Second Reading: Summary Offences Amendment

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — It is with great pleasure that the Greens have seen the introduction of the Summary Offences Amendment (Move-on Laws) Bill 2015. 

The Greens will be supporting this bill, having strongly opposed the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013 introduced by the previous government. That law was introduced with one purpose, and that purpose was to limit the right of Victorians to protest. It is no surprise that those laws came into effect at the same time as local residents were trying to stop the unpopular east–west tollway from tearing through their community. That is a battle those residents will win.

The right to protest is fundamental to our democratic society, and it is a right that we should do our utmost to protect and maintain. The law introduced by the previous government gave too many vague and discretionary powers to police and protective services officers to limit the right to protest and to criminalise protest action. It expanded the circumstances under which a person could be moved on whilst at the same time reducing and removing the exemptions for people who are protesting. The previous act, as it existed before those changes were made, was explicit in allowing police to move people on but not in allowing those powers to be used against people who were protesting. The current act is vague defining circumstances in which people may be moved on, but it also provides powers of arrest and the creation of exclusion orders. So we have a situation where a person could be moved on, arrested and excluded from an area for simply undertaking their democratic right to protest.

I give the example of a picket. We have a provision in section 6(1)(h) of the Summary Offences Act 1966 to move a person on if 'the person is or persons are impeding or attempting to impede another person from lawfully entering or leaving premises or part of premises'. That is a picket. On the one hand we have picketing a place of employment as an exemption, albeit reduced, but on the other hand the picketing itself is a circumstance in which a person can be moved on. These strong powers and vague reasoning, when they can be enacted, are a recipe for infringing on the right to protest and freedom of expression.

There were already broad powers under the act for police to move people on if they were breaching the peace, endangering people or likely to cause injury. There is nothing to stop police from dealing with someone who is committing an offence, regardless of whether or not they are protesting. The Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Act 2014 was one of several pieces of legislation introduced by the previous government to limit the right to protest. Another was the Sustainable Forests (Timber) and Wildlife Amendment Act 2014, which restricted protests against logging and significantly increased the penalties for people protesting against duck shooting. We look forward to the government introducing further bills to repeal such provisions in these acts if it is genuinely committed to protecting the right to protest in our democratic society.