ELEANOR HALL: Lawyers representing Occupy Melbourne protestors have written to the Victorian ombudsman calling for an investigation into allegations of police violence against demonstrators last week, including claims that they used pepper spray on children.
The police were responding to an eviction notice lodged by the City of Melbourne when they cleared the city square last Friday.
But a Melbourne City councillor is supporting calls for an independent inquiry and says she thinks the eviction notice was premature.
Victoria’s Police Minister though is defending the behaviour of the police officers, describing them as magnificent.
In Melbourne Alison, Caldwell reports.
ALISON CALDWELL: Last Friday, 400 police were deployed to break up and remove 150 demonstrators and their tent city which had occupied Melbourne’s city square for six days. The City of Melbourne had issued an eviction notice on the demonstrators at 7 o’clock in the morning and warned them that police would begin arriving by 9 o’clock.
As the morning progressed more demonstrators arrived to show their support.
The square was itself was cleared within an hour but the inner city of Melbourne was brought to a standstill for five hours while police cleared the expanded group of protesters from the area.
Police dogs and horses were used as was pepper spray.
The protesters are now calling for an independent inquiry into what happened and have written to the ombudsman requesting an investigation.
Emma Kerin is a spokeswoman for Occupy Melbourne.
EMMA KERIN: It is basically calling for an investigation because at the moment we have got at least 43 documented instances of police violence against peaceful demonstrators.
ALISON CALDWELL: She says Occupy Melbourne’s legal team is still receiving statements.
EMMA KERIN: Some of the examples will include eye gouging, punches to the face and to the back of the head, the deployment of pepper spray and as has already been mentioned, this includes children as well which is obviously a very big concern.
ALISON CALDWELL: Victoria’s Police Minister Peter Ryan says no inquiry is needed. He says once the eviction notice was served the demonstrators were trespassing on private property.
He says if anything the police showed restraint when they confronted the protesters.
PETER RYAN: I thought they were magnificent, I thought they were professional, I thought that they conducted themselves very responsibly.
KEN LAY: This wasn’t a police decision, it was a council decision and we were obliged to act. It was as simple as that.
ALISON CALDWELL: Acting chief commissioner of Victoria Police, Ken Lay would welcome an inquiry.
He says police have miles and miles of video footage to rely on to defend the way they handled protesters.
KEN LAY: We certainly suspected that this would result in a number of complaints so we took action to make sure we had most of the event videoed. We have got access to Safecity’s videos, we’ve got access to Melbourne City Council.
ALISON CALDWELL: Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is defending the decision to evict the demonstrators. Writing in the Sunday Herald Sun newspaper yesterday he described them as a “self righteous, narcissistic, self indulgent rabble”.
He says the council gave the demonstrators a lot of leeway before issuing the eviction notice.
ROBERT DOYLE: We negotiated in good faith with these people during the week. We had a special plea from them not to do what we saw in Sydney, you know, not to come in the middle of the night but rather to give them a reasonable time to pack up and give them reasonable warning to do so and we did that and it was, you know, all for nought really.
They had absolutely no intention of going.
ALISON CALDWELL: Speaking to ABC Local Radio this morning, Robert Doyle says what began as a peaceful demonstration had descended into something far more sinister.
ROBERT DOYLE: I mean I can’t go too much into the intelligence that we had coming out of some of the concerns in that tent city but you know, a serious assault, some very vulnerable young people there, a number of Indigenous and homeless people that Community Services people were very worried about.
ALISON CALDWELL: But fellow Melbourne City councillor, Cathy Oke disagrees. She says an independent inquiry is necessary.
CATHY OKE: I think because there are multiple sides to the story and a lot of people want to be heard, you know, in that instance an independent umpire is probably the most appropriate person to look into what happened and ensure that the reporting or the response is as balanced and accurate as possible.
ALISON CALDWELL: She says the council’s eviction notice was premature.
CATHY OKE: I was incredibly upset with the way that it was handled and my understanding that we were still negotiating and speaking with the protesters about, you know, their current occupation and process when or if necessary for them to move on and that was my understanding of the process.
ALISON CALDWELL: Meanwhile in New South Wales, Sydney’s Lord Mayor has used social media to condemn the police response to the Occupy Sydney protest early yesterday morning.
Police there say they had to use force to break up the week-long protest in Martin Place.
The Lord Mayor Clover Moore used Twitter to say she was concerned about reports of violence by the police and by protesters.
A spokesman for the City of Sydney says the council wasn’t informed that police were going to take action against the protesters.