Power to criminalise protest comes to Victoria

Issue 
More than 3000 people took part in a protest against the new laws on February 18.

Victoria’s upper house passed the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill on March 11. Debate was interrupted by protesters in the public gallery, who were removed by police.

The law, which had been passed by the lower house last month, expands the powers of police to order people to move on. The new law will make it easier for police to issue directives to break up a protest. People who do not follow such orders can be arrested and fined $720. Move-on directions can be given to a whole group and do not need to be issued to each individual. Previous exemptions for peaceful protest have been removed.

Police will also be able to apply for a court order banning individuals from entering or remaining in a particular public place for up to a year. People who ignore such an exclusion order could be jailed for up to two years.

The new laws are likely to be used against union picket lines and community protests such as those against the planned East West Link road tunnel.

Friends of the Earth spokesperson Cam Walker said the move-on powers could also be used against rural communities opposing gas exploration. He gave the example of the residents of the small town of Seaspray, who are planning to picket gas exploration by Lake Oil in the region.

Federation of Community Legal Centres executive officer Liana Buchanan said as well as limiting the right to democratic protest, the new laws “will impact on vulnerable groups, including the homeless”.

They could be ordered out of public places such as shopping centres, even though they have nowhere to go. She said the laws would affect “people with mental health or substance abuse issues, or acquired brain injuries. They threaten to criminalise and imprison the vulnerable as they struggle to survive and seek shelter, respite from extreme heat and cold, or access to services. These are people that community legal centres help every day."

More than 3000 people took part in a protest against the new laws on February 18, organised by the Victorian Trades Hall Council.

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