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Issue #1627      February 19, 2014

Napthine’s glass jaw brings on an iron fist

Quietly, quietly, in the weeks before Christmas last year the Napthine government in Victoria introduced a Bill to stop our right to freely protest. The proposed amendments to the Summary Offences Act undo more than a century of consensus that the right to protest, while sometimes inconvenient for governments, is a cornerstone of participatory democracy.

The Victorian Premier’s changes will mean that workers picketing in an industrial dispute or protesters making a statement, can now be “Moved On” by police.

The Victorian union movement is a peaceful movement, which has a strong professional relationship with police. By extending the “Move On” laws, Premier Denis Napthine is trying to make the police a political instrument, where they will be pressured to take action against issues that frustrate governments.

Right now in Victoria, paramedics are bravely standing up for the safety of the community in their EBA negotiations. Do we really want a situation where our police are forced to confront their friends and colleagues and silence their call for better services?

Draconian penalties

These new laws are supported by draconian penalties like a $720 fine for breaching a move on order. If an activist stands their ground and refuse to move on, they can be subject to a 12-month Exclusion Order. Contravention of an Exclusion Order is punishable by a custodial sentence of up to two years.

To put that in perspective, that sentence is equivalent to breaking out of prison and certain sex crimes. That’s how threatened Denis Napthine feels about Victorians having free speech.

These move on laws apply not just to an individual but may apply to groups, like an entire workforce, a union or a community organisation. The new powers also allow police to pre-emptively exercise their powers if there is a reasonable suspicion that a protest may obstruct of impede people. These powers are designed to silence movements before any action has occurred.

History is strewn with examples of brave activists standing up for their values, often under threat of persecution. And that threat will be made real in Victoria.

We may have expected that in 2014, in Victoria, our right to peaceful assembly and protest was safe. It is not and we must not stand for it.

Working Life

Next article – Beijing’s rising star in Central America

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