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Issue #1632      March 26, 2014

Vic police get powers to suppress protests

Victoria’s parliament has 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 last week. 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 offence 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 $720 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 the Greens, 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.”

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

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

“This is Joh Bjelke-Petersen stuff,’’ he added in a reference to the former right-wing Premier of Queensland.

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 and feel compelled to protect their communities against gas drilling,” he said.

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.

As the bill was being debated, a group of 20 activists were told to leave the chamber’s public gallery after they started chanting and yelling in opposition to it. Four of the protesters were arrested for refusing to move on.

RT

Next article – Trying to hoodwink Queenslanders on mining

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