Australia’s police state expands

Australian police TSA

The Australian state of Victoria’s parliament passed a bill giving police power to suppress protests, including ordering a rally to move on based on a suspicion that it may turn violent. Opponents call the powers excessive and undemocratic.

The Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill passed through the upper house of the Victorian parliament on Wednesday morning. It will give state police the power to order protesters to disperse if they are blocking the entrance to a building, disrupting traffic, of if the police ‘expect’ protesters to turn violent.

A ‘move on’ order may be issued to people suspected of committing an offense within the previous 12 hours who return to the public place that police are trying to clear. Failure to comply may result in arrest and a AU$720 (US$650) fine.

Under the new law police would also be able to obtain exclusion orders banning protesters from certain public places for a period of up to 12 months. Violating such an order carries a maximum jail term of two years.

The bill was opposed in the parliament by Labor and Green parties, with Green MP Sue Pennicuik calling it “an absolute assault on the democratic right of Victorians to protest – whether it be on the streets or on public land – about issues of concern to them.”

Dandenong ranges protest

Image from NO McDonalds in The Dandenong Ranges Facebook page.

Similar concerns were raised by some protest and human rights groups.

“It’s just a stab in the heart to free speech,” Garry Muratore, an activist campaigning to stop McDonald’s building a fast-food outlet in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges, told the Age newspaper.

”This is Joh Bjelke-Petersen stuff,” he added in a reference to a former controversial conservative premier of the Australian state of Queensland, whose economically prosperous 19 years in office were marred by heavy-handed dealing with protesters and political corruption among officials.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Cam Walker also slammed the bill, saying it would be “irony in the fullest sense” if it were used against farming communities opposed to gas exploration, a cause his group supports.

“We don’t know how much discretion will be used by police. It puts fear into average community members who are not activists who feel compelled to protect their communities against gas drilling,” he said.

Proponents defend the legislation, saying Victoria Police need extra powers to deal with some situations, including the regular anti-abortion protests outside the Melbourne fertility control clinic, an issued that the state capital’s council had difficulty addressing in the past, or the protest trying to hamper construction of the East West Link toll road, which critics believe to be a case of misspending public funds.

The laws would give Victoria Police the power to issue move-on orders to protesters who “deliberately seek to stop people going about their lawful business,” argued Attorney-General Robert Clark.

They would not affect “Victorians’ rights to engage in lawful and peaceful protest to express their views,”he said.

Dandenong ranges protest

Image from NO McDonalds in The Dandenong Ranges Facebook page.

Ironically, as the bill was debated on Tuesday night, a group of 20 activists were told to leave the chamber’s public gallery after they started chanting and yelling in a protest against the bill. Four of the protesters were arrested for refusing to move on.

After the disturbance Health minister David Davis called on President Bruce Atkinson to “review security at Parliament House and ensure members can conduct debate in peace and without threats or thuggish behavior.”

Victoria is the second most populous of Australia’s six states. The capital, Melbourne, is home to over 4 million people.

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  1. The orders are being pass down.
    World Cup’s security here in brazil will follow it.

  2. This isn’t any assault on peoples rights. What about peoples right to feel safe?
    If a protest is blocking the road or stopping people from going to work, then the Police should be able to intervene. This amendment does not allow Police to move on protestors without cause. So if you are protesting in a safe way where you are not endangering yourself or anyone else and not committing any offences, then the police will stand by and let you protest.

    Police are there to keep the peace, they only act when safety is a concern or an offence has been committed.

    Instead of believing mainstream media where you only see Police removing protestors, go to one and watch them get balloons of piss and rocks thrown at them whilst they stand there…..that’s why they move in and remove the protestors.

    No one should have piss and rocks thrown at them as part of their job.

    • Yes Sam is right. ALL police are ALWAYS lovely & NEVER abuse their powers.

      They would only use this power if people were being horrible & deserved it.

      Protesters ask for it because they throw piss & rocks & other stuff & mainstream media always tries to make the police look bad.

      The power to cancel protests because they think something bad may happen is not an attack on our God given rights, it’s to keep us all safe from smelly, violent protesters.

      Thanks government. Thanks police.

      We love you & know you love us & want the best for us.

    • Sam, would you object if I suspended your rights, manhandled and charged you on a mere hunch that you were associating with a group that might turn violent, even if you had no such intention yourself? Would knowing that I had this power at my discretion influence your perception of my role and behaviour, make you feel threatened, at risk and intimidated, maybe engender the violence it’s notionally supposed to prevent? The reality is that ANY protest can be interpreted as potentially violent; the target of this anti-democratic legislation is the act of protesting itself.

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