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September 8, 2000
Australia beefs up armyBelinda Goldsmith
Australia has given the military sweeping powers, including the right to open fire, to quell civil unrest during the Olympic Games and a World Economic Forum meeting.
Parliament passed a defence bill late on Thursday allowing the army to help police in an emergency. Previously the military could be called out only in extreme cases such as a threat to the government.
Police expect protests by a loose alliance of groups opposed to free trade at the Sydney Olympics starting on September 15 and at a World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne from September 11-13.
New South Wales state Police Commissioner Peter Ryan, in charge of Olympic security, said anti-globalisation protests seemed a bigger threat to the Games than terrorism.
"I think the problems we will see will probably be in terms of public disorder and people wishing to demonstrate for whatever reason to express dislike of globalisation or international companies," Ryan told reporters.
Police would keep a close eye on demonstrators in Melbourne who might move on to the Games, he added.
The legislation, passed by parliament's upper house, allows the military to put down unrest, search and detain people, and seize property. It also gives soldiers legal immunity if they kill someone.
Opponents of the law said it could be used against protests by Australia's Aborigines who have vowed to use the international publicity around the Games to highlight their grievances about poor health care, education and income.
"The defence force cannot be called out unless there is or is likely to be violence beyond the capabilities of the police to resolve," Attorney-General Daryl Williams said.
"We hope that there is never a need to use this legislation," he said in a statement.
The bill drew fierce criticism from small political parties, including the Greens, Democrats and One Nation, but was supported by the Liberal/National coalition government and main opposition Labor party.
Greens senator Bob Brown said the bill was an affront to civil rights, and called, unsuccessfully, for a "sunset clause" to ensure the legislation expired after the 2000 Olympics.
"The terror of this bill itself is that, it is a bill which is wide open to abuse in the sending of troops in against Australian protesters or...people on strike," Brown told reporters on Friday. "It's a very sad day for democracy."
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