So this evening I paid a visit to the Victorian State Parliament with a group of around 30 other people. A diverse mix of folk – amongst them unionists, lawyers, environmentalists, people who could get their house bulldozed for the East West tunnel, people who care about peace, refugees and transparency and democracy.
We were there to watch the Summary Offences and Amendments Sentencing Bill (Anti
Protest Bill) get passed. A law which will allow police unprecedented
discretionary powers to ‘move on’ peaceful protesters, and others they
might suspect of a fairly broad range of things, from public places.
We watched in a fairly subdued manner, with some occasional rumblings
as anti choice Liberals such as Bernie Finn, used the platform to throw
random vitriol around about concerned community members who voiced
their dissent to his fundamentally anti choice, and anti women ‘March
for the babies’ events.
A few more folks spoke. The Greens had already spoken against the
bill before we arrived and a number of ALP members took to the floor to
express concern about a wide range of aspects to the bill.
And then the riot police got called in.
Did the speaker call order when ALP speakers were interrupted for
standing up for the rights of union workers? No. Did the speaker call
order when ALP members were interrupted for making points about the
disproportionate impact this bill will have on homeless and marginalised
people? Or when they were interrupted talking about community legal
centre submissions on the bill, and those known militants in the
Salvation Army having concerns with this bill?
No, instead after a couple of completely minor interjections, the
Speaker decided that this whole darned freedom of speech, public being
able to witness ‘democracy’ in action was being so seriously distracting
that he closed the gallery. Why? Did someone yell out a bit too
dramatically or crank open some bad singing and chanting? Did some
‘serial pest’ activist roll out some audacious banner they cunningly
snuck in there? Perhaps try an epic commando roll? Did someone try and kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia or even look a bit funny at one of the Liberals?
NO – there was some relatively subdued clapping when one of the ALP
speakers talked about workers rights. GAME OVER. CLOSE THE CHAMBER. WHEN
PEOPLE PEACEFULLY RAISE THEIR VOICES IN DISSENT FOR LACK OF ANY OTHER
ACCOUNTABILITY OR WAY TO EXPRESS CONCERN – CALL THE CRITICAL INCIDENT
Because, apparently a bill being rushed through parliament and a few
folk scrambling to get to the gallery in time to witness this
abomination, and demonstrate approval for some minor level opposition to
our democracy being dismantled – this CLEARLY deserves the riot squad.
In case anyone needs some context about the deep level of concern
many share on this bill – Tony Abbotts’ hand picked Federal Human Rights
Commissioner Tim Wilson said the following: ”It unnecessarily gives
police too much power to move on protesters unjustifiably,” he said. ”I
have an issue with the low bar that is being set to give police the
powers to move people on.”
The Salvation Army has said “These laws will disproportionately
affect marginalised young people, people experiencing homelessness,
poverty and mental health issues.”
The government even admitted they would be removing fundamental human rights, “… the laws will, in certain circumstances, limit the rights to freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly and freedom of association”.
There is some excellent analysis on the political motivations of the law here.
You can read submissions against the bill
from a range of respected legal and community advocates here – they
include: Flemington and Kensington Legal Centre, Human Rights Law
Centre, Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Fitzroy
Legal Service, Law Institute of Victoria, Victorian Trades hall Council,
Homeless Law, Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) Inc.
Victorian Council of Social Service and Madge.
Two basic overviews of the bill are available here and here.
Many thousands have marched, a massive and wide spread opposition is growing.
The small group of people in that gallery were representative of a
much larger movement, of many 1000’s of people who do not want to see
democracy further stifled in this state.
We were there for unionists, for teachers, for nurses, for people who
fought for the rights we now have. We were there for environmentalists,
for people who care for refugees, who care about the city we live in,
and who have saved the buildings we now cherish. We were there for those
defending their homes and communities from an unwanted road project
that will bring no benefit but much pollution, at a cost of billions.
And I was also there for the farmers I have been working to support
who could stand to be criminalised by these laws for merely standing at
their gates near unwanted and controversial gas mining sites, to defend
their land, and our food, from being poisoned and groundwater and
We bear witness for all that couldn’t be there.
This legislation is yet another step down the slippery slope. If we
don’t fight for our rights now, they will take them away. Don’t let this
By Nicola Paris
From here where can be found more links, live feed and updates.