Helicopter parenting to protect G20 politicians

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There was some fuss this week regarding the refusal of Brisbane Airport to accept billboard advertisements aimed at arriving members of the G20.
 
As the airport is leased and managed by a private company, the ads they accept are really a matter for them. But the public interest in the story suggests many people thought it bordered on helicopter parenting to so caringly shield the visiting politicians from the hazardous experience of a little critical opinion.
 
It fits within the wider debate about whether Queensland has gone too far in restricting the rights of Australians to protest at the summit. Clearly, good manners alone require we try our best to ensure our visitors are not injured during their stay, but no such obligation is on us to ensure they are not insulted.
 
This is a great opportunity to showcase a little of our local culture – in this case our proud history of political protest. We can send our guests home with a Drizabone and some koala-enhanced selfies, and we can also send them home better informed about how free citizens should be treated by a democratic government when they exercise their constitutionally protected right to freedom of political communication.
 
While some of our guests – such as Canada, Argentina and the UK – tolerate peaceful protest, others including Russia have been increasingly authoritarian. Protesting against the Putin government can incur fines up to $30,000 or up to five years in prison; as was famously demonstrated in the case of jailed pro-democracy punk rockers Pussy Riot.
 
According to Freedom House, our guests Saudi Arabia have been condemning members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association to lengthy prison terms simply for calling for political reform and championing human rights.
 
Others who could use some encouragement in the democratic and free speech stakes are Turkey, which PEN International reports has increased its imprisonment of journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports more journalists are imprisoned in Turkey than anywhere else on Earth. Our close friends Indonesia seem to be headed in the wrong direction as well, having passed laws in 2013 that restrict the operation of non-government organisations, including the press. According to Freedom House reports, these laws prohibit blasphemy or advocating Marxism-Leninism, atheism or communism.
 
The Queensland government has been understandably concerned to be good hosts. They have passed many new laws to protect our foreign visitors from guns, knives or any "thing that is not a weapon but is capable of being used to cause harm to a person." Including eggs. And including any "placard or banner to which a timber, metal or plastic pole is attached or a banner more than 100cm high by 200cm wide." Protesters must also keep their voices down and not make noises with "a thing capable of emitting a sound loud enough to disrupt part of the G20 meeting".
 
The Queensland police have assured the public they have no interest in limiting free speech. An assistant commissioner told Guardian Australia, "a lot of them do actually have legitimate agendas. We support and we facilitate their democratic right [to protest]. So there has to be acknowledgement that this can work."
 
Queensland police have promised the protesters will have unprecedented proximity to the G20 leaders – providing they behave themselves. One hopes that denuded of their placards, megaphones and banners, Mr Putin doesn't mistake them for a welcoming party. Preventing harm to our international guests is laudable but preventing offence to them is missed opportunity for our guests to experience one of our most meaningful cultural celebrations – a good Aussie demo.

 

wilkinson-cassandraCassandra Wilkinson is External Engagement Manager at the Centre for Independent Studies.