Apparently it’s an honour for Sydney to be chosen to host the APEC summit in three weeks time, bringing together more than 20 world leaders, including US President Bush. But most Sydneysiders are wondering why they couldn’t have chosen one of the dozens of luxurious islands of the far north to hold their conference, now that the full scope of staggering security measures that will lock down half of the city’s centre for 10 days are being made public.
You will only be able to enter the lockdown zone on foot, and then only through a small number of gates, manned by some of the 4500 police and thousands more private security guards, secret service and intelligence agents already descending on the city.
You will need to queue at the gates, where your face will be scanned in a live field test of facial recognition technology and assessed by agents for suspicious body language. Police and intelligence agents have been scouring through years of anti-war protests and building up a database of faces that were captured on police and security video.
Nearly everyone who passes through the gates will be searched, have their ID checked and have their handbags and briefcases unpacked.
Once you’ve produced ID, your name and address will be compared to a long list of suspected “troublemakers” that the police and intelligence agents have been compiling for months. Everyone who enters the security zone is expected to be photographed and databased along with their ID information.
Even if you work on the other side of the fence, you can be refused entry without explanation. Should you then choose to make a scene, you may be judged to be a troublemaker and detained, without charge, for the entire length of the APEC summit. If you are charged, you can be denied bail.
There will be buses, converted into mobile prisons by the police, to hold those whom the police and intelligence agents deem to be suspicious, or those they want to interrogate further, or submit to full body searches.
Inside the security zone, you will come face to face with police and soldiers carrying machine guns, and if you look to the top floors and rooftops of buildings you might catch a glimpse of the dozens of snipers expected to be in place once President Bush settles into his room at the InterContinental Hotel.
If you watch the skies you will probably see Black Hawk helicopters, surveillance balloons, and even jet fighters conducting patrols of the airspace above the city.
Gone from some of the busiest streets of Sydney will be all parked cars, and most other vehicles.
Inside the security zone, even if you are simply enjoying lunch at a cafe with co-workers, you may be singled out for further searches or interrogation. And don’t even think about trying to smuggle inside the zone a “Bush Is The World’s Number One Terrorist” banner.
Free speech and democratic rights will be suspended inside the security zone.
With an expected 21 world leaders inside the zone at the height of the summit, it is expected that only people with important business, or proper security clearance, will be allowed into an inner high security zone, around the hotels housing the leaders, that will swallow up entire blocks of Sydney’s CBD.
In preparation for the APEC summit, the staff of dozens of restaurants and hotels were subjected to intense background and security checks.
Even eight-year-old children, who will be singing at the Opera House as part of the Sydney Children’s Choir, were subjected to security checks and assessments. The good news is none of the children were deemed to be terrorists or security threats.
During the ten days that the three-metre high fence will be in place, or in the process of being constructed, you will need ID to cross city streets that take you inside the fence, however briefly, as part of your journey.
If you want to escape the high security for a quiet lunch in the Botanical Gardens, you will find the three-metre high fence cutting right through the heart of the park.
Although the security fence is claimed to be necessary to stop “terrorists,” it will have the added benefit of keeping all protesters hundreds of metres to a kilometre away from the gathering of world leaders, which include Communists, despots, dictators, champions of democracy and war makers. You can decide for yourself who is who.
The New South Wales police commissioner has made a point of stating that no protesters will get within shouting distance of any of the world leaders.
The NSW government claims the security measures will cost Australian taxpayers more than $170 million, but some estimates place the final costs at more than $300 million.
While some businesses will be mildly compensated for losses incurred during the 10 days of high security, many restaurants and small businesses are expected to lose millions from loss of patronage.
Outside of the city centre, major arterial roads leading to the airport and out to the Royal Australian Air Force base in Richmond, western Sydney, have been designated “clearways,” which means locals will not be permitted to park outside shops or restaurants in their towns.
Massive delays are expected to further lock up Sydney’s already notoriously gridlocked morning and afternoon traffic, as world leaders are shuttled across the city and suburbs in police and secret service motorcades dozens of vehicles long.
President Bush will travel through Sydney in a motorcade compromising of black 4WDs, from which, in the event of an attack or major security incident, machine gunners will appear through the roofs of the vehicles, firing weapons that can unload more 20 rounds per second.
When the first details of the massive delays and inconveniences caused by the APEC summit were made known, a few months back, Sydneysiders were advised to “get out of town” and take holidays while the world leaders are meeting. A public holiday has been declared in Sydney for Friday, September 7, when the key APEC events are expected to be held.
So if you get stuck in stalled traffic for an hour, or three, or if you’re forced off the road driving home from work by a fleet of police cars and limousines, or have a machine gun pointed in your face because you’re wearing a “No More War” badge on the lapel of your suit jacket inside the security zone, just try to remember how much of an honour it is that APEC chose Sydney as the host city for its summit.
Melbourne must be so jealous.
The large red lines show the route of the “steel wall” security fence that will enclose the hotels and conference centres used by world leaders during the APEC summit. No cars will be allowed inside. The blue marks show the gates in the fence where pedestrians can cross, but you may need to produce photo ID to get through, and be subject to body searches.