3 November 2022

Police using surveillance tech to identify, follow 'freedom' protesters still in ACT

| Lottie Twyford
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Earlier this year, crowds numbered in the thousands as they descended on Canberra to protest vaccine mandates and lockdowns. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The Convoy to Canberra and its mass protest is quickly becoming a distant memory for many Canberrans, but police continue to monitor the remaining stragglers using new surveillance technology and the city’s existing CCTV network.

There are believed to be around 20 protesters who are still in the Territory and camping at different locations.

It’s been almost a year since a massive group of so-called ‘freedom protesters’ descended on the National Capital largely to demonstrate their opposition to vaccine mandates and COVID-19 lockdowns.

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Those protesters wreaked havoc on the city’s traffic and roads, camped illegally near the National Library and eventually booked out EPIC before being evicted from those campgrounds in mid-February.

The latter action scuppered the Lifeline bookfair and raised the hackles of many locals.

Managing the mass protest and some of the issues that arose was challenging for police and left an expensive bill for taxpayers.

That bill now tallies upwards of $5 million, and discussions continue regarding who will pay it.

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman

Minister for Police and Emergency Services Mick Gentleman said police had done well to manage large numbers of protesters up until now. Photo: Region.

Police Minister Mick Gentleman revealed in annual reports hearings on Thursday (3 November) that policing the remaining group would be easier if officers knew exactly what they were protesting and why they were here.

“Police are trying to work through their intelligence areas to understand why that is occurring and how we can deal with them,” he said.

“They have done pretty well up until now using interesting resources to identify protesters with new technology … that works with our CCTV cameras to identify people and work out where they are going and where they have been.”

The protesters are also prolific users of social media.

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Mr Gentleman said community anger following COVID-19-associated measures had been challenging to manage locally, particularly as it seemed to primarily be coming from people who lived interstate.

He said police had faced some challenges relating to the legislative framework.

Some of the remaining protesters have been camping at locations such as the Cotter and Black Mountain and Region understands police are frustrated by their inability to prosecute these people when they are allegedly illegally camping on public grounds.

Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan earlier this year told ABC Radio some people were deliberately exploiting loopholes in the law.

“I have instructed my officers to crack down on this behaviour. People who ignore police directions not to camp at locations other than official ACT campgrounds will be charged accordingly and brought before the courts,” CPO Gaughan said.

“While we respect people’s right to protest, what they don’t have a right to do is to turn any piece of vacant land they take a fancy to into a campground.”

In some instances, protesters have been spotted camping overnight in rural, isolated spots of NSW.

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It’s been raised with Region the definition of illegal camping held by police, prosecutors and the law have some differing elements.

Police in the Territory are allowed to seize or remove vehicles that are being used to camp on land that is not designated for camping.

The ACT Director of Public Public Prosecutions declined to comment as these matters are before the courts.

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The disdain for people who suffered the brunt of covid lockdowns and restrictions by those in comfortable zoom jobs is disgusting. Piece of advice: take freedom seriously, without single quotes.

Not working and receiving income support while living in Canberra. Has that become a crime lyndeelu?

Apparently not working either, which means it is likely that tax payers are funding their ability to just stay and stay and stay.

Increase police powers to use surveillance tech to identify and follow certain groups deemed unacceptable? Not to mention all this under a Labor government! My guess is that these people are itinerant and have nowhere else to go. The ACT government has deemed these groups unacceptable and want them out. I thought Labor was more circumspect when it came to police powers but apparently not in the ACT. I remember a few years ago Jeremy Hanson attempting to introduce anti-consorting laws into the Territory. He is still attempting to introduce these laws. In a speech rejecting the proposal Shane Rattenbury used an example in NSW where this law existed (then) and certain young street kids were targeted for consorting with groups the police had deemed unacceptable. It poses the question, what other powers have the police been given that we don’t know about? We recently found out that the ACT police are using spit hoods. They have been very cagey on their use. Reports reveal that spit hoods are mostly used against children and Indigenous detainees despite other more humane methods existing. They have been criminalised in all other states except WA which is currently reviewing their use.

I’m not sure I’m comfortable with police using surveillance tech to identify and follow certain groups deemed unacceptable. Where do we draw the line?

Scott Anthony8:12 pm 03 Nov 22

gee, if only we had some sort of ‘social credit’ system to go with this big brother stalking of people going about their business who’s political opinion just happens to conflict with the unlimited budget and over-reach of Government…!! And they say China are a threat to our freedom… I’m not part of this freedom mob, but I support their right to protest and demonstrate to Government in a Free country, fought for by ANZACs and now under threat, apparently..!!

Don’t think the ANZACS were fighting for Australia’s freedom. They were actually supporting the British Empire which at the time was denying freedom to many of its colonies.

Capital Retro1:13 pm 04 Nov 22

Is that what the Marxists are teaching you at school these days?

You are seriously funny CR.
Or you could point out which part of my statement is incorrect.

ANZACs were also keeping Japanese out of Australia in WWII.

What about the campers in front of old Parliament House? they have been allowed to stay for decades. It is hypocrisy to allow one group of protesters to camp but not another group. Or would it be ok for the anti-mandate protesters to share the campground in front of OPH. There were a large number of aboriginal soverignty protesters mixed up with the anti-mandate protesters so there must be a commonality of causes. Problem solved.

The word I heard from members of the tend embassy, was that they didn’t want the protesters near them. This wasn’t their country I think someone said.

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