Emails exchanged between University staff and Newtown police obtained under freedom of information laws have added to the growing evidence suggesting collaboration between the two at USYD’s strikes.
The seven days of strike action this year have led to sixteen arrests and four USYD students are currently defending charges in court. The strikes have also led to a student breaking his leg, a staff member allegedly suffering a cracked rib, a police officer allegedly choking a student, and a police officer allegedly stomping on the head of a student.
Honi Soit reported earlier this week that a police officer said at the Open Day strike that police were “not in a position to do anything but follow them [protestors], unless instructed otherwise by the University”. This indicated that the University had some control over police conduct.
The correspondence obtained this week sheds further light on the relationships between University management and the police and between USYD security and the police. It suggests that management has fostered a close relationship with police and that security staff and police officers are personally close. This has occurred while the University has distanced itself from the injuries suffered on the picket lines.
“The University greatly values the close working relationship that we have developed with the NSW Police Force”: management and police
Following the first strike on March 7, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence wrote to the police thanking them for their “invaluable support” and claiming that “[t]he University greatly values the close working relationship that we have developed with the NSW Police Force.”
Acting as Vice-Chancellor, Provost Professor Stephen Garton echoed this sentiment after the 48-hour strike in late March. He wrote to police that “[a]s always, the University is enormously grateful for the close, professional working relationship that has been forged with the NSW Police and we look forward to this continuing into the future.” It was at this strike that five people were arrested and concerns were first raised about police violence in relation to the industrial action. Again as Acting Vice-Chancellor, Garton said in an email today that he did not raise any concerns about police conduct at that time as “the University does not control or influence police operations and police have authority to deal with issues of public safety.”
Management’s praise of police contrasts with its suspicious view of protesters. Garton wrote to NSW police on April 17 that picket lines were “joined by representatives from Occupy Sydney, Socialist Alliance and Resistance who used the event for their own agendas”. In an email today, he claimed that protesters from various movement separate to the University “have…on occasion categorically refused to abide by the NTEU’s picket protocol so as to set themselves apart from the Union. Such actions have been deliberately more disruptive and aimed to support quite a separate agenda.” He continued: “It is disappointing that these groups are potentially taking advantage of a serious period for staff and students at the University to promote their own organisations and cause disruption, when they were not directly involved in or affected by what is being negotiated.”
While Spence has claimed to deeply regret any injuries that occurred during industrial action, he has nevertheless insisted that the University “welcome[s] [police] assistance where deliberate disruption is being caused or in the case of safety concerns.” He has not responded specifically to claims of choking and trampling put to him in an open letter from the SRC, or cases of student arrest. Neither University management nor Campus Security have ever publicly acknowledged that police may have acted with excessive force at USYD’s strikes.
In an email today, Garton wrote that: “[i]n the event of injuries or alleged mistreatment at the hands of police we encourage students or staff to seek medical attention and to report their experience to police authorities. We deeply regret any incidents of injury during industrial action and urge all involved to observe agreed picket line protocol.” Asked if he had read Tom Raue’s account of being allegedly choked, he responded: “The University has concern for the safety of its entire community and for that reason encourages all involved in industrial action to observe picket line protocol agreed to with the police in the interest of community safety.”
“Let me know when you want a milkshake”: Campus Security and police
The emails also establish a close relationship between USYD’s security staff and members of Newtown police. Honi has previously reported that security and police appeared to work together on the heated Carillon Avenue picket on May 14.
Following the May 14 strike, at which a student’s leg was broken and student Tom Raue claimed in a widely circulated article to have been choked by a police officer, the Manager of Campus Security Morgan Andrews wrote to Superintendent Simon Hardman of Newtown Local Area Command that “[w]e have received another note of thanks from the VC who also asked that we re-lay [sic] on to you and your team our thanks for all your support during these events”, adding: “[p]ersonally, let me know when you want a milkshake.”
The correspondence also establishes that Campus Security and Newtown police debriefed together after the March 7 strike.
Andrews is currently on annual leave and was not available for comment. Another representative from Campus Security, Duane Ledford, claimed he was not in a position to comment either on these specific matters or more generally on the working relationship between security and police.
When approached for comment, Superintendent Hardman described his relationship with Andrews as a “professional relationship” and insisted that the two are “certainly not friends”. They sit together on Newtown’s Community Safety Precinct Committee, which meets quarterly.
He explained the working relationship between police and security: “Typically on strike days, police oversights security response with a view to interjecting where necessary.” A Police Liaison Officer is present in the University’s operations room viewing CCTV footage together with security. He denied sharing information about protesters.
While police arrested eleven protesters on June 5, the police force has not taken similar action with respect to University security.
Correspondence between Vince Azzopardi, Crime Coordinator at Newtown Local Area Command, and Andrews reveals police reviewed forceful action undertaken by Colin Bowman, Traffic Operations Controller of the USYD Security Unit. A letter from Azzopardi to Andrews refers to an incident where protesters blocked the Ross St entrance to the University, causing a build-up of traffic.
Azzopardi wrote: “The protesters did not move out of the way requiring Mr Bowman to take assertive action to resolve the situation.”
Nour Dados, a staff member in the Faculty of Education and Social Work, was on the Ross St picket at the time of the incident. While the Ross St picket was a ‘soft’ picket, in that it allowed cars to enter the University, she describes Bowman as “extremely aggressive” and rude, and claims he tore a banner from the hands of picketers and then stomped on it and that Bowman “shouted at us to get off the road claiming we were breaking protocol”.
Another staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, and who was the NTEU police liaison person, claims she approached Bowman to discuss what was happening. She says Bowman “turned on [her], shoving [her] out of the way with his elbow in [her] chest and leaving [her] frightened for [her] safety.” While she describes herself as a unionist and an activist, she has not returned to the pickets. After making a complaint to the University, she was told three weeks later that University Campus Infrastructure & Services had concluded that Bowman was merely attempting to move her out of the way of oncoming traffic. Azzopardi wrote to Andrews that police agreed: “The incident has been reviewed by police and deemed the action of Mr Bowman was reasonable under the circumstances and no further investigation or action will be taken by police.”
Bowman was later reported to have received an all day pass to Newtown Police Station on June 5 and to have been allowed to inspect arrestees while they were detained. One arrestee claimed Bowman told police that the arrestees were “professional protesters” from Occupy Sydney, when eight of the eleven were students or members of the NTEU or CPSU. Hardman confirmed that Bowman was issued a visitor’s pass in order to issue banning notices to the detainees.
This correspondence has come to light after previous denials of collaboration from both the University and the police. In a response to the SRC’s open letter to him following the May 14 strike, Spence denied the SRC’s claim that police were invited onto campus.
Responding to a media inquiry, Superintendent Simon Hardman of Newtown Local Area Command denied any collaboration. “It is important to note that the response [to protest] is my decision alone and not made in concert with the University management (as some would have you believe that we are in collusion with the University to break the strikes!)”.
The correspondence suggests some level of cooperation between the University and police regarding media strategy. Both the University and police have been relatively opaque in their response to media inquiries.
On May 14, Andrews emailed Hardman with the University’s response to media inquiries, writing: “thought it might be useful for you to know how the University dealt with the media yesterday.”
An email from the Police Media Unit to Hardman regarding a media inquiry about the Carillon Avenue picket on June 5 and an incident of head-stomping by police suggested a “generic response” about people’s right to protest peacefully but “once it begins to impact on others, and compromise safety, then police must take action”. Hardman responded: “The usual generic response will suffice, thanks”, but included some details about the incident. He then forwarded the police media response to Andrews.
Police officer Glenn Aston referred to an NTEU rally as “all the fun”.
Campus Security Manager Morgan Andrews claimed that at the March 7 strike “students and staff attempting to enter the University were physically prevented or even assaulted”. There were no arrests on March 7.
Campus Security and Newtown police were all hoping for a Blues victory in the State of Origin.
All the documents provided in response to the freedom of information application are available here.