BRISBANE, Australia – This weekend, the subtropical Australian city of Brisbane will emerge from the shadows of its flashier cousins Sydney and Melbourne when it welcomes leaders from the world's 20 largest economies along with thousands of delegates and journalists for a global summit.
It's a major event for a city that, despite being the nation's third-largest, is still dismissed by some as a big, sleepy town. So how has Brisbane, better known as "Brissy," steeled itself for the G-20 onslaught?
Ahead of the summit, the government passed a special security act temporarily giving police more power to search members of the public including permission to strip search anyone they believe is carrying a weapon or any other prohibited item. And speaking of prohibited items...
LEAVE YOUR CROCS AND WHIPS AT HOME, PLEASE
People are banned from carrying a litany of items in secure areas — from the expected, such as guns and knives, to the less so, such as whips, cattle prods, eggs, reptiles, toy cars, paper bags filled with flour, bows and arrows, kites and kayaks. Also a no-no: "a noxious or offensive substance, including, for example, urine or animal manure" and: "A thing capable of emitting a sound that can distress or upset a dog or horse." If you're caught with any of these — and don't have a good excuse such as, say, heading home with groceries to make an omelet — you can face a fine of 5,500 Australian dollars ($4,800).
DISHING UP DIPLOMACY
From "The Big Bad Vlad" to the "Obamarama Burger," local restaurants and pubs are cashing in on the event by offering G-20-themed goodies. Brisbane bar Alfred & Constance is holding an "Obamarama Tiki Party" featuring a life-sized cutout of the U.S. president, Obama masks, Obamarama burgers and "The Big O" pineapple cocktails, a nod to the president's Hawaiian roots. At Burger Urge, you can chow down on "The Big Bad Vlad," a Vladimir Putin-inspired sandwich featuring "presidential chicken breasts," ''ruthless rashers of bacon" and "oppressive slices of cheese." Those looking to escape the sweltering heat, predicted to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), can grab an icy beverage at the Bacchus Brewing Co.'s "B20 Beerfest," featuring drinks representing the G-20 member countries, such as "Mandarin & Lychee Imperialist lager" (China) and a wasabi-spiced Ninja IPA (Japan.)
Around 4,000 delegates and 3,000 journalists will be flooding into Brisbane for the summit and at least two dozen protests are planned. Security will therefore be predictably intense, but even more so following a series of counterterrorism raids in the city in September that led to the arrests of two men accused of supporting terrorist groups.
Fighter jets and helicopters are crisscrossing the normally placid skies above Brisbane and 6,000 police officers will be on duty. Police and soldiers stationed at checkpoints throughout the restricted zones will be searching every car entering the area, and sniffer dogs will hunt for explosives. Steel barriers surround the convention center, the site of the summit, and police snipers will be positioned on rooftops.
The government has set up a special court to deal with potential mass arrests. The court will operate 24 hours a day throughout the weekend and will stream proceedings over the Internet. Those who are arrested could face a long weekend in jail, as the onus will be on the defendants to convince the court that they should be granted bail, rather than on the prosecutors having to prove why they shouldn't be, as is typical.
Friday has been declared an official holiday in Brisbane, which many are using as an invitation to escape the chaos and flock to the region's nearby beaches for a long weekend. But city leaders are trying to encourage residents to stay by offering 1,000 free parking spaces downtown, with Brisbane's Lord Mayor Graham Quirk noting, "We don't want a ghost town." But Quirk's pleas are up against headache-inducing street closures, stifling security details and the potential for record-breaking heat. All up, the beaches may have the edge.