Like everyone else in Sydney, my favourite past time at the moment is complaining about World Youth Day - the cost, the crowding, the diverted trains, the traffic. My particular gripe is that while it costs me $6.80 to travel to and from work everyday on the train, the commemorative WYD train tickets only cost $4. How is this even remotely fair? They even include unlimited travel within the CBD, which my daily ticket doesn't. Not only are taxpayers subsidising these visitors to choke up the city, many of them will be from overseas, and not pay any taxes at all towards the thing. As a woman just trying to make an honest living embezzling from her CBD company, this makes me furious. I can't even buy a WYD ticket in place of my normal one, as they're only valid for travel in off-peak times.
All theses are trifles though (except maybe for the part about the bill). Far more serious - and sinister - are the new police powers, which come into effect today, allowing police to arrest and fine people for "causing annoyance" to World Youth Day participants and permit partial strip searches at hundreds of Sydney sites.
As has been pointed out, this could mean people are arrested for wearing t-shirts with "offensive" slogans, handing out condoms, or lord knows what else. This sounds like a joke, which may be the effect organisers were hoping for. Remember back to Abu Ghraib, when we heard that detainees were being interrogated by being forced to listen to music by 50 Cent, and joked that those of us with teenagers around the house knew just how the detainees felt? It was a very clever move - causing everyday people to think of torture, in a way, as a joke.
The same thing is happening here. We're being subtly manipulated to laugh off the ability of the police to arrest and detain us for almost nothing. I myself dress in a lot of black clothing, with boots, t-shirts with slogans, multi-coloured hair etc; and as I work in a fairly relaxed ad agency, I do so at the office. Could I be detained on my way to work if WYD pilgrims take offence to me?
I can't believe I'm seriously contemplating these questions in Australia in 2008, and for what? Not to protect us from any serious threat, but to protect the enjoyment of a bunch of visitors in the name of religion. Something is very, very wrong here.