Mr DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I am very pleased to rise to speak today in support of the Summary Offences Amendment (Move-on Laws) Bill 2015. I am pleased because this amending bill sets right the draconian amendments made last year by the then government, now opposition. The amendments made last year were unnecessary at best, and at worst, an attack on the civil rights of our fellow citizens and their ability to peacefully protest.
At the time of the previous government’s amendments to the act, Labor clearly made its opposition known, vowing to repeal the legislation upon coming to government. The bill before the house today is testament to a party that is delivering on its commitments. In this case the legislation is before the house after less than 100 days of government.
We have heard from the opposition that it believes in the fundamental right to protest. But based on what we saw last year, I seriously doubt this. The right to protest on a specific issue, to peacefully picket a workplace for employee rights, or to publicly congregate to discuss a particular matter are all rights that Australians hold dear. They are a fundamental reflection of our true democratic society, whether they be protests by our valued teachers, our firefighters, our paramedics or our nurses; whether they be protests about government decisions, including state government decisions we make in this chamber; or whether they be protests by those who seek to protect our natural environment or who are working for the most basic of human rights. Importantly there are also the many people over two centuries in this country and this state who have protested for employee rights and the safety of our workplaces.
Many times those actions by people who have protested have been at a significant cost to their personal lives. Those people have enabled us to have our freedoms today. May I say that those same protests have resulted in safer workplaces and other enormous achievements which exist now in our democratic society. It is clear, as the member for Dandenong said in her contribution, for the other side that much of this is about anti-union ideology. The previous government’s amendments were directed at trade unions, and, both directly and indirectly, the impact is felt by workers.
I take issue with some of the comments from the other side, which portray every protest of employees or workers as characterised by thuggery, spitting and groping. All the negative behaviour that could possibly occur rests with the workers and employees, while the behaviour of small business is always kind and caring. Of course there are business owners like that, but that is not what these laws are about. This is not about workers or about bosses; it is about freedom of expression and the right to congregate with your fellow citizens.
Providing the powers to move people on, to take their names or to arrest them when they are doing no more than congregating legally is anathema to us. It is a backward step. The amendments introduced by the opposition last year were a breach of our fundamental rights. They were not designed to maintain public order and safety — those laws already existed, and the police already had sufficient powers — they were designed to restrict the rights of Victorians. This was highlighted particularly by the introduction of exclusion orders, where people could be restricted from entering a particular place for 12 months. If we allow these laws to remain as they are, it is a slippery slope to the next restriction and the one after that.
We in Australia are often rightly critical of jurisdictions in other countries that restrict freedoms and human rights, but we cannot be critical of those jurisdictions when we do the same. We are progressive here in Victoria; we have long regarded ourselves in Australia as one of the most democratic and free nations. It is interesting that the coalition, having the word ‘liberal’ in its name, is ready to trample on liberties that small-l liberals hold very dear.
I have listened to other speakers on this side of the chamber say that the bill before the house today gets the balance right. I agree entirely; it does get the balance right. This bill will repeal the ability of police and protective services officers (PSOs) to issue move-on orders for any type of protest. It will repeal their ability to seek the name and address of any person and direct them to move on. I have enormous respect for police — I have often dealt with them in my line of work and in other contexts — but I do not think you can franchise justice, or give it over to 10 000 police officers. The rightful place for justice is in the courtroom, in the hands of a legally trained judicial officer. Of course police need reasonable powers to keep the peace, and under the government’s changes police will retain those powers. It is not right to disregard the process of the law and the role of the judicial officer.
Police and PSOs will still have the ability to properly police this state. It is their right and responsibility under the law to keep illegal behaviour at bay. There will still be the ability to move on people who are breaching or likely to breach the peace or who are endangering the safety of others. There will still be the ability to move on people where they are likely to cause injury or damage property. Police and PSOs will still be able to use their general powers to require a person to state their name and address. That is not what we are talking about today. We are talking about the previous government’s amendments, which were designed to suppress human rights. When someone as progressive as the Australian human rights commissioner, Tim Wilson, opposes this legislation, then you know you must be doing something wrong.
Last night a City of Monash council meeting in my electorate of Oakleigh drew an audience of 250 people. It was considering a big issue about the possible sale of a prized piece of land, and the community objected to the sale. People could not fit into the hall and spilled out onto the street. Prior to that a few protests had been held on the site in question. There were musical performances and people assembled with no permits. Speeches were made from the back of a ute, rallying the community. All that activity is at risk under the laws of the previous government.
The bill before the house is about freedom of expression and of association. It is about protecting the fundamental rights that for many years were guaranteed in Victoria and in this country. It is about the right to peacefully assemble and to participate in our democratic society. I am pleased that this bill is before us today. I feel very strongly about civil liberties, and I am proud that the Labor Party protects those liberties — not just for workers and employees but for any member of our society. This is not a worker-boss issue but an issue of human rights. I am happy to support it, and I commend the bill to the house.