Victorian anti-protest laws passed amid outcry from public gallery

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The Guardian: Victorian anti-protest laws passed amid outcry from public gallery. David Donaldson. Wednesday 12 March 2014. Photograph: Daniel Fogarty/AAP

Four people removed from Legislative Council after act amendment broadens police powers to remove protesters

Critics have said the amendment is designed to shut down protest over long-running issues such as Melbourne’s East West Link.

A contentious new law that gives police enhanced powers to move on protesters passed the upper house of the Victorian parliament on Tuesday night, amid protest from the public gallery.

Four people were removed by police and were expected to be charged on summons over a disturbance in the gallery after the president of the Legislative Council ordered activists to stop disrupting proceedings.

The amended Summary Offences Act will now give police broad powers to move against protesters who are blocking access to buildings, obstructing people or traffic, or who are expected to turn violent.

The change will also allow the courts to issue an exclusion order preventing those repeatedly told to move on from entering a particular public space for up to 12 months. The maximum penalty for breaching an exclusion order is two years’ imprisonment.

Melbourne’s lord mayor, Robert Doyle, said on Wednesday the changes could prevent regular anti-abortion protesters gathering outside the Melbourne fertility control clinic, an issue Melbourne city council has had difficulty addressing in the past.

But others see the reforms as an attempt by the Victorian government to shut down protest on long-running issues such as the anti-Tecoma McDonald’s group, anti-East West Link picketers, as well as industrial disputes.

The new measures have been criticised by Labor and the Greens, who opposed the bill. The Greens MLC Sue Pennicuik said: “This bill is 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.”

The Australian human rights commissioner, Tim Wilson, has also called the new laws “excessive”.

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