The new laws were prompted by reasonable concerns, and currently only extend to the state of Victoria. However, it remains to be seen how liberally it will be interpreted and reinforced. The public became uneasy when informed the bill was being addressed and fearing the loss of their rights to protest, Australian’s gathered together to hold a protest which was not successful in stopping the law from being passed.
Citizens marched to Melbourne’s Parliament House. Feb. 18 to protest against the proposed law that would allow police interference if people were blocking entry to businesses. Should the safety of the property be in question or if the gathering caused a reasonable concern of violence, the people could be removed. The Victorian Government asserts they only have the protection of the people’s freedom in mind and they intend to protect people conducting their lawful business.
VECCI Chief executive, Mark Stone said that it is a fundamental right of the people to have freedom to enter a premises. “People are welcome to protest, people are welcome to have different opinions,” he said. What he hopes to avoid in the future are people protesting and creating interference with others’ rights to attend to daily tasks. He does not want to see others inhibited from earning their living and safely reaching their jobs.
The bill was passed on Tuesday and will begin September. In Victoria police will gain power to “move on” the groups who are picketing or engaged in peaceful protests that are in the way. A refusal to cooperate will result in a $750 fine, a court order to stay off premises, then a jail term up to two years. Few Australians have spoken in defense of its’ passing, and many claim they are loosing their right to the First Amendment, and though unsuccessful, their protests against it were still allowed.
It is believed this is the result of the Tunnel Picket campaign that has been moving against East West Link. The concern is that the law could be further interpreted against other groups. Human Rights commissioner and previous head of the IPA, Tim Wilson, thought it a step too far for police to gain this power with the protesters and unjustifiable. He said, ”I have an issue with the low bar that is being set to give police the powers to move people on.”
The police had previously not been able to enforce keeping protesters away from areas that became heated, Attorney-General Robert Clark said. Victoria now has the ability to issue these move on orders when protesters actively seek to inhibit citizens “going about their lawful business.” He stated the police were having to encounter troublesome individuals multiple times who were repeatedly involved in the “unlawful blockades.” Clark also reassured that the lawful and peaceful protests that expressed citizens’ views would not be affected.
The law itself is worrying to some, but most of the debate has been sparked by guesses of what enforcement will look like and how most officers will interpret the new bill. Internet debate has been heated, but most are in agreement in opposing the new law. Some are taking initiative against it. “I have just sent an email to the 20 senators and hope some other people do the same.” Pemu said in a post on Reddit.
However, Ijuzwantfamous was of another mind. “To all who say ‘some protesters are bad’ and ‘i don’t like anti abortionists’ These are the evidence of a free society. Its one thing to be inconvenienced by someone voicing their opinion, its another to be inconvenienced by not being able to voice your own.” Though the first protest was unsuccessful, Australian citizens will still be watching closely to see how their rights are impacted, keeping in mind many are against the ruling and already feel they are loosing freedom of speech.
By: Whitney Hudson