The rough demonstrations suffered by the Olympic torch attendants in London and Paris point to a significant flaw in our democratic approach to the expression of community concern or anger in public demonstrations.
Concerns arise over the presence of Chinese officials as blue-suited torch attendants (if this is the case) should there be any injuries. Would they have insurance cover? Much more serious would be the adverse diplomatic outcome. Even more serious would be if
Demonstrations are a legitimate form of public dissatisfaction by those who feel their impotence to influence government action or non action – in the present instance e.g. a boycott of the torch relay in view of the situation in
The anniversary of the Patrick Stevedoring confrontation with waterside workers, with its recalled images of violent strike action, again underlines the problem.
Clearly, concern and anger in the community must be ventilated in the interests of peace and justice, not repressed. An adequate provision for its free expression would answer both the need of dissidents to express their concerns uninhibited, and provide the freedom from intimidation that is equally important
What is the answer?
- Government should give automatic approval for demonstrations, and encouragement, with publicity assistance and enhancement of the event. (I couldn’t help thinking of the little girl who wanted to leave home. Her mother helped her gently to pack her case, making helpful suggestions the while. Needless to say, the little girl put off her departure!)
- The demonstration must never be near the person, the place, or the event which excites concern in the community.
- The government must help to ensure the publicity is able to point effectively to its target audience no matter whom or what that might be.
In the present instance, therefore, the ACT government should convene and publicise a protest meeting at a separate premier location, at the time the torch will be in Canberra, to enable a full and free expression of public concerns with human rights in China, inviting the Chinese ambassador, while declaring any demonstration near the torch relay illegal, with a substantial penalty.