Queensland will be on the world stage when it hosts some of the most powerful world leaders during the G20 summit this November. But how prepared is Queensland for the expected protests at the event, and what are the wider policing issues?
Previous G20 summits in Toronto and London resulted in scenes of anarchy as police battled protesters. In 2009, London police were heavily criticised for their use of force leading to the death of one civilian and the injury of a number of others. In 2010, Toronto police were overwhelmed by protesters.
Planning and preparation
The overall planning for the summit is being co-ordinated by the Commonwealth Government Taskforce (G20 Taskforce) as part of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Additionally, the Queensland Police Service (QPS) has a planning group in place, preparing operation “Southern Cross”, which is responsible for intelligence, logistics, training, information technology and various other requirements of the operation.
A dedicated G20 police operations centre has been opened to handle the policing demands of the summit. A regional police operations centre has been established in Cairns for the finance ministers’ meeting.
To deal with policing an event on this scale, an overarching operational order will plan the details of the situation, mission, method of execution, administration, logistical aspects and the command structure. Underneath, a number of more specific plans dealing with issues such as risk management and traffic management will also be needed.
Training in relation to a number of specialist areas such as crowd management, close personal protection (there will be 36 Internationally Protected Persons in Brisbane during the G20 summit), motorcade driving and anti-terrorist operations is being conducted and will only increase as the summit approaches.
Technology will be one of the main weapons that the QPS will utilise during the summit. At the 2013 Policing Technology Innovation Conference, the QPS highlighted the role technology will play. Mobile technology will allow police on the street to use iOS-based devices to check the identity of a person, threats to officers and actions required to be taken such as taking into custody and exclusion notices.
The lead-up to the summit has been anything but smooth for the QPS. In 2013, the entire service underwent a restructure that removed, by way of redundancies, almost 25% of the senior commanders of the service – a move described at the time as “catastrophic” by the police union. A further restructure was undertaken as a result of criticisms from a external review by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty.
What effect this disruption and distraction has had on planning for the summit and the ability of the QPS to respond to major incidents during the summit remains to be seen. Some sources have indicated that morale is at an all-time low.
Wider implications for policing services
For the summit in Brisbane, 5000 officers will be required. In contrast, almost 19,000 police were involved in the Toronto G20 summit. Another 1000 officers will be required to police the finance ministers’ meeting in Cairns in September.
These resources will not only be needed for the duration of the summit, but they will have to be in place for some days prior to the event and a small time after. Experience in Toronto showed that protests began a week in advance of the summit. On the day before the summit in London, 5500 police were needed to manage protests at seven different sites.
However, the G20 will not be the only event at the time requiring a large police presence in Queensland. In late October, the Gold Coast 600 car race will require a week-long response of hundreds of police. In mid-November, the month-long Schoolies festival begins on the Gold Coast and other locations. Over 500 police are involved in policing this event alone.
Queensland will therefore be stripped bare of policing resources for a critical period of time.
Leave embargoes between September and December will prevent police from taking leave, so this backlog will need to be cleared. An agreement between the Police Union and the government has given police an extra two days’ leave, in addition to the normal six weeks’ annual leave, as a result of the summit. This represents the loss of some 176,000 hours of policing services outside the summit.
Threats and the current social climate
In preparing for the G20 summit, the QPS would have conducted a number of intelligence-based reviews such as environmental scans and risk or threat assessments. While a terrorist attack would be rated as the highest-level threat, in reality the street protests will pose the greatest threat to the smooth running of the summit.
At both the state and federal level, a sociopolitical environment for a perfect storm of protest has been created. This may well be one contingency that the police have not planned for despite their best efforts. One would have to wonder if protest groups will be able to resist trying to get attention on one of the biggest stages in the world.