‘Move-On Powers’ – Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013

Ms GARRETT (Brunswick) — It is with great passion that I rise today to speak on this draconian and disgraceful piece of legislation that has been put before the house.

Having heard a passionate contribution from the member for Benalla about the Plug the Pipe protest and the journey those people went on and having seen the passion on the member for Seymour’s face, as we stand here it is worth noting how people feel when there is something that strikes at the heart of their community — when they are concerned that something is going to destroy or impact negatively on their community. In such cases people come together, organise and stand up for the rights of that community.

It is very similar to the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which has to have a funeral plan offered to its members because so many people die on building sites. That is why it gets so passionate about occupational health and safety.

It is so relevant to members of the Maritime Union of Australia, which lost an entire generation of people because they loaded asbestos off the wharfs, day in, day out, and which stood with Bernie Banton when the James Hardie company tried to get out of this country without paying for its obligations and when there were thousands of people protesting in the streets about that issue. We on this side of the house, and we hope those on the other side of the house, feel pretty passionate about those issues. Clearly we feel that people have the right to come together to organise and stand up for occupational health and safety and stand up for just compensation when people are injured or die at the hands of negligent corporations.

We in this place operate under a solemn covenant with the people of Victoria. We are given a great privilege to make laws — to debate laws and pass them. That covenant means that we must stand here and protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens of this state, particularly those who have a small voice.

This must be done especially when it is inconvenient, politically embarrassing or hard for those who hold the reins of power, because to fail to do so is to break the covenant the government makes with Victorians to look after their rights and their freedoms.

To go back to the Plug the Pipe protests, these clearly caused the former government a considerable amount of political pain. They were embarrassing, difficult and hard to manage, but the former government did not introduce legislation to take away the right of those people to protest. The former government understood that people have the right to protest, particularly when it is embarrassing and inconvenient to government.

This Parliament has a responsibility to ensure that the checks and balances that remain in our democracy are upheld. Hard-fought freedoms and rights can be torn away in an instant, and that is what this legislation does. This legislation gives police an extraordinary and unchecked power to move protesters on if they suspect the protesters have committed an offence, if there is a reasonable apprehension of violence, if a protester is likely to cause an unreasonable obstruction to others or is impeding or attempting to impede any person from lawfully entering or leaving premises or part of premises. These are huge, sweeping, discretionary, unfettered powers that will apply to all protests.

An honourable member interjected.

Ms GARRETT — Read the legislation. In the checks and balances of our democracy we do not allow this Parliament to have unfettered — —

Mr Burgess interjected.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member for Hastings will get his turn.

Ms GARRETT — We have courts and tribunals which are independent from government and which are there to ensure that the rights and freedoms of citizens are protected and are not subject to the whims of the government of the day. It is always tempting for any government to come in here and hack into those rights and freedoms because it is politically inconvenient and embarrassing for those rights and freedoms to be upheld. People who stand up and say, ‘We dislike decisions of this government’ cause the government pain, so no doubt it is always tempting for members on that side of the chamber to squash that sort of dissent. But a test of true character for those who hold the reins of power is that they do not give in to that temptation, that they understand there is a broader matter of principle and a broader responsibility and that they are custodians in this place of democracy, which as we know is a fragile beast and can be trampled on and dismantled very quickly.

We have had some very passionate contributions. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke at great length and with great measure about what has happened in his community regarding the proposed McDonald’s in Tecoma. We have talked about what has happened with nurses protesting and having thousands of people in the street protesting about health issues. We have talked about paramedics and the ambulance crisis that is crippling this state.

Time and again people have to take to the streets to have their point heard and to ensure that the broader community understands these issues. We have had protests by taxi licence holders and teachers, and we have had anti-fracking protests in regional Victoria. These are all important, precious expressions of our democratic rights, and they are vehicles by which people can achieve change when things are wrong. Let us face it: no government has all the answers. No government under our democratic system should be able to dictate everything. This is a vibrant democracy with those checks and balances.

This gets back to this government’s obsession with the union movement. We have a fundamental right as citizens in this country to have freedom of association, and there is a reason we have this right. It has been a hard-fought — —

Honourable members interjecting.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! If the members for Monbulk and Gembrook wish to continue their conversation, they can take it outside the chamber.

Ms GARRETT — It has been a hard-fought right, because for many centuries those without bargaining power were exploited and treated appallingly. They came together collectively to organise, to address the power imbalance and to demand proper terms and conditions of employment. This is a noble, fundamental right. It is a fundamental right for those workers who are given the benefit of that collective action.

It is a fundamental tenet of our democratic system that we have checks and balances, that the powerful members of our community do not always have the final voice, and that people can stand together and say, ‘This is unacceptable. We demand outcomes that benefit the collective, the whole or more than just those who hold the reins of power or the reins of money’. This is what is so deeply disturbing about this legislation. It gives so much unfettered and unchecked power to police to move people on, and not just move them on but to take their names. They can be in a book for 12 months. Shut it down!

This is not said lightly by members on this side of the house, but this legislation is similar to that introduced by a former Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, whereby if two people were together, it was an unlawful association. This is a very slippery slope that will impact dramatically on the rights of all of our citizens. Those of us who have lived in Queensland or know people there are aware of the dark days when civil liberties and rights — —

Mr Pakula interjected.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member for Lyndhurst should listen to the member for Brunswick.

Ms GARRETT — We stand here proudly as a party united with our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement. We stand here proudly with the citizens of Victoria who want the right to be able to call on this government to change its legislative agenda and to implement policies to protect their communities. We do so with passion and pride. If we are elected in November, this legislation will be repealed. We call on this government to reflect on its covenant with the Victorian people. Once again we are here debating an absolute breach of that covenant. Those opposite should hang their heads in shame.

Hansard 2014