Aussie state gives police power to disperse protests pre-emptively Aussie state gives police power to disperse protests pre-emptively March 13, 2014

The Australian state of Victoria’s parliament passed a bill giving police power to suppress protests, including ordering a rally to move on based on a suspicion that it may turn violent. Opponents call the powers excessive and undemocratic.

The Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill passed through the upper house of the Victorian parliament on Wednesday morning. It will give state police the power to order protesters to disperse if they are blocking the entrance to a building, disrupting traffic, of if the police ‘expect’ protesters to turn violent.

A ‘move on’ order may be issued to people suspected of committing an offense within the previous 12 hours who return to the public place that police are trying to clear. Failure to comply may result in arrest and a AU$720 (US$650) fine.

Under the new law police would also be able to obtain exclusion orders banning protesters from certain public places for a period of up to 12 months. Violating such an order carries a maximum jail term of two years.

The bill was opposed in the parliament by Labor and Green parties, with Green MP Sue Pennicuik calling it “an absolute assault on the democratic right of Victorians to protest – whether it be on the streets or on public land – about issues of concern to them.”

Similar concerns were raised by some protest and human rights groups.

“It’s just a stab in the heart to free speech,” Garry Muratore, an activist campaigning to stop McDonald’s building a fast-food outlet in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges, told the Age newspaper.

”This is Joh Bjelke-Petersen stuff,” he added in a reference to a former controversial conservative premier of the Australian state of Queensland, whose economically prosperous 19 years in office were marred by heavy-handed dealing with protesters and political corruption among officials.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Cam Walker also slammed the bill, saying it would be “irony in the fullest sense” if it were used against farming communities opposed to gas exploration, a cause his group supports.

“We don’t know how much discretion will be used by police. It puts fear into average community members who are not activists who feel compelled to protect their communities against gas drilling,” he said.

Proponents defend the legislation, saying Victoria Police need extra powers to deal with some situations, including the regular anti-abortion protests outside the Melbourne fertility control clinic, an issued that the state capital’s council had difficulty addressing in the past, or the protest trying to hamper construction of the East West Link toll road, which critics believe to be a case of misspending public funds.

The laws would give Victoria Police the power to issue move-on orders to protesters who “deliberately seek to stop people going about their lawful business,” argued Attorney-General Robert Clark.

They would not affect “Victorians’ rights to engage in lawful and peaceful protest to express their views,” he said.

Ironically, as the bill was debated on Tuesday night, a group of 20 activists were told to leave the chamber’s public gallery after they started chanting and yelling in a protest against the bill. Four of the protesters were arrested for refusing to move on.

After the disturbance Health minister David Davis called on President Bruce Atkinson to “review security at Parliament House and ensure members can conduct debate in peace and without threats or thuggish behavior.”

Victoria is the second most populous of Australia’s six states. The capital, Melbourne, is home to over 4 million people.

Peak business body applauds passing of “move-on” laws

VECCI: Peak business body applauds passing of “move-on” laws. 13 March 2014

VECCI welcomes the Victorian Parliament’s passing of legislation to expand police powers to “move-on” people engaging in illegal picket line and protest activities, as it will protect the fundamental rights of business.

“The right to freely enter one’s premises is a fundamental right. People should be able to go about their business and earn a living without others preventing them from doing so or making them fear for their safety,” says VECCI Chief Executive Mark Stone.

“VECCI has been a strong and consistent advocate of the need for this legislation and we applaud the Government for securing passage through parliament,” says Mr Stone.

The legislation grants Victoria Police the power to issue move-on orders where a person is:

  • impeding lawful access to a business premises; or
  • obstructing others or traffic; or
  • causing a reasonable fear of violence.

“It is fundamental that clients, customers and suppliers are able to freely enter and exit business premises and that private property is protected,” says Mr Stone.

“A number of Victorian businesses have been subjected to illegal picket line activities and protests in recent years including the CBD blockade of Grocon’s Myer Emporium project. More recently, traffic has been affected by the East-West link protesters.

“There is no place for a vocal minority who do not respect the rights of others to engage in lawful work and business activity, so we welcome this action to ensure the rights of businesses are protected and that major projects are able to proceed.”

Which repressive regime is restricting protests now? Try a state in Australia…

PRI: Which repressive regime is restricting protests now? Try a state in Australia… March 12, 2014 · 7:15 PM EDT

Protesters carrying placards attend a rally in favor of taxing carbon emissions in Melbourne, Australia, on March 12, 2011.

A bill approved in the Australian state of Victoria Tuesday night, despite strong opposition, makes protests effectively illegal.

The State Parliament approved the Summary Offences Act, which allows police to order anyone who is obstructing access to public buildings, or who is expected to become violent or damage property, to “move on.” Penalties for those who are repeatedly told to move on include being banned from a public area for up to a year. Those who violate such a ban can be jailed for up to two years, according to The Guardian.

The measure, advocates say, will help ensure access to a Melbourne abortion clinic that is the site of frequent protests. Opponents, though, see the measure as an effort by the state government to put an end to long-running protests, “such as the anti-Tecoma McDonald’s group, anti-East West Link picketers, as well as industrial disputes.”

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