Skip to main content Accessibility help

Policing the G20 protests: ‘Too much order with too little law’ revisited

  • Tim Legrand (a1) and Simon Bronitt (a1)


In the months leading up to November's G20 summit in 2014, Brisbane's residents would have been forgiven for anticipating the outbreak of a local civil war. Media outlets were leading with headlines stating, among other sensational claims, that ‘G20 anarchists vow chaos and mayhem for Brisbane's streets’, ‘Black Bloc tactics aim for Brisbane G20 shock and awe’ and ‘Destructive protest plan for G20’. Meanwhile, some of the most severe restrictions on civil liberties seen in Australia in recent years were legislated by the Queensland parliament. The G20 Safety and Security Act 2013 (Qld) (the G20 Act) was passed with little demur by a chamber that was only divided over the question of whether the laws were severe enough, with Queensland opposition police spokesman Bill Byrne MP declaring himself ‘surprised’ at the leniency of some of the sentencing provisions and the ‘minimalist’ approach to restricted areas. Of course, in the event the much-anticipated violence did not occur, and the media's pre-summit hyperbole was exposed as just that. Rather more prosaically — and accurately — the post-event headlines dutifully reported ‘Passionate, but mostly peaceful protests’ and ‘G20 protest day wraps up peacefully’. Given that previous G20 summits in London and Toronto saw outbreaks of considerable disorder, we might succumb to the temptation of declaring the peaceful protests in Brisbane to be a vindication of the heavy powers granted by the Queensland parliament. But we believe that to do so would be egregious. Here we reflect on the historical and political motivations underpinning the G20 Act, and draw attention to the rather more measured policing strategy employed by the Queensland Police Service (QPS). We argue that the safety and security of G20 participants and protesters owed little to the restrictive powers granted by the G20 Act, but resulted from a policing strategy that successfully married traditional and modern precepts of policing large events.



Hide All


4 Queensland Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Assembly, 29 October 2013, 3652 (Bill Byrne).

5 Brennan, F., Too much order with too little law (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1983).

6 Brennan, Too much order, p. 1.

7 The Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct (the Fitzgerald Inquiry), 1987–89.

8 See generally Douglas, R., Dealing with demonstrations: The law of public protest and its enforcement (Sydney: Federation Press, 2004).

9 Ewing, K. and Gearty, C., Freedom under Thatcher: Civil liberties in modern Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).

10 See Fenwick, H., Civil liberties and human rights (London: Routledge, 2007).

11 Sections 15 and 16 of the Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT) and Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic), respectively.

12 See Levy v Victoria [1997] HCA 31, where the High Court held that protester activity aimed at disrupting duck hunters constituted a form of political communication, with the effect that any interference in this activity by the state regulation could impinge upon the implied constitutional freedom. However, the implied freedom was not absolute: as the High Court recognised, the regulation served the valid objective of ensuring the safety of protesters likely to be present in the vicinity of duck shooting at the opening of the season.

13 See Bronitt, S and Williams, G, ‘Political freedom as an outlaw: Republican theory and political protest’ (1996) 18 (2)Adelaide Law Review 289.

14 ‘Kettling’ is widely employed by UK police to manage public disorder. Cordons of police officers are arranged to encircle large groups of protesters (comprised of both peaceful and disorderly elements) to prevent their movement, often for several hours.

15 Austin & Others v UK (Applications Nos 39692/09, 40713/09 and 41008/09) (15 March 2012). For an excellent overview of the case, see

16 Goldsmith, A, ‘Policing's new visibility’, British Journal of Criminology 50 (5) (2010), 914.

17 The Long Title of the G20 Act reflects this policy focus: ‘An Act to provide for the safety and security of persons attending the Group of Twenty leaders’ summit in Brisbane in 2014 and other related meetings and events in Queensland in 2014, to ensure the safety of members of the community and to protect property during the hosting of the summit and other related meetings’.

18 Gravelle, J. and Rogers, C., ‘Policing public protests and corporate social responsibility’, International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 39 (2011), 111–20.

19 Stott, C., Scothern, M. and Gorringe, H., ‘Advances in liaison based public order policing in England: Human rights and negotiating the management of protest?’, Policing, 7 (2013), 212–26.

22 Contrary to many of the media's depictions, the ‘Black Bloc’ is not a distinctive protest group or social movement, but a tactic employed by protesters to evade identification.

26 Assistant Commissioner Katerina Carroll, ‘G20/20 hindsight’, public lecture hosted by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security at the Queensland Cricketers’ Club (1 December 2014). Further clarifications of the QPS strategy and points raised in her speech were obtained by subsequent correspondence with the Assistant Commissioner.

27 Personal email communication with Assistant Commissioner Carroll, 12 December 2014.

28 ibid.

29 Moreover, to prepare the local communities most heavily affected by the G20, a QPS engagement team was established to speak with residents, businesses and community groups via several ‘G20 community information forums’ in the lead-up to the summit.

30 Carroll, ‘G20/20 hindsight’.

31 These themes are explored in Bronitt, S., ‘Balancing liberty and security: Critical perspectives on terrorism law reform’, in Gani, M. and Mathew, P. (eds), Fresh perspectives on the ‘war on terror’ (Canberra: ANU ePress, 2008), Chapter 5) and an earlier essay, Bronitt, S., ‘Constitutional rhetoric v criminal justice realities: Unbalanced responses to terrorism?Public Law Review 14 (2003), 7680.

32 For an excellent review essay exposing these limits, see Stribopoulos, J., “Packer's blind spot: Low visibility encounters and the limits of due process vs crime control’, in Tanguay-Renaud, F. & Stribopoulos, J. (eds), Rethinking criminal law theory: New Canadian perspectives in the philosophy of domestic, transnational and international criminal law (Oxford: Hart, 2012).

Policing the G20 protests: ‘Too much order with too little law’ revisited

  • Tim Legrand (a1) and Simon Bronitt (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed