Discussion paper: New Police Powers Effect Near-Immediate Breakup of Martin Place Tent City

On 11 August 2017, the NSW government passed laws granting police sweeping new powers to move on people occupying designated public reserves.

The legislation was rushed through parliament, without proper scrutiny or consultation, to enable the state government to immediately dismantle Martin Place’s “tent city”. The camp has served as a safe haven for people sleeping rough in the heart of Sydney’s CBD for the past 12 months. 

The government says the new laws are necessary to ensure public safety, citing the presence of cooking utensils and gas canisters in the camp’s open kitchen; however, the legislation itself makes no mention of public safety, and police need only show that a person’s presence in a reserve materially interferes with the “reasonable enjoyment” of the space by the public.

Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) is concerned about the disproportionate impact the new laws will have on people experiencing homelessness. As well as needlessly expanding the move-on powers police already have, the legislation empowers police to seize belongings from homeless people, and issue hefty fines for non-compliance.