During the traditional Anzac Day parade in Canberra, a unique protest occurred. At the very tail of the long column of veterans and their families, a few dozen protesters were calling for recognition of what's informally known as the Frontier Wars.
Australia's colonisation was not peaceful. It was marked by violence and several notable massacres of the First Nations of this country. There was resistance from many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clans against the settlers. It was a two-way street, with the colonisers and the colonised committing unprovoked violence and mounting defences of land they considered theirs. It's not my opinion and I’m not mounting an argument on the credibility of that period; it's a fact and the evidence is abundant.
The Frontier Wars march in Canberra on Anzac Day is a simple call for recognition of the resistance, the violence, the massacres and the tragic loss of life, land and culture.
The march was received with surprise, confusion and some anger by watching crowds. The Australian Federal Police (which also runs policing in the Australian Capital Territory) formed a line of officers at the intersections of Anzac Parade (the street, not the event) and Currong Street South. The vocal protest was stopped there.
"The AFP has found one of its officers was 'discourteous' to me in Canberra on Anzac Day. That's a polite statement but it doesn't really do justice to how I felt...intimidated and humiliated simply for doing my job"
There was a minor commotion when police tried to arrest one man. There was pushing and shoving. A female police officer was on the receiving end of a particularly forceful push and an officer pulled out his taser and pointed it at a protester. Then there was an uneasy truce and the protesters eventually walked off with no arrests or damage done.
All of this was captured by several bystanders on phones and cameras. I had the biggest camera mounted on a not-too-subtle tripod. As I was getting my last few shots of the protesters walking away, a police officer asked if he could have my camera to see the footage.
Morgan: I'd like to be helpful but I can't just give it to you willy nilly
Officer: What I’m saying is if you don’t give it to me, I’m going to seize the camera
Morgan: Right now?
Morgan: You have no right to do that.
Officer: An offence has been committed, it's evidence.
As I understand it, if police believe someone has evidence of an indictable offence, it can be seized. I was concerned that handing over my camera would mean I'd never see that vision again.
I filmed the whole subsequent exchange with the three police officers. Mostly because my understanding of my legal rights was basic and I thought it better to play dumb and film everything rather than surrender my camera (with newsworthy vision) so cheaply.
"Morgan: I don’t see a problem here. This guy, this officer, would like my footage. I don’t wish to give it to him. You haven’t hassled anyone else for their footage so I would like to leave now as I believe I am free to do.
Officer: No. Unfortunately, stupidity is not illegal."
I know police officers have a tough job. Apart from the life-threatening danger which can happen at any time, there must be daily doses of stress, frustration and having to deal with the worst in people. Does that mean a journalist, having identified as a journalist and simply doing his job, can be spoken to the way I was?
Again, the video captures the general tone of the officer's best and provides important context. But, here are some of the things I was told that I still find frankly unacceptable:
Officer: You’re shaking almost uncontrollably. Are you okay?
Morgan: I don’t think I’m shaking at all. I feel quite calm, Sergeant.
Officer: You are. Your face is twitching quite badly.
Officer: Is that [camera] a Commonwealth asset?
Morgan: It's owned by SBS.
Officer: So that’s being used for a private purpose?
Officer 2: It would appear so, wouldn’t it?
Officer: Bit of a misuse of a Commonwealth asset.
Morgan: No, officer I work for National Indigenous Television News, I was covering an Indigenous march –
Morgan: I don’t see a problem here. This guy, this officer, would like my footage. I don’t wish to give it to him. You haven’t hassled anyone else for their footage so I would like to leave now as I believe I am free to do. If you have reason to arrest me, you might as well get it over and done with but I’m going to be recording the whole thing.
Officer: No. Unfortunately, stupidity is not illegal.
Officer: We’re big on effective use of Commonwealth assets
Morgan: So are we at SBS, that’s why I’m doing [filming] it all.
Officer: Yes, we can see some of the quality in that by the fact a Commonwealth asset is being used for private purposes.
Morgan: As I say again, this is not for private, personal purposes. This is going into a news story; it’s part of our ANZAC Day coverage.
What is most concerning was that I, having identified as a journalist, was repeatedly told I was not. Rather, I was told I was misusing my camera; that I was shaking uncontrollably (yet maintaining a remarkably stable shot on camera), that I was stupid and that I was wrong in both my reasoning and my presence.
"It sends the wrong message to any journalist covering a significant public event"
This goes beyond hurt feelings (which disappeared shortly after the episode happened). I find it deeply troubling that I was treated so harshly (and surreally) only a few kilometres from the AFP's headquarters. It sends the wrong message to any journalist covering a significant public event, let alone Indigenous people who may want to take part in or record more controversial displays of activism.
Most importantly, this incident has given me that stereotypical feeling that so many blackfullas have: that if you're dealing with the cops, it isn’t going to be pleasant. I wish it didn't make me feel that way, but it has.
"This incident has given me that stereotypical feeling that so many blackfullas have: that if you're dealing with the cops, it isn’t going to be pleasant. I wish it didn't make me feel that way, but it has"
For what it's worth, I don't want and never called for an apology or any career-ending disciplinary action. What should happen is appropriate training for officers in dealing with working journalists; as well as culturally appropriate training in dealing with Indigenous events.
As it stands, the AFP has found one officer did nothing illegal but breached the AFP's Code of Conduct. Its professional standards team says the two other members were not found to be in breach the Code. It has given no indication on whether disciplinary or administrative action has been taken against the officers involved.
But, in a positive move, the AFP has said it has implemented a new one-day cultural awareness training program for interacting with Indigenous people. This is encouraging, and will hopefully prevent a repeat of the ugly Anzac Day incident which has left a very bitter aftertaste.