South Australian unions, human rights, legal and community groups are campaigning against the Labor government’s new draconian anti-protest laws, which passed the Legislative Assembly on May 18 with the Liberal’s support.
A 1000-strong protest on May 26 brought unions and community together and SA Unions are organising another for May 30 when they fear the bill will pass the Legislative Council.
The new Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Bill 2023 (SA) has the power to fine people up to $50,000 and 3 month’s jail for obstructing the free passage of a public place.
The current fine under the act is $750 (and no jail time) so this is an increase of 6000%.
There was no consultation on the bill which came in the day after Extinction Rebellion suspended themselves from a bridge and closed traffic for 90 minutes.
The Peter Malinauskas government claims the laws are a necessary response to Extinction Rebellion’s protests.
SA Unions says they go much further than that. They have made a new charge — “causing an obstruction in a public place” — very broad and poorly defined.
The unions have listed some of the activities that people could get people locked up and or fined: a peaceful community protest by workers, even if it does not obstruct entry to a worksite; a politician handing out flyers, who causes a member of the public to deviate from their course; a person who organises an event (whether or not they themselves attend) where an obstruction is caused by someone who attended; a homeless person who sleeps on a footpath; and someone carrying a couch across a road while moving house.
SA Unions said the anti-protest laws are “a massive overreach and a mess of outrageous consequences”.
David Mejia-Canales, spokesperson for the Human Rights Law Centre said: “Two days after the Malinauskas government told gas corporations that the state is at their service, the SA government is making good on its word by rushing through laws to limit the right of climate defenders and others to protest.
“Australia’s democracy is stronger when people protest on issues they care about. But the SA government’s knee-jerk action in response to peaceful climate protestors at an annual fossil fuels conference, is yet another attack on people’s right to protest.
“The right to protest is fundamental to our democracy, from First Nations land rights to the eight-hour workday — protest has been crucial to achieving many important social changes.
“This knee-jerk reaction by the SA government will undermine the ability of everyone in SA to exercise their right to peacefully protest, from young people marching for climate action to workers protesting for better conditions. The Legislative Council must reject this Bill.”
Minister for Energy and Mining Tom Koutsantonis told an Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference on May 15–18, outside of which there was peaceful protests, that his government is “at your disposal”. He said: “We cannot transform our economy to net zero without [the oil and gas] industry.”
A number of groups, including the Law Society of SA and the SA Bar Association, have joined the call for the bill to be stopped.
“South Australians have a long and proud history of peaceful protest.
“Whether it’s women’s suffrage, the eight-hour work day or decriminalising same-sex relationships, peaceful protests have shaped the South Australia we have today.
“But right now the state government is putting our rights and freedoms at risk … The community deserves laws that are the result of deliberation and consultation, not policy on the run,” the organisations said.
[Update: The bill became law on May 31 after an all-night sitting and 14-hour debate.]