In the months leading up to November’s G20 summit in 2014, Brisbane’s residents would have been forgiven for anticipating the outbreak of a local civil war. Media outlets were leading with headlines stating, among other sensational claims, that ‘G20 anarchists vow chaos and mayhem for Brisbane’s streets’, ‘Black Bloc tactics aim for Brisbane G20 shock and awe’ and ‘Destructive protest plan for G20’. Meanwhile, some of the most severe restrictions on civil liberties seen in Australia in recent years were legislated by the Queensland parliament. The G20 Safety and Security Act 2013 (Qld) (the G20 Act) was passed with little demur by a chamber that was only divided over the question of whether the laws were severe enough, with Queensland opposition police spokesman Bill Byrne MP declaring himself ‘surprised’ at the leniency of some of the sentencing provisions and the ‘minimalist’ approach to restricted areas. Of course, in the event the much-anticipated violence did not occur, and the media’s pre-summit hyperbole was exposed as just that. Rather more prosaically — and accurately — the post-event headlines dutifully reported ‘Passionate, but mostly peaceful protests’ and ‘G20 protest day wraps up peacefully’. Given that previous G20 summits in London and Toronto saw outbreaks of considerable disorder, we might succumb to the temptation of declaring the peaceful protests in Brisbane to be a vindication of the heavy powers granted by the Queensland parliament. But we believe that to do so would be egregious. Here we reflect on the historical and political motivations underpinning the G20 Act, and draw attention to the rather more measured policing strategy employed by the Queensland Police Service (QPS). We argue that the safety and security of G20 participants and protesters owed little to the restrictive powers granted by the G20 Act, but resulted from a policing strategy that successfully married traditional and modern precepts of policing large events.
‘The National Security College is a joint initiative of the Commonwealth Government and The Australian National University’