yesterday to prevent talks among world business and political leaders. Such opposition to  “globalisation” is now part of a world-wide pattern by groups claiming modern societies are basically undemocratic because minority views are ignored.


But the protesters’ failure to prevent the Melbourne discussions going ahead is not necessarily a victory for those who believe in open discussion of economic and social policies.  Minorities opposed to existing policies are naturally entitled to have their views heard and to hold public meetings to inform others. But they should not be able to inhibit opponents.


Such actions are totally undemocratic and yet it is clear that some protesters yesterday engaged in atrocious behaviour, including the use of forces . So much for the nonsensical claim that this was a “peaceful” protest. Protesters included hard-core activists who used the “right to protest” as a front for instituting violent action to publicise their causes.


The fact that Premier Bracks felt impelled to arrive by water was itself a signal of concern about the state’s ability to control events. Cars of two delegates were forcibly stopped by protesters and police had to draw batons to restore order. One car and its delegate had to retreat, and several police and several protesters were injured.


Yet by late afternoon only a few people had been arrested.


Protesters have used such illegal force in similar demonstrations overseas, including last year’s in Seattle against the World Trade Organisation meeting to start the next round of trade liberalisation. Although most journalists played down those protests, activists seriously broke the law by causing significant damage to private property and injuries to police. Hundreds of arrests were made.


In Melbourne the erection of barricades around the Casino complex has so far been of considerable assistance in limiting damage and helping police control the crowds. But why should taxpayers have to pay for the threat - and reality - of violent behaviour and the attempts to prevent others from attending? Why should some businesses have their legitimate activities stopped?


It is worrying that Victorian policing policy operates under an order that "the success of any operation will be primarily judged by the extent to which the use of force is avoided or minimised". Police have become reluctant to use force in a range of violent demonstrations even when others’ rights were clearly significantly reduced.


Behind this Victorian softly, softly policing policy lies an increased reluctance at senior political, judicial and business levels to defend actively basic economic principles and their social effects. Yet, freer markets and “globalisation” policies have undoubtedly helped improve Australia’s living standards.


Former Commonwealth Statistician, Ian Castles, has shown conclusively that there has been no decline in the share of least developed countries in world GDP. And a new study, Growth is Good for the Poor, by senior World Bank researcher, David Dollar, reveals no increase in inequality within the 80 countries covered and that income of the poor has risen in line with average income per head.


Leaders should now espouse the cause of globalisation in the context of the WEF and the Olympics - and also highlight the gross inaccuracies of the protesters.  




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