February 25, 2015  |  Second Reading

Summary Offences Amendment (Move-On Laws) Bill 2015

Mr HOWARD (Buninyong) — I am pleased to enter into this debate and to get the balance back into the right sort of area, because that is what this legislation is all about; it is about getting the balance right in regard to people’s right to protest. Let us go back to 2014, just last year, when the Napthine government became the ousted government because the people of Victoria chose to vote for Labor at the election. Before the move-on powers were introduced we had good, balanced legislation in place. We had move-on legislation and police had available to them a whole range of other powers in dealing with protests when the protesters went too far.

I believe, as do all people on this side of the house, that protesting is a right people have. However, when people protest they need to recognise the people around them and protest responsibly. We on this side of the house support responsible protest, and I want to make that clear.

I remember in my earlier days the government of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and how he decided that in his government they would do things differently. ‘We do things differently up here in Queensland’ was Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s great line as he put down the protesters if they protested against anything, just as his minister Russ Hinze wanted and as other ministers showed their excesses in a range of ways. Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s government did things differently. What we saw last year was the then coalition government in Victoria attempting to do something very similar to Joh Bjelke-Petersen. It did this on the back of trying to vilify union activities and union protests and taking advantage of anti-Jewish protests, and it took this legislation way too far, to a place it did not need to go.

Before the former government — the government that was voted out by the people of Victoria at the last election — brought forward this move-on legislation we clearly had move-on laws that did three things. Those laws said that police could require a person to move on if the person was breaching or likely to breach the peace; a person could be required to move on if they were endangering or likely to endanger the safety of any other person; and a person could be required to move on if the behaviour of the person was likely to cause injury to a person, cause damage to property or was otherwise a risk to public safety. They were reasonable powers police could take up.

At the same time, police had a range of other powers available to them. I believe our police act well, especially if they are prepared for protest activity. If they are appropriately trained, they generally do very well in protecting the community and finding the right balance in dealing with protesters.

We know that before the coalition’s move-on legislation was brought forward there were a range of powers available to police allowing them to take action against inappropriate activity by any individual protesters. There were powers they could use to follow up on undue obstruction of footpaths or roads, wilful trespass of a public place, wilful trespass of a private place, entry likely to breach the peace and so on. A range of powers within the Summary Offences Act 1966 and a range of other acts enabled police to take action against people who were doing the wrong thing when protesting. I can go through that list; it is certainly a very long list. I can see when I look at the powers available to police at present that there are three or four pages of different trespass offences and different summary offences that can be applied.

As the member for Buninyong and former member for Ballarat East, the Wombat State Forest comes within my electorate. We had issues with people protesting against logging in the Wombat State Forest, for example, just as there have been protesters in other areas. The police had powers under the acts to deal with protesters who may have been in inappropriate areas or were putting themselves at risk or putting the workers who were appropriately undertaking logging activity at risk. There are special powers under the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 and so on.

Of course one of the other areas where we have seen protests and where there are concerns about the safety of protesters and other people going about their business is in association with duck hunting. We clearly have a range of powers in place that address the issues around duck hunting protests.

What we are doing with this legislation is what we clearly promised to do ahead of the election. The people of Victoria clearly supported us. They said, ‘No, we don’t want Joh Bjelke-Petersen-type activities. We don’t want that heavy-handed law and order agenda that the conservatives — the coalition — were putting forward. We want a balanced government that recognises the right of people to protest in a whole range of activities. We want that balance right’. In November last year the people of Victoria clearly voted for a change from that tired, old law and order rhetoric we get from the conservatives. They wanted a progressive approach returned to Victoria, as they have wanted in the majority of elections since 1982 when the Cain government was elected.

That is what they will get under this government; they will get a good, balanced, progressive government that recognises people’s right to protest but also recognises that there are powers under the law that police can use to act on people who are protesting in inappropriate ways.

I reflect back on protests I have been involved in over the years. I remember my earlier university days. I was of course pleased that university students saw that there were good reasons to protest a whole range of activities. I was a little too young for the Vietnam moratorium protests, but they were clearly very significant, changing the way we deal with war issues in this country.

In my student days I joined protests, but more recently I have supported trade and labour protests in Ballarat when then Prime Minister John Howard was introducing his WorkChoices legislation. I have also protested against issues associated with the former Kennett government and its sale of public assets. I was very much involved in the Public First movement that said, ‘No, we want to keep our public assets in public hands because that’s the best way for them to be administered’. Unfortunately, of course, we lost that opportunity under the Kennett government, and we have seen the results of that since.

I have also been involved in protests in Ballarat over the war in Iraq. Sadly, we saw the results of that war, which the Americans and Prime Minister John Howard quickly supported under the guise of weapons of mass destruction that were supposedly in Iraq. Those protests were not successful and, sadly, that war took place, and we have seen what has happened in Iraq since that time.

I was on the other side of the protests when I attended the Israeli Independence Day celebrations over the road from Parliament a few years back, and a pro-Palestinian protest occurred. A number of people who attended the event were concerned about the protests. My experience of that event was that the members of Parliament who attended were asked to stay together and police horses were in place to provide protection for those of us who attended the function, and I must say I was perhaps a little more intimidated by the horses than by the protesters themselves. It is clearly a matter of getting these issues in balance.

I want everyone to have the right to protest about the things that are important to them, whether it be WorkSafe issues, issues associated with the union movement or other broad issues of public importance. I want to see that happening safely, and I believe that this progressive Andrews Labor government is restoring the balance, as the people of Victoria wanted us to do on 29 November last year.