Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Battered and bowed, our city has been apec-ed
Fifty years from now a new word will have entered the language, the verb “to apec”. By then, maybe, it will be seen for what it is, a bizarre form of extreme parenting: one that appears to act in the interests of the child while in fact protecting the freedoms and powers of the parent.
Extreme parenting usually manifests in one of two ways: sending your zygotes to genius training from age six (weeks after conception, that is) or treating them like morons until they’re 25 (years). These two contradictory-sounding modes can – and often do – coexist. The common thread? Coercion in the name of freedom. To do this – to control or coerce a child, city or population in nominal pursuit of its freedom – is the meaning of the transitive verb to apec.
Sydney now knows, to its cost, how it feels to be well and truly apec-ed. Unlike most apec-ed children, of course, Sydney can remember being unapec-ed. And yet, for anyone who sees the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum as a passing irritation, like Bondi Beach volleyball, only in uniform, think again. Not only is there six months of World Youth Day Act next year, with its own corporation, its own road closures and its own $2000-a-day parking fines. Not only are many of APEC’s special police powers here to stay, along with the megaphones and closed-circuit TV cameras on every pole and “Go Bags” under every desk and dirty raincoat.
It’s more than that. APEC is an attitude. It’s government as a musclebound but strangely value-free supernanny. It’s a weird mix of hyper-interventionism and brute force in place of moral leadership. It’s the might-is-rightism that had police jogging the city all last week in boiler-suited, baseball-capped six-packs like Mephistophelean plumbers. (Moral scruple, ma’am? Here, open wide, we’ll whip that out in no time.) It’s what had them emptying the streets, jailing nice North Shore accountants for jaywalking, chucking photographers to the ground, parading water cannon like some projectile funeral cortege and bawling out disabled ladies who couldn’t go the extra mile. It’s an attitude that has been with us for a while.
The same might-is-rightism underlies government refusal to rethink liquor licensing on the grounds that a proliferation of small, hole-in-the-wall wine bars and jazz dives would leave most of us drunk most of the time. It’s pretending to support Aboriginal self-determination while covertly striving to move Aborigines off their own Redfern land and add value to government land-holdings. It’s constantly redrafting planning law to expand government power while snowing the public with an avalanche of after-the-fact consultation.
Many quite ordinary people are starting to see it, and resent it. Which is why the weekend APEC protest summoned an omnibus of government-bruised causes. Most of the protesters, hardly ferals, were middle-class thoughtful types, natural Labor supporters. And yet it was a Labor government that, via its boiler-suited police, was treating them like scum.
But that wasn’t all. From the British House of Lords down and from Vietnam on, but especially since September 11, 2001, there has been much theorising that police brutality of this unprovoked kind is usually designed to “ratchet” their own power. Like children overboard in an election year, uniformed aggression is often designed not to prevent but to provoke an incident, allowing you to wheel out the water cannon, save the day, bawl “I told you so” and ask for a bigger dollop of funding in the next budget round.
One effect was to make John Howard look bad. But if that was the State Government’s agenda, you could understand. More interesting, if more sinister, was the classic exercise of using the packaging to distract from the content – that content being the deals involving sales of gas and iron ore to China and uranium to Russia.
The verb to apec, then, will come to mean pushing free trade by restricting both freedom and trade. It’ll mean emptying the streets of everything that makes them meaningful (unless you count the boiler-suit manufacture and fence-hire businesses, which must be doing very nicely, thank you); fighting tyranny with tyranny. It’ll mean sacrificing your freedom for the sake of, well, freedom.
And why apec Sydney, anyway, when there’s Canberra right next door? Isn’t Canberra’s whole purpose to decoy the boring guests from our real lives? Plus, apec-ing Sydney only makes the freedom fight look like one we’re already losing, whereas you could apec Canberra and barely even notice.