Police response to mining protests reach boiling point

30 October 2019

Content warning: criminal enforcement, physical assault, and police brutality

Seventeen activists were arrested on the second day of the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) amid Victoria Police’s increasingly violent response to the IMARC blockade.

As on Tuesday, protesters formed the blockade early this morning, protesting the environmental destruction and worker exploitation caused by mining companies attending the conference.

Fewer protesters were present today, numbering around 300 according to police, but they employed a number of unpredictable tactics, including supergluing themselves to roads to prevent entry to the carpark. One protester “locked on” to a handrail, and at one point, a group blocked car traffic on Clarendon Street. Two activists also scaled the architecture of the Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) to unfurl an anti-mining banner.

Police also upped the ante, employing large amounts of pepper spray at least four times today. The effects of pepper spray are more severe than those of tear gas.

While police made no attempt to stop two protesters from climbing up the poles of the MCEC, things took a violent turn when the protesters began to descend. Protesters converged at the base of the poles to protect the climbers from police, who then formed a battering ram to get through the crowd. Police showered pepper spray onto protesters, covering some head to toe, and pulled on climbers while they were still attached to harnesses.

One of the two climbers has been arrested for “endangering the safety of people nearby”, according to Victoria Police Commander Libby Murphy, while the other has escaped arrest. A number of other protesters were also pinned to the ground and arrested.

Police conduct has been defended by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Murphy characterised behaviour today as a “remarkable job” during a “heightened situation”, and said the use of pepper spray complied with Victoria Police policy.

She disagreed with Greens Melbourne MP Adam Bandt, who said the police response was “heavy handed”. Bandt attended the protest today.

Tomorrow will be the final day of the conference. Police are said to be at MCEC ready to respond at first light. This story is ongoing.

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