Tents on central Sydney shopping street. -AFP
A homeless tent city in the heart of Sydney was being dismantled Friday, after political wrangling over the plight of those sleeping rough in winter sparked criticism and new laws. More than 50 people had been living in colorful tents erected amid the high-end office buildings and glitzy stores of central Martin Place, with the camp becoming the most visible symbol of the lack of low-cost accommodation in Sydney.
Sydney council and the NSW government blamed each other for failing to deal with the camp, before the state's Premier Gladys Berejiklian eventually pushed through a new law Wednesday allowing police to remove the tent dwellers. The law came into effect Friday.
"What we've seen happening here in the heart of the wealthiest city, in one of the wealthiest countries anywhere on the globe, I think is a pretty distressing outcome," New South Wales Greens MP David Shoebridge told reporters as the tents came down.
"To respond to a homelessness crisis by sending in the police, threatening to arrest people and confiscate their last few possessions, I think that is a new low for politics in Australia," he said. Critics of the new law have also expressed concerns it could be used to break up protests in the city, but Berejiklian has stressed it was specifically targeted at "unauthorized activity" such as the makeshift campsite.
"What is happening in Martin Place is beyond protest because it's unauthorized activity which is compromising the public safety of those most vulnerable but also the safety of the community," she told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week.
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