The Noongar population of Perth have been protesting against the Government’s $1 billion offer to settle native title claims. “Freedom of assembly and expression on matters of concern to citizens is necessary for the existence of an open, participatory democracy” (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2006: 103). The issue of protesting is legitimate but this is exacerbated by what the police may regard as anti-social behaviour such as disobeying orders not to camp or light fires, therefore perhaps labelling this demonstration as a form of civil disobedience requiring confrontational police tactics (Smith, 2012). It is interesting to think that despite this change of terminology, “law enforcement officials are protectors and enforcers of human rights” (p.13).
Protest enables minority groups and issues to present themselves to the public for recognition and perhaps assistance in finding a solution to the problem. It appears that the Government was unwilling to listen to the concerns of the Noongar community, despite their active protesting under the umbrella of the Noongar Tent Embassy and perhaps this is a sign of embedded institutional racism in addition to the treatment by police and the City of Perth council to evict them from the location. The Noongars had been previously warned a number of times that their camping and behaviour was not allowed and they would be evicted if they continued. Despite enforced evictions, the Noongar community persisted with their return.
It is likely that there would have been similar treatment if a portion of the mainstream society had acted like this in respect to camping, lighting camp fires and other similar behaviours but it is unlikely they would have protested in this manner when they have more resources and opportunities to utilise, like communicating directly with influential members of government. The action of the police could compare to that of Smith’s P.L.A.N. acronym: proportionality, legality, accountability and necessity (2012). It is important to remember that the police represent the government and act on orders that they may not necessary agree with but their job description dictates that they are required to obey all orders.
Shortly after this eviction from Heirisson Island leading to the arrest of four people, despite a minority continuing their protest, the media lost interest in the issue and the public forgot.
References Commonwealth Secretariat. (2006). Commonwealth Manual on Human Rights Training.
Smith,W. (2012). Policing Civil Disobedience. Political Studies. 60(4), 826-842