Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013
I rise to speak on the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013. Labor will be opposing this bill because, quite frankly, it amounts to the criminalisation of organised labour. The government’s intent is to stop democratic processes going forward. Government members do not want to hear when someone is objecting. They do not want to have people on the streets objecting to their cuts and changes.
They want to shut things down so that those who want to have a say will feel threatened by the law through the clauses proposed in this bill. Previous speakers have called on the government to split the bill into two parts so that the alcohol-exclusion provisions can be dealt with separately. However, as previous speakers on the other side of the house have indicated, the government does not intend to do that. It wants to tie up all of these issues to hide the fact that it wants to stop the right of Victorians to protest.
The move-on laws are absolutely objectionable to us, as they should be to members of any democratic state. The bill extends the circumstances in which people can be directed to move on, and it applies some of these circumstances to previously excluded persons such as protesters.
Under these laws a protective services officer or a police officer has the power to move on protesters under threat of arrest if they merely suspect on reasonable grounds that the person has either committed an offence in that place, is causing a reasonable apprehension of violence to another person, is causing or is likely to cause an unreasonable obstruction to others, is present for the purpose of procuring or supplying drugs, or is attempting to impede any person from lawfully entering or leaving a premises or parts of a premises.
Some of the speakers on the other side of the house have talked about applying common sense. We already have laws in place to deal with all of those situations which police have the right to act on. What the government really wants to do is shut down the voices of common people who want to exercise their right to protest.
Those opposite say, ‘Let us apply common sense to these situations’. I draw the house’s attention to a common-sense example. Over summer there was a protest in the suburb of Taylors Hill in my electorate. In fact it was a protest that affected my family. My brother came home from work and he could not enter his house. The protest involved about eight kids who live on his street. They had blockaded his door with bikes and were chanting, ‘Set Gus free’ — Gus being my nephew, who was banned from playing with kids on the street. They were there protesting for an hour. If those opposite want to talk about common sense, I would ask them if the purpose of this bill is to stop kids such as those in Taylors Hill from protesting against parents’ decisions to stop a kid from playing? In common-sense terms, if this bill passes, that is the sort of protest that could be stopped. That is the sort of protest where police could move in.
The police could ask such kids for their names and addresses, and they could actually fine them $720 for breaching this law. That is how absolutely ridiculous these laws are. No common sense is being used. Currently the government wants to market this provision to Victorians as a bill that is about drug dealing, violence and unlawful protest, but really the scope is much wider. I think my example of the kids protesting in the streets of my electorate over the right of their friends to have a play goes to the core of how ridiculous this bill is. The government wants to shut people down for having their say.
I have been a unionist since the day I started work, and I have never attended so many rallies as I have in the last 12 months, out in front of this place and in the streets of Melbourne — people using their right to protest against the cuts this government has put in place.
Mr Watt interjected.
Ms Hutchins – No, what you want to do as a government is shut down the right of people to speak, shut down the right of nurses to protest and shut down the rights of teachers, health workers, disability workers and taxidrivers — they are all the people whose voices you want to shut down when they disagree with what the government is doing to their wages and conditions and the provision of services they put in place. That is what this is about — shutting down democracy and people’s voices — and it is an absolute disgrace.
We have heard government members opposing the rights of unionists to protest even when they have legal protection in the process of workplace bargaining — even when they can be out there demonstrating. It is a direct attack on the democratic rights and freedoms of people, and I quote Elizabeth O’Shea, a lawyer with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, who has represented not only a whole range of asylum seekers in courts of law but also the protesters from Tecoma. She said:
This is a direct attack on democratic freedoms that people have historically fought hard to protect. It effectively criminalises a range of behaviours that are fundamental to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.
It is a freedom that I fought hard for many years to defend and will continue to fight hard to defend in this place. I am proud to say that my history is steeped in the actions of being able to protest against any government changes that may affect workers’ lives.
In 1998 a waterfront dispute here in Melbourne led to a three-week protest at Webb Dock in which I was very involved, negotiating day in, day out with Victoria Police at the time to ensure that that was a peaceful protest.
Mr Burgess – Negotiating with the police?
Ms Hutchins – I was negotiating for peaceful protests to proceed over three weeks of protests at the waterfront, and I have to say it was a peaceful protest during that time. The 1400 workers who were sacked from their jobs and were fighting for the right to be reinstated ended up having the law on their side after that protest. Through the Federal Court and the High Court they were found to be acting in a lawful way to protect their jobs, and the actions of collusion by both the company and the federal government at the time were found to be unlawful. That dispute is part of Victorian and Australian history now, and it demonstrates just how peaceful protest can bring about change and a better society.
The move-on powers in this bill are draconian, they are Bjelke-Petersen in style and they mean we have set off down a slippery slope. They infringe the vital rights that exist in a free democracy, and they infringe the right to protest. Labor will defend the right of Victorians to protest.
We will oppose these move-on powers, we will oppose this bill and, when we are elected in November, we will repeal this legislation.