It's hard to believe that a modern Labor government is blatantly using the Sir Joh precedent more than 25 years later in what looks like a deliberate policy to foster and politically profit from violence on the streets.
The lead-up to today's horrific injury to a journalist when mounted police charged into protesters in the Sydney CBD is chilling.
It began, ironically enough, when Greens Upper House member Lee Rhiannon asked this question of NSW police minister Michael Costa October 31:
"Will the Minister, as a responsible Minister, ensure that police on duty at the protest planned against the world trade organisation to be held in Sydney next month do not perpetrate violence against protesters, as we witnessed by some police at the S11 Melbourne protest in 2000 and some M1 protests in Sydney? Will the Minister ensure that police exercise their duty of care to protesters in such a way that protesters who infringe any law are arrested and not brutalised by police using their horses, batons or wedge chargers?"
Costa not only refused to give such a guarantee, but called on Rhiannon to resign for hosting - with the permission of Costa's Labor colleague, Senate president Meredith Burgmann - a forum on civil disobedience to be held in parliament house that Friday. Without a shred of evidence, Costa accused Rhiannon of condoning and promoting violence on the streets.
"I believe that every member of this House, other than Lee Rhiannon and maybe a couple of the nutters that support her on the cross benches, would be appalled by this move by Lee Rhiannon. She speaks very sanctimoniously in the House about things that other members of the House do, yet she is blatantly involved in a process that could lead to violence at the WTO meeting. It is a disgrace. She ought to resign."
Civil disobedience, as Costa would know as the former head of the NSW Labor Council, is about using non-violent means to make a political statement. Having witnessed the May Day blockade of the Sydney Stock exchange last year, I can personally attest to the discipline and focus of protest organisers to dissuade the few outlaws who sometimes hijack these events from causing trouble. If events were allowed to take their normal course this week the police would have had the cooperation of protest organisers and the great bulk of participants to arrest those with a violent agenda.
The planned protest march against the agenda of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Homebush this week was backed by many unions, Christian social justice groups, environmental groups and many other respectable community organisations Costa now condemns as condoners, if not perpetrators, of violence.
Ms Rhiannon asked a supplementary question: "Minister, will you confirm that, if any protester breaks the law at the WTO meeting in Sydney, they will be arrested and the police will not use inappropriate and illegal tactics?"
Costa's reply chilled me to the bone. "Let us be clear: People are coming here to have a violent confrontation with the police. Let me say to you: The police will be prepared and I will back the police in what they do."
The next day, Costa went to town. After getting the Daily Telegraph on the rampage with a page one scream, Costa talked to the shock jocks, led by Alan Jones, to kick the can even more. The police commissioner then accompanied him to Homebush for another rave. Create and incite hysteria, suppress peaceful dissent, and what do you get? Perhaps exactly what you want.
At last Friday's parliament house forum, rumours began to circulate that routine negotiations with the police to arrange a march permit for the city to protest the WTO meeting (such permits are issued as a matter of course) had suddenly come to a halt. Instructions from "higher up" meant there'd be no permit, junior police started saying. Why on earth would this be so? The march would be miles away from Homebush, where no marches were planned.
On Tuesday, the commander of security for the WTO meeting, one Dick Adams, suddenly announced a black ban on march permits from yesterday to Saturday, when the WTO meeting wound up. I spoke to one of Costa's people that day. Yes, he'd heard that Adams had just announced a ban, "but that would be an operational decision taken by the commander - we wouldn't get involved in that".
Yeah, yeah. The Adams action was nothing short of incendiary. It meant that the only way for dissenters to the WTO agenda to make their point to the public - a street march - had been outlawed. He trashed fundamental civil liberties in the state of NSW. Naturally, the WTO protest organisers decided to march anyway. Costa had set the stage for the violence he claimed he wanted to avoid.
Today, the inevitable result. The protest march took on enormous symbolic importance, heightened emotions on both sides, and probably attracted the attendance of outlaws who mightn't have bothered to turn up if the cameras weren't guaranteed by Costa's actions to be there.
Police let the march happen, in which 1500 people took part, including "scores of media" and "hundreds of police". That's right, hundreds. Then the violence - by the police, not the protesters, from reports so far - and heavy bruising inflicted by police on a reporter from the Australian.
"The only injury so far has been Patricia Karvelis, a journalist from The Australian, who was trampled by two police horses. Witness Sally Quilter, a 57-year-old nurse, said: "Somehow she fell to the ground and these two great big horses at the end of the line came out and charged and trampled on her. "There were two big men on them, so that's a lot of weight. They just rushed into the crowd. I can't believe they weren't told to. I can't believe what I saw." Ambulance officers treated Ms Karvelis before taking her to hospital with a suspected fractured pelvis, which turned out to be unbroken but badly bruised.
What provoked this police action? Superintendent Glen Harrison said there was a small element of the march "committed to provoking violence".
"Fifty or sixty of the protesters have been pushing and shoving and trying to provoke the police and cause disruption to police and traffic," he said. Notice he makes no allegation of protester violence. Protesters simply provoked the police into violence. Nice one. Be careful, all NSW citizens. The police under Michael Costa are ready to do violence if "provoked" by a push or a shove.
What a sad way to try to win an election. What dangerous games are being played, what civil liberties are being trashed, to keep this disreputable, cynical government in power. Pity the police on the street who did nothing to encourage this disgusting spectacle, yet got enmeshed in it on the orders of their superiors after their minister's orchestration.