The New South Wales Government has unveiled the latest weapon in its battle to stop protesters disrupting next month’s APEC summit a $600,000 armoured truck, fitted with a high-powered water cannon.
The US-built truck, which has an airtight cabin to protect its users from tear gas, is the first of its type in Australia. Wire mesh covers its shatter-proof windows, a heavy bar at the front allows it to ram obstructions out of the way and has a bigger fuel tank.
The truck can hold 12,000 litres of water to service its cannon, which is capable of knocking people off their feet and drenching a crowd within seconds.
“I hope that we’ll never have to use a piece of equipment like this.” Premier Morris Iemma said after a demonstration of the truck’s ability to shoot water at targets up to 50m away.
“But if the situation arises, if there are people who take the law into their own hands with riotous behaviour on our streets, then this is a good weapon to have to restore order and control.”
The truck, brought to Australia in March when officers started their training for APEC, was officially welcomed into the armoury of the NSW Police’s riot squad today. Mr Iemma said it could be used to protect police if dangerous situations arose during the course of the summit.
“It’s the men and women of the police force who are sent in to the front line to deal with these dangerous situations, their protection is just as important as the protection of the public.” Mr Iemma said.
But the Greens today accused the Government of taking a heavy-handed approach to the September 2-9 conference, which will take place behind a fenced-off area of Sydney’s harbour foreshore.
NSW Greens MP John Kaye said police were yet to sit down for talks with organisers of a major protest that was expected to draw tens of thousands who want to voice their opposition to war in Iraq and call for action of climate change.
“They are not there for violence.” Dr Kaye said today.
“This water cannon will not be effective if there is a small number of protesters who muck up … water cannons don’t work in those type of environments. Innocent people can get mowed down, knocked over and injured by a water cannon.”
The NSW opposition said today it supported the water canon’s acquisition.
But Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell said more advertising was needed to alert Sydney residents to the APEC public holiday on Friday, September 7.
“While I don’t normally support government advertising, particularly because of its regular abuse by this Labor Government, there is still considerable confusion about the APEC public holiday.” Mr O’Farrell said.
Alex Bainbridge, spokesman for protest group Stop Bush Coalition, said the water cannon would not deter activists from protesting against the war in Iraq, global warming and the Federal Government’s workplace reform at Sydney’s Town Hall on September 8.
The group also is planning a smaller visual stunt to mark US President George W Bush’s arrival in Sydney on September 4.
“It’s not a comforting thought to think that they might be going to prepare to use a water cannon against us.” – Mr Bainbridge said.
“But it’s even more worrying to think about the innocent people being killed in the war in Iraq, and the fate of humanity if global warming isn’t held in check.”