30 May 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:25): I indicate from the outset that the Greens are not supportive of the Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment Bill. I have made that very clear. We are seeking to refer the bill to a parliamentary inquiry.
One of the reasons why I will move to do that, when I conclude my second reading remarks in some time, is because there has not been appropriate scrutiny of this bill. Like the Hon. Ms Game, I was quite horrified when I discovered that this bill was on the horizon. It was cooked up through talkback radio commentary. I had agreed to speak on the 891 program with David Bevan about the Residential Tenancies Act and the government's poor management of that reform piece.
I was waiting on the line to do that interview when I heard the Leader of the Opposition come on the phone and indicate that he would be introducing a private member's bill to crack down on protesters, following the peaceful protest of Extinction Rebellion. He was talking about the imposition of fines of up to $50,000 and three months in jail.
I thought to myself, 'Here we go: the typical populist Liberal Party, the typical reactionary politics that we have seen in places like New South Wales.' But I thought, 'At least that is not going to happen here in South Australia because we have a Labor government. At least that is not going to happen here because we have a Labor government, and I know a Labor government will at least stand up for workers. I know a Labor government will at least stand up for workers and at least stand up for the right to protest and at least defend the social movements that have been the lifeblood of the Labor Party.'
Well, I was wrong, because just a few minutes later I heard the Premier, the Hon. Peter Malinauskas, call in to talkback radio and indicate not that the Labor government would be dismissing this bill, as they should have done, not that they might just even look at it. No, they were on board with the reform holus-bolus. He basically said, 'Sign me up.' That is what the leader of the Labor Party had to say—a unity ticket with Labor and the Liberals to stampede the right to protest in our democracy—and it is despicable.
It is an appalling piece of legislation, not only in process but also in its form, and I will talk through the myriad issues with the bill in some detail tonight. One of the significant problems comes, of course, through that rushed process, because you had the government announcing they were going to do this off the back of a phone call that had come from David Speirs as the Leader of the Opposition.
Suddenly, this bill was tabled in the parliament and it had passed by lunchtime without any consideration of the views of the community, without even asking the views of key organisations like the Law Society, without asking the views of any of the key civic and political organisations in our state. No-one had even had the opportunity to see the bill. I had people ringing me and asking had I seen the bill. I had not even had an opportunity to view it as a member of parliament. More importantly, the community did not have an opportunity to view it because it had not been uploaded to the parliament's website. That was a pretty appalling turn of events.
I was initially disturbed when I heard about the bill. My initial reaction was, of course, to be against any effort to try to curtail the rights of protest, but as more details have come to light my concerns have intensified because it is clear that the government has just not thought this through. It is sloppy decision-making, and that is one of the reasons why the Greens want to forward this through to a parliamentary committee, the Legislative Review Committee, so that the implications can be considered.
I do not understand what urgency there is for dealing with this bill. I do not know why this has been fast-tracked when other bills have continued to languish on the Notice Paper. I have spoken at great length in this place about the crisis in our rental market, the ongoing issues that people face in our housing system—the fact that we have people sleeping in tents, sleeping in cars, and sleeping on the street—the urgency with which we require that crisis to be addressed, and yet the government's legislation has still not come to this place despite passing the lower house some time ago. Why has this been given priority? These are some of the questions that I intend to explore during the committee stage.
One of the reasons the Greens are so opposed to these changes is that our party was founded through the protest movement. We came through the Tasmanian dam protests but also through the Green Bans protest movement that Jack Mundey was pioneering in New South Wales, where workers from the Builders' Labourers Federation worked with environmentalists to prevent projects that were going to be destructive of the environment and destructive of heritage.
It is in our roots as a political party to support the right to protest. It is also in the roots of the Labor Party, which was founded on the struggle of workers and the union movement. Sadly, they are turning their back on that tradition today. Another important principle of the Greens is grassroots participatory democracy. We believe that real progress comes when enough people believe it is possible to make a difference and decide to do something about it. When good people come together, that is when we are able to change things.
The legislation that we are seeing today is an attack on the fundamental principles of democracy. The Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment Bill increases the maximum penalty of obstructing a public place from $750 to $50,000 or imprisonment for three months. This is an increase of over 60 times the original penalty, a 60-times increase in the penalty that was fast-tracked through the House of Assembly in just 22 minutes, as was remarked today at a press conference I participated in with the Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. Tammy Franks, the Hon. Frank Pangallo and key civic and political leaders.
As was remarked today: 20 minutes; it takes longer to do a load of washing. It is a pretty sad indictment on our democracy that a bill with such far-reaching consequences has been fast-tracked in this way, and that is why it needs to go to a committee. It is also worth noting that, in addition to anyone being charged under this offence, they would also be liable for the costs of a relevant entity which deals with the obstruction. That could entail police, ambulance, or any other service that is deemed relevant.
These provisions, in and of themselves, should be of great concern to South Australians. They are a kneejerk overreaction. The penalties are disproportionate with other offences, and there is widespread concern about their application. In addition to these concerns, there is also a real danger that this legislation could have a series of unintended consequences that could impact on a whole range of people who the government says were not in their contemplation, yet they expect us to simply take their word for it and to put our faith in the Commissioner of Police, who has said that the protesters—well, he would like to cut the rope on them.
It is no surprise that the Greens are not supportive of this bill. We do not believe that this offence is worthy of such a high penalty. We have grave concerns about the way this penalty could be applied to vulnerable groups, as well as people who are exercising their right to protest. In understanding the implications of this bill, I think it is important to consider it in a historical context, and in particular to consider the genesis of our democracy, so I will talk through some of the fundamental principles that underpin our democracy and illustrate the way in which this bill offends those basic principles.
The right to protest is fundamental to our democracy. By its very definition, democracy allows the people a voice in charting the course of their government and their future. Participation is not just voting on election day, although this is surely its most notable form. Equally important are public debate, town meetings and peaceful protests, among other things. Protests hold the government to account, and it is often said that a society without protest is a society without progress. Protest action makes our country and our state better.
I will say that so many of us here in this place are the beneficiaries of protest action. We rely on protests and social movements for our basic civil and political rights. Sometimes protests are inconvenient. I am sure the suffragettes were an inconvenience. I am sure those who were protesting against apartheid were an inconvenience. I am sure those who were out there rallying for the idea of five days a week and two days' rest were considered an inconvenience as well. It does not mean that we silence their right to speak out. It does not mean that a government should be able to step up and intimidate those voices that it does not like. It is very sad in our democracy when an opposition aids them in that task.
The right to protest is a make-up of three important rights: the first is the right to freedom of assembly, the second is the right to freedom of association and the third is the right to freedom of speech, which is a right that everybody is entitled to to ensure that all voices are heard and there is equality, inclusivity and freedoms for all. Protests come in a range of different forms. I will touch on some of the ones that I have been involved with over the years later in my speech and share some of my reflections on those protests and why this law could potentially impede on their capacity to operate effectively.
Protests come in many different forms, such as marches, sit-ins, boycotts and strikes from the job. It is a really important way in which people can speak truth to those who are in power. A key element is disrupting everyday activity to gain attention or to highlight injustice that is occurring. This could involve disrupting everyday routines that impact on the greater population.
By doing so, people are making a noise. They are getting the attention of people in power. That is how great changes are made. It is the parliament that makes the laws in our democracy. It is the community that leads social change, and the change is led by the people who are on the streets, people who are rattling the chains, people who are actually pushing for change. It is not made by those who sit meekly by and stay silent, as the government seems to wish those who have an axe to grind should behave in our democracy.
As seen through history and in present society, the right to protest has not only been the driving force behind many social movements that call out injustice and abuse, demanding change and hope for a better future, but in many instances it has succeeded in achieving the very outcomes that protesters have been seeking.
Let's consider the role of protests in the birth of democracy. The ancient city of Athens is widely regarded as the birthplace of democracy from which we derive our system. What is not always so widely known is that there would not have been a democracy in ancient Athens had it not been for the Athenian revolution of 508 to 507 BCE, when the people of Athens rose up, took to the streets and protested the oppressive system that governed their lives.
Prior to democracy, Athens was an oppressive oligarchy ruled by a series of aristocrats that were known as archons, who used their position of power to benefit themselves and their families at the expense of an overwhelming majority of people in the city who were not only excluded from political life but were actually struggling against extreme inequality.
By the seventh century BC, social unrest had become so widespread that Draco, for whom the term 'draconian' was named—draconian is actually a term that has been used in relation to these anti-protest laws, and with good reason. These draconian reforms ultimately failed to quell the conflict, and the ruling class eventually understood that a democratic system would quell the revolt and issued reforms that established democracy. That was the foundation of our democratic system. It came actually from protest. I am sure Draco thought the protesters were inconvenient. I am sure Draco would welcome the reforms that the Labor Party has fast-tracked through the other place and is seeking to ram through the Legislative Council; I am sure Draco would like that, but it is not in keeping with the principles of our democracy.
That brings me to the secessio plebis, which was the withdrawal of the commoners, or the secession of the plebs. That was an informal exercise of power by Rome's plebeian citizens, similar in concept to a general strike. During this plebis, the plebs, as they were known, would abandon the city en masse in a protest and leave the patrician order to themselves. Therefore, a secessio meant that all shops and workshops would shut down and commercial transactions would completely cease—so a strike, in effect, one of the early forms of strike. I know the Labor Party members in this place would be very interested in this as people who have worked through the union movement and should actually value the principles of industrial action.
This was an effective strategy in the conflict of the orders due to strength in numbers. Plebeian citizens made up the vast majority of Rome's populace and produced virtually all of their food resources, while a patrician citizen was considered a member of the minority upper class, the equivalent of the landed gentry of latter times. Authors report different numbers for how many secessions there were. Indeed, historians Cary and Scullard state that there were five between 494 BC and 287 BC.
It is worth noting that the first secession occurred in 494 BC. Beginning in 494 BC and culminating in 493 BC, the plebeian class of Rome grew increasingly unhappy with the political rule of the patrician class. At this time, the Roman city-state was governed by two consuls and the senate, which performed executive and most of the functions of the legislature in Rome. Both of these governing bodies were composed only of patricians, who were generally in a wealthy minority in the Roman populace.
In 495 BC, the plebeian populace of Rome began to raise significant concerns about debt and the circumstances that they faced were not that dissimilar to today in terms of growing inequality and the concerns that they had. After much anticipation about the consul or the senate action to address popular debt concerns, the consul Appius worsened the situation by passing unpopular decrees that reinforced the debtors by creditors. This outrage, further compounded by continued senate inaction, resulted in the plebeians seceding to the sacred mountains over three miles from the city. The plebeians then established basic defences in the area and they were waiting for the senate action.
After the secession, the senate finally took action to address the issue. Negotiating with three envoys from the plebeians, the senate finally came to a resolution. The patricians freed some of the plebs from their debts and they conceded some of their power by creating the office of the Tribune of the Plebs. This office was the first government position to be held by the plebs. I do not like the term 'pleb', but it is the term that was used at the time. At this time, the consul was held by the patricians solely and the plebeian tribunes were made personally sacrosanct during their period in office, meaning that any person who harmed them was subject to punishment by death.
This brings me to the second secession. I will be moving from ancient Rome soon, but I do think it is relevant to talk through some of the implications and understand how protest is so integral to our democracy and how enshrined it is in the fundamental elements of our democracy, and, indeed, the traditions that we take for granted today. The second secessio plebis of 449 BC was precipitated by the abuses of a commission. That was by the Latin for 10 men, and it involved demands for the restoration of the plebeian tribunes and the right to appeal, which had been suspended.
In 450 BC Rome decided to appoint the decemviri which was tasked with compiling a law code, and the commission was given a term of one year during which the officers of state were suspended. This group were also exempted from appeal, and in 400 BC they issued a set of laws but did not resign at the end of their term and instead held onto power—an abuse of their office. They killed a soldier called Claudius Crassus who had criticised them, and they tried to force a woman, Verginia, to marry him. To prevent this, her father stabbed her and cursed Crassus and this sparked riots which started when the crowd witnessed the incident and spread to the army. The crowd then went on to the Aventine Hill.
The senate eventually pressured the decemviri to resign, but they refused. So the people decided to withdraw the authority, as they had done during the first secession, and the senate blamed the decemviri for the new secession and managed to force their full resignation. The body selected two senators and they met with the people to go and try to negotiate. Those gathered demanded the restoration of both the tribunes and the right to appeal, as they had been suspended during that term. The senate eventually agreed to the terms and they returned to the Aventine Hill and they elected their tribunes.
These two men became the consuls for 449 BC and they introduced new laws which increased the power and added to the political strength of the plebeians. The Valerio-Horatian laws stipulated that the laws passed by the plebeian council were binding on all Roman citizens despite the patrician opposition to the requirement that they adhere to the universal law. However, once they were passed, these laws had to still receive the approval of the senate, and this meant that the senate had the power of veto over the laws that were passed by the plebeians.
Lex Valeria Horatia de senatus consulta ordered that the senatus consulta (and again, I am sorry about my pronunciation) had to be kept in the temple by the plebeians. This meant that the plebeian tribunes and the aediles had knowledge of these decrees, which previously were considered to be privileged knowledge, and thus the decrees entered into the public domain.
I feel it would be remiss to move on from ancient Rome without also just working through some of the issues connected with the third secession which was also, I think, quite influential in terms of some of the democratic traditions that we rely on today. As part of that process of establishing our democracy, there were 12 tables of Roman law that were established. The second placed severe restrictions on the plebeian order, including a prohibition on the intermarriage of patricians. One of the tribunes of the plebs in 445 BC proposed that this actually be repealed, and rightly so; it was a wrong law. There was opposition to Canuleius, arguing that the tribune was proposing nothing less than Rome's breakdown, and the city was then placed under external threats.
But Canuleius reminded the people of the many contributions of the Romans and pointed out that the senate had willingly given Roman citizenship to defeated enemies, even when maintaining that the marriage of patricians and plebeians would be detrimental to the state. He then proposed that, in addition to restoring the right, the law should be changed to allow this group to hold onto their consulship, and all of the other tribunes supported this measure. So eventually there was a compromise that was reached.
There is a theme that runs through here, and that is actually people testing the boundaries, people testing the boundaries of the established order, pushing back against authority.
The Hon. T.A. Franks: Pushing back against the status quo.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Hon. Tammy Franks interjects, 'Pushing back against the status quo,' and I agree. I will move away from ancient Rome and onto another protester who will be familiar to many in this place because we start each day with the Lord's Prayer, a practice which I disagree with but a practice that we adhere to. Jesus, I submit to you, Mr Acting President, was a protester. His history and story evokes strong opinions depending on who you talk to and in what context.
Protesting is often seen as being apathetic or dangerous, but Jesus Christ himself was a protester. Sometimes he did this quietly and other times he engaged in provocative or disruptive behaviour that was about challenging the established order of the day. There is no doubt that Jesus was a radical. He was somebody who was arrested, beaten and sacrificed on a cross because of his values and his words.
When he stormed into the temple courts and interrupted the proceedings by overturning tables, yelling and driving people and animals out of the room, he was condemning the greed and corruption of religious hypocrites because Jesus was a protester. This is John section 2:13-25. Jesus boldly stood up and spoke in the synagogue. Many he would speak to proclaiming things that were considered counterculture and radical, but he got people fired up and engaged.
It is worth noting as well—and I mention it because this parliament insists on beginning each day with the Lord's Prayer, which draws on Christian tradition, and it is therefore relevant I think to note that tradition—the Protestant Reformation of 1517. This reformation was a major movement within Western Christianity in 16th century Europe. It posed a religious and political challenge to the Catholic Church and in particular to papal authority arising from what was perceived to be errors, abuses or discrepancies by the Catholic Church at the time.
The Protestant Reformation began in Germany on 31 October 1517 when Martin Luther, who was a university protester and a monk, published and nailed to the door of a German church a document that he called 'Disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences: the ninety-five theses'. The document was a series of 95 ideas about Christianity that he invited people to debate with him.
These ideas were controversial because they were directly contradicting the Catholic Church's teachings. Luther's statements challenged the Catholic Church's role as an intermediary between people and God, specifically when it came to the indulgence system, which in part allowed people to purchase a certificate of pardon for the punishment of their sins. Luther argued against the practice of buying or earning forgiveness, instead believing that salvation is a gift God gives to those who have faith.
I might move ahead somewhat in my time line to a more contemporary world that is 1773, where we look at the Boston Tea Party and some of the relevant events that happened at that time. On 16 December 1773, a group of colonists destroyed a large British tea shipment in Boston Harbor. This was an act of defiance. It lit a fire that led to American independence within less than a decade and for years Americans refused to buy British tea because it included a tax that was levied on tea drinkers, a thought that repulsed the colonists who did not believe that they should be taxed without a representative sitting in the British parliament to voice their concerns.
Instead, Americans bought tea that was smuggled into the colonies, but in May 1773, the British parliament gave the East India Company a tea monopoly in America that also made British tea much cheaper than smuggled tea. It sounds very inconvenient to me. It sounds like that would have been a terrible inconvenience. I am sure people were not happy with the actions that were being taken at that time, but again this is how change happens: people push boundaries.
The animosity had been brewing among the American colonists for months and on 16 October 1773, a group of Philadelphia patriots decided to tell the British Crown that it would mount a boycott of tea, months before a similar act in Boston. The publication of a document from the meeting called the Philadelphia Resolutions triggered public protests in Boston and Philadelphia. The resolutions said:
…the claim of Parliament to tax America is, in other words, a claim of right to levy contributions on us at pleasure…the duty imposed by Parliament upon tea landed in America is a tax on the Americans, or levying contributions on them without their consent.
The resolutions also made it clear that the group thought the money raised by the tea tax through the Townshend Acts would be used by the Crown to eliminate local governments run by the colonies, and the group called on Americans to prevent a violent attack upon the liberties of America by stopping the unloading of tea shipments and any tea sales.
Three weeks later, a similar group met in Boston and they adopted what became known as the Philadelphia Resolutions, and I will quote from that document. I think it is relevant to the discussion. The Boston group said two months later in Boston:
That the sense of this town cannot be better expressed than in the words of certain judicious resolves, lately entered into by our worthy brethren, the citizens of Philadelphia.
Three ships arrived with 342 chests of tea, and this became known as the Boston Tea Party. It was a party of men who were dressed as Native Americans, and they dumped the tea chest contents into Boston Harbor after Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused the demands for the ship to depart peacefully.
In late December 1773, one ship with 698 cases of tea attempted to land in Philadelphia, but it was turned away, and a group of 6,000 Philadelphians met at the State House to discuss the situation. This was the largest mass gathering in the colonies. The tea shipments were also blocked in New York and Charleston.
The violent protests in Boston Harbor were met with a direct response from Great Britain. In April 1774, the British parliament passed the coercive acts, which punished Massachusetts for the tea party incident. The acts not only took away some of the home rule for the people of Massachusetts but it also forced all Americans to board British troops in occupied buildings. At the same time, Franklin wrote a letter in London, under an assumed name, that made it clear how he felt about parliament, adding:
…the Flame of Liberty in North America shall not be extinguished. Cruelty and Oppression and Revenge shall only serve as Oil to increase the Fire.
The other colonies saw the act as a punishment targeted at them and by September 1774 the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to determine an appropriate response. Finally, the 13 colonies gained independence from Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War of 1775 to 1783.
I want to touch on the French Revolution and some of the issues around that, but at the moment I would also like to talk through some of the issues in more contemporary times, that is, the 1800s, looking at the eight-hour working day protests of 1856. When the first convicts arrived in Australia in 1788 there was little protection for them around their working conditions. Typically, convict labourers worked from sunrise to sunset, with a part day on the Saturday. Sunday was a day of rest, but they had to attend church. This was the expectation at the time.
Labour in the colony was considered part of a punishment for the convict—they were actually seen as a free labour force. I know this will be of great interest to members of the Labor government, given their advocacy for working people and the origins of the Labor Party in the struggle of workers. The first industrial action, in 1791, was when convicts went on strike demanding daily rather than weekly food rations.
In the early years of the colony the relationship between employers and employees was governed by the British Masters and Servants Acts, and after 1828 the equivalent New South Wales legislation, which was weighted heavily in the interests of employers. Employees could be prosecuted for a range of contraventions, including drunkenness, absence without leave and inattention to duty. Penalties could range from deduction of wages to imprisonment. These were only enforceable through the courts, but since magistrates were of the same class group as the employers most cases were found in the employers' favour.
In 1822, the convict shepherd James Straighter was sentenced to 500 lashes or one month's solitary confinement and five years' servitude for inciting the servants to combine for the purposes of obliging him to raise the wages and increase the rations. On 4 February 1853, the United Operative Masons was reformed at a meeting in Clarke's Hotel, Collingwood, in Melbourne.
The union had suspended their operations because so many members had had to move to the goldfields for what was happening there. The resurrection of this operative mason society is actually viewed as the start of the eight-hour movement in Australia, because the committee was formed to confer with building contractors on the introduction of the eight-hour working day. The sentiment of that movement was captured by the slogan 'Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.'
Those principles came out of advocacy of working people. They did not come because people just sat on their hands and said, 'Can we have permission to raise concerns? Can we ask the permission of the governing class or the government of the day? We are not going to raise our concerns unless you grant us permission.' They came because people pushed hard and they pushed the boundaries.
The union put forward three main arguments for a shorter working day. The first was that Australia's harsh climate demanded reduced hours. The second was that labourers needed time to develop their social and moral condition through education. The third was that workers would be better fathers, husbands and citizens if they allowed adequate leisure time.
On 26 March 1856, which is actually my birthday—I was not around in 1856, although it feels like it sometimes—workers called a public meeting at the Queen's Theatre to make a stand on improving working conditions. At that meeting, it was announced that:
…the time has arrived when the system of 8 hours should be introduced into the building trades and that after the 21st of this month we promise to work 8 hours and no longer.
That was the pledge. Negotiations between the union and the building companies broke down and on 21 April 1856 the stonemasons, which were led by Stephens, downed tools at the construction site of the law faculty building at Melbourne University. They walked off the job. Stephens said:
…it was a burning hot day and I thought the occasion a good one, so I called upon the men to follow me to which they immediately consented.
Stonemasons from other construction sites along the way joined the march until they eventually reached the Belvedere Hotel where a banquet was organised for the event.
In the months to come, negotiations with employers and the government continued until agreement was reached. Initially, there was only a minority of workers who were involved but eventually most workers—including women and children—generally had been working longer hours for less pay and so the fight for those conditions really broadened, and that continued throughout the 19th century.
It was in 1916 that eventually you saw the Eight Hours Act that was passed in Victoria and New South Wales, but it would not be until 1948 that the commonwealth arbitration court approved a 40-hour five-day working week for all Australians—again, demonstrating the power of collective action protest movements.
One of the concerns I have with this bill is that it is impinging on the capacity of people to engage in collective organising. It is impinging on people's capacity to gather in the public space, creating an environment where this sort of activism would be very difficult. I think that is really concerning, particularly given it has been advocated by a party—the Labor Party—that has its foundations in the labour movement.
I would expect this from the Liberal Party. I would expect it from the party of John Howard, the party of Peter Dutton, the party that cracks down on dissent, but I do not expect it from the party of Gough Whitlam and the party of Don Dunstan, which actually stood with people who took action to protest and fight for better conditions and human rights and advances in civil liberties. I do not expect it from that party and that is one of the reasons why it is so disappointing and why I think it is important to put on the public record these issues so that the full implications can be properly considered.
It would be remiss of me in talking through the implications of this bill—and in rebutting some of the claims that have been made about Extinction Rebellion, for instance, and the so-called inconvenience that they cause—if I did not talk about women's suffrage. We would not have women in parliament if not for women's suffrage or the actions of the suffragettes. This was achieved in Australia after decades of peaceful yet difficult campaigning, including peaceful protests by thousands of women.
The Commonwealth Franchise Act was granted in 1902 and it granted most Australian men and women the right to vote and stand in elections. Australia was the first nation in the world to grant women these rights. You might have seen an ad in today's Adelaide Advertiser,signed by a range of key civic and political groups—the South Australian Council of Social Service, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch—pointing out that when the suffragettes wanted equal rights to men they did not just politely ask, they took to the streets and actually fought for their rights and engaged in acts of civil disobedience, so the nexus with this bill is clear.
Overseas, the fight for universal suffrage in the United Kingdom included the women's coronation procession, which was a suffragette march through England on 17 June 1911, just before King George's coronation. The march was organised by the Women's Social and Political Union. It was the largest march of its kind in Britain—40,000 people marching from Westminster to Albert Hall. That brings me to the women's suffrage parade in the United States, where more than 8,000 women gathered in Washington DC on 3 March 1913.
How inconvenient that must have been for people going about their daily lives at the time; how inconvenient and disruptive that must have been. How the government at the time would have wanted to crack down on their right to gather. Indeed, many of these women faced significant sanctions for engaging in this conduct. The huge parade was spearheaded by Alice Paul and the National American Women's Suffrage Association. It was held on 3 March 1913. Riding atop a white horse, lawyer and activist Inez Milholland led over 5,000 suffragettes up Pennsylvania Avenue.
The organisers of that parade maximised the attention on the event by strategically hosting it just one day before the inauguration of the president. Sounds very inconvenient—sounds a lot like trying to do a protest when the red carpet has been rolled out for Santos, does it not? While it took another seven years for the 19th amendment to be ratified in 1920, the women who marched on this day achieved their overarching goal and they actually reinvigorated that movement.
But it is not just the women's suffragette movement that has drawn on these traditions of civil disobedience and protest that this bill seeks to infringe on. It is people like Gandhi, and I refer to the Gandhi Salt March. That was an act of nonviolent civil disobedience that occurred in India, led by Mahatma Gandhi back on 12 March to 5 April 1930. It was a direct action campaign of tax resistance and nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly.
Salt production and distribution in India had long been a lucrative approach for the British. Through a series of laws, the Indian populace was being prevented from producing or selling salt independently. This affected the great majority of Indians, who were poor and could not afford to buy it, so protests started occurring.
In 1930, Gandhi mounted a very visible demonstration against the repressive salt tax by marching through what is now the Western Indian state of Gujarat, to the town of Dandi. He set out to do that on 12 March and was accompanied by lots of followers: a peaceful march and a peaceful protest. Hundreds of people joined that march and protest.
Again, it would have been very inconvenient, I am sure, for some of the populace, but that is the nature of peaceful protest, that is the nature of civil disobedience. Those things are sometimes inconvenient; that is the nature of it. No arrests were made, but Gandhi did continue with his protest actions. This Salt March protest was a really strong influence on some of the things we saw unfold in the United States.
When we are talking about civil disobedience, we really need to look at the fight for people of colour in the 1960s and the actions of Martin Luther King Jr, his actions of civil disobedience under American civil rights. I will go through just a few of those examples, because I think they are relevant to the discussion, and then I want to talk a bit about some of the gay rights protests we have seen over the years and touch on how this bill might impede those protests.
The American civil rights movement really started to gather strength in the 1950s and the 1960s, but all of us in this place would be familiar with the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in the area of Montgomery, Alabama. So the local community banded together to boycott the bus system in 1955. The boycott lasted more than a year and it only ended once a court order actually forced the buses to integrate. The protest thrust Martin Luther King into a significant role in leadership as a civil rights leader. Again, civil disobedience, peaceful protest, these things are part of our democracies and we rely on them to get the rights and freedoms that we all enjoy today.
I want to mention the Selma to Montgomery march in March 1965. That was when you saw, again, a bunch of peaceful activists who were led by Martin Luther King Jr trekking from Selma, Alabama, to the state's capital of Montgomery in 1965, calling for an end to the suppression of black voters. Protesters were met with violence from white supremacist groups and local authorities during that time, but it eventually led the Johnson administration to sign the voting act of 1965. These brave people put their lives on the line to advocate for their civil and political rights, and they did so engaging in peaceful protest.
I am wearing my gay rights pin—it is actually the Gay South Australia pin—in the chamber today, which I do often wear.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Simms, you are not referring to a prop, are you?
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Well, it is a—
The PRESIDENT: No, I didn't think you were.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: It is a fashion accessory, Mr President.
The PRESIDENT: And very fashionable too.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: It is often part of my outfit choice in this chamber. One of the reasons why I wear that pin is as a reminder of the struggle of LGBTI rights activists. The reality is: if not for their activism, there would be no chance of me ever being a member of parliament. As a gay man, I certainly would never have been elected to this parliament. When I was growing up I had a bit of an interest in politics, but I never thought I would ever have an opportunity to be elected because I was a gay man.
Society has changed a lot in the last 20 years, and a big part of that has been the work of activists who have taken to the streets, who have built support for queer people like myself and who have actually raised the visibility of LGBTI people. That actually started with the Stonewall riots back in 1969 when, on 28 June, in the early hours of that day in New York, police conducted a raid on a gay bar that was called the Stonewall Inn and patrons of the Stonewall fought back for days when the police became violent.
Those riots were considered a watershed event that transformed the gay liberation movement, and really that was when you saw this rising consciousness around LGBTI rights that exists still today. It really started what became the boost and the momentum for gay rights. It is worth noting some of the things that were happening around that time. During the 1960s, there was a campaign to rid New York City of gay bars, and that was in effect at the order of Mayor Robert F. Wagner. He was really concerned about the image of the city and wanted to purge the city of gay bars. Again, it was the gay community who came together to try to resist these events.
Of course, we saw these events in Australia as well with the first Mardi Gras, which happened back in 1978. There is often discussion around the 1978ers who were at that event. This was planned as an addition to the morning demonstration to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. At the time, the lesbian and gay community in San Francisco were fighting the Briggs initiative, which was a push to remove anyone who supported lesbian and gay rights from the school system. It is interesting to remark actually, fast-forward, and we are still seeing these debates with the efforts to purge gay teachers from religious schools, which enjoy protection under anti-discrimination laws in our country, but that is a discussion for another time.
The lesbian and gay community in San Francisco reached out to these communities around the world, also in Sydney, and they asked people to host these solidarity events, and that is how the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras came about. There were about 500 people participating. Not a huge number, but enough to make an impact, and that has always been the story of protest; small groups of people working together collectively. Through visibility, momentum builds.
We saw that today when we saw people protesting on the Plaza. I saw the Hon. Connie Bonaros was there and the Hon. Tammy Franks. The Hon. Frank Pangallo was there. I saw the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos was also there—people who came to hear the concerns of the protesters and show their solidarity with the protesters. There were people there from the labour movement as well who were pushing these issues, and this is how you build momentum for change.
Some people at that time—going back to the gay solidarity events and the first Mardi Gras—wanted to have a night-time celebration because many lesbian and gay men were reluctant to have a daytime event because they were concerned that if they were seen that could impact on them, they could face discrimination, and so on. The event ended up being a night-time event.
What was originally intended to be a fun event was dramatically altered because there were some brutal bashings by the police. At 10pm that night, people began to assemble at Taylor Square. Some people wore outfits. The intended route was to move down Oxford Street and to stop for a while at Riley Street and then continue on to Hyde Park. While the parade moved down Oxford Street it was festive, but then things started to turn ugly.
I should point out, and it is very relevant to this debate, the organisers of the event actually obtained a permit to assemble and march, but the police kept forcing the truck to speed up, and it became clear that the police did not want the party to happen. They were using their powers to try to intimidate the protesters. This is one of the reasons why so many in our community are alarmed about this parliament, this Labor Party, this Liberal Party, giving SAPOL more power to manage protests, giving them further legislative opportunities to intimidate and control protesters, because we know throughout history that that has happened.
Police blocked off both ends of Darlinghurst Road, and they started arresting people and throwing them into police wagons. There were 53 arrests at that time, and there were a number of bashings—significant police bashings. Indeed, on 26 June, the Sydney Morning Herald published the names, the addresses and the occupations of those people who were arrested. I mean this would have been a shocking act for those people, confronting the homophobia at that time, having their names listed in that way and being demonised.
It is interesting to go through some of these events and to reflect on the parallels we see today with the treatment of protesters. Whatever people may think of the actions of Extinction Rebellion, is it acceptable to have in our state masthead a front-page article referring to somebody who was engaged in protest as a 'loser', which I think was the term that was used? Is it acceptable for the Commissioner of Police to say, 'Let the rope drop'? I mean, really? 'Cut the rope'? Is this acceptable as a way to demonise people who seek to get issues on the agenda?
Of course, we in the Greens are supportive of the need for taking action on climate, and we recognise that activists are going to try to highlight that issue in the public square. However, whatever people may think about individual protest actions or individual tactics taken by protesters, surely we should be better than simply having these people being demonised in that way. It is worth noting, looking back at these events, that a total of 178 protesters were arrested between June and August back in 1978.
I heard the bells ringing. I hope that does not mean the other place are packing up, Mr President. How lazy!
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Simms, don't reflect on the proceedings of the other place.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Don't worry, Mr President, I have a long way to go; there is no laziness in this place, don't worry.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Simms, bring it back or I am going to have to sit you down.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: There is no laziness here; there is no laziness in this place. If only the lower house had not been so quick to discharge the bill they were dealing with—
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Simms, don't reflect on the other place.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: —after just 22 minutes, we would not have to go through this bill with such detail, but alas, there was no scrutiny of that legislation. That is why we find ourselves in this situation of needing to consider the broader historical context of this bill. Members in the other place might like to reflect on that because they did really fail in their duty—
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Simms!
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: —to appropriately interrogate the bill.
The Hon. T.A. Franks interjecting:
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: It is a relevant point.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Franks, interjections are out of order.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I will move away from the Mardi Gras, Mr President, but I think my point—
The PRESIDENT: To South Australia, or—
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: My point is—
The PRESIDENT: Are you moving to South Australia?
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I will get there, but there are a few other issues that we need to touch on before we do. I did want to mention, coming off the back of the Stonewall events and the Mardi Gras was the formation of the Gay Solidarity Group, and that led to the formation of Mardi Gras, which continues to this day. I actually went over this year and participated in the Mardi Gras with my family, a peaceful protest and an enjoyable event. Mardi Gras is still a peaceful protest. I believe a permit was obtained by the organisers, so it would not offend the sensibilities of the Labor government.
The Hon. T.A. Franks: I believe it still stops traffic and you can't get across the road.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Franks, you are interjecting again.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Hon. Tammy Franks is right; I hear her interjection. She is right. It must be very inconvenient actually for people who are there wanting to move around, stuck on the other side. The Hon. Ms Franks should not say it too loudly: maybe members will be seeking to target these sorts of protests that have been part of our lifeblood for years. That brings me, though, Mr President, to—
The PRESIDENT: South Australia, no?
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: —the Franklin Dam. I will get to South Australia.
The PRESIDENT: I am sure you will.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: These laws have been brought in in Tasmania and New South Wales as well, though, so there is a link in terms of the way in which we are seeing governments at all levels trying to target protesters. That brings me to the Franklin blockade of 1982, one that many in the Greens party will be familiar with. It was a key issue for us in the Greens party.
From 1982 to 1983, many had derided the Greens as being a party of protest, but our political party has its roots in some of those protests. In 1978, the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission announced their intention for the Franklin River for hydroelectricity, proposing two dam sites: the Gordon, below Franklin Dam, which was a few kilometres below the Franklin-Gordon confluence; and Dam 2, which was the end of Mount McCall Track.
Both of the major parties in Tasmania, the Liberals then and the Labor Party, backed at least two dams that would have flooded a large region of the Franklin catchment, but they also resulted in the destruction of habitat for endangered species and the loss of important Aboriginal rock art that was later discovered in 1981.
Support for the 'no dams' campaign exploded across the country in 1982 and protest action spread to mainland states. It was then that Bob Brown—who went on to become leader of the Greens—and other members of the Wilderness Society travelled to the country to try to raise awareness. Volunteers from the society were encouraging people Australia-wide to make the Franklin Dam a federal issue, for people to think about when they were voting in federal elections. Many people wrote 'no dams' on their ballot papers that year.
Using every means at their disposal, conservationists lobbied both influential figures and the public to become more involved in the Franklin Dam. On 14 December 1982, action against the dam moved into a new phase. Led by Bob Brown and members of the Wilderness Society, a blockade of the Franklin began at Warners Landing, drawing about 2,500 people between December 1982 and March 1983.
The blockade was designed to disrupt clearing and building works, and violent conflict occurred between dam supporters, construction workers and protesters. About 1,400 people were arrested and jailed, including members of the federal and state parliaments as well as Bob Brown. That conservation movement gained a victory when a member of the House of Assembly in the seat of Denison, Norm Sanders, resigned to stand for the Australian Senate. In a countback of votes for his seat, Bob was elected to replace him.
After its election, the Hawke government, spurred on by the dam protesters, introduced new regulations under national parks and wildlife conservation and they passed the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 that protected the Franklin Dam, which was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in December 1982. Protests work, Mr President. There is a reason why people still engage in peaceful protest to bring about change. As I said before, it is the parliament that makes the laws, but it is the community that drives the social change. People actually getting out there and highlighting the issues, that is how you bring impetus to an issue.
Despite this, the Tasmanian government continued to work to dam the Franklin, insisting that the federal government had no right to involve itself in state business. In May 1983, the federal government took the Tasmanian government to the High Court to force them to stop the work, and they were successful and eventually the project was stopped. But it was those protesters who lit that fire, so to speak. The movement saved a key wilderness area in Tasmania and created a political precedent for raising issues of environmental concern in parliaments.
There had, of course, been environmental pressures happening in 1972 with the formation of the United Tasmania group, which was a precursor to the Greens party, but the Franklin Dam was the thing that really led to that greater awareness, and it was involving those environmental groups that achieved that.
Mr President, you certainly were interested, I think, in issues to do with South Australia, and so I may, for your benefit, reference a document that has been prepared by the government of South Australia, the History Trust of South Australia, that addresses some of the issues that will be of interest to you around the history of protests in our state. I will draw on a few of those sections from the document, and I thank you for drawing my attention to it.
Working conditions in the early days of colonisation of Australia were, as we know, not like they are now. One of the things that is really interesting—and I am reading excerpts from this report—is that South Australia became the first territory in the British Empire, including Britain, to legalise trade unions, with the formation of the Trade Unions Act in 1876. Again, this should be a matter that is of great interest to members of the Labor Party in this place.
Unions continue to play a vital role in driving social change and fighting for better conditions for working people in our state. It is very interesting to note that SA Unions are against the bill that the government is putting forward because they recognise that it impedes their right to gather and to organise and to protest and to achieve benefits for working people as we have seen throughout history.
It is also worth noting the formation of the Adelaide Women's Liberation Movement in 1968 by women who were frustrated by the male domination they experienced in labour and anti-war movements. This group published a women's liberation manifesto in 1973 and opened the Women's Liberation Centre at Bloor House. This group played an active role in establishing women's health centres; the Adelaide Rape Crisis Centre; the Working Women's Centre, which endures today; the Women's Studies Resource Centre; and the women's studies program at Adelaide and Flinders universities.
That is a snapshot of some of the issues. It would be remiss of me, though, in talking about this if I did not highlight some of the more recent protests that we have seen here in our state. I remember that in 2003 there were huge anti-war demonstrations that we saw on the streets of Adelaide, when 100,000 people from a cross-section of our community took to the streets to protest the Howard government's illegal war on Iraq. It was a really powerful thing. I note some of the media reports at the time. I note an article from Green Left weekly, where it was observed at the time, and I quote from the article, that:
Many more people could not get into the city because buses, trains and trams were packed and were not stopping at stations or bus stops.
Sarah Hanson, who I now know as Senator Hanson-Young, was Adelaide University Student Union President and she told the crowd at the time that the war was about advancing US foreign interests and she was absolutely right on that. One of the things that is interesting, though, is it did stop traffic. It was disruptive. That is the nature of protest in our democracy, and it is that principle that is being infringed by the bill we are debating today.
I should also highlight some of the history of protest during the 1970s. I was not around at that time. Some members here may have been involved in the student protests during the 1970s. The one that I am most familiar with is the one at Flinders University that was in, I believe, 1972, where there was a sit-in to try to get the university administration to consider engaging students in developing the curriculum. Students today still have the opportunity to be consulted on what the curriculum should be on their campus.
I was involved in an occupation myself at Flinders University in 2004. It was a sit-in. I was involved, I should say, with many members of this parliament, who were also involved in that protest at that time and similar protests at other campuses. The Howard government at the time had sought to deregulate university fees. They passed legislation in the federal parliament that allowed universities to charge whatever they wanted for university fees. As student activists, we said, 'We are going to try to disrupt the meeting of the university council so they actually need to consider the views of students.'
We did stage a mass sit-in, a student occupation. We prevented the meeting from going ahead. I was part of the Flinders University education action collective that was involved in organising those demonstrations at the time. We organised similar demonstrations on different campuses around the state at the time to try to get the universities to engage with students—to cause some disruption but to force them to actually come to the negotiation table with students, to engage with them around their fees and what that actually meant for their experience at university.
It does really concern me, the chilling effect that these draconian laws could have on student protest, because students have been a key part of protest movements not just in our state but right across the country. Students were a big part of the anti-apartheid movement. They have been a really big part of protest action over many years and it does concern me some of the impacts that this might have.
I would like to come back to some of the history of protest a little bit later in my concluding remarks, but I think it would be good to now turn my attention to the precise provisions of the bill and some of the concerns that we have, and not just the Greens but that have been raised by a range of other organisations.
As I mentioned in my introductory remarks, this bill was introduced really as a kneejerk reaction to a protest that occurred not even two weeks ago, when a resident of South Australia, Meme Thorne, was arrested for abseiling from the Morphett Street Bridge. Ms Thorne was arrested and she was charged with disturbing the peace and obstructing a public space. Under the existing Summary Offences Act 1953, a person who disturbs the public peace can be sentenced to a maximum penalty of $1,250 or imprisonment for three months. A person who obstructs a public place can see a maximum penalty of $750.
After Ms Thorne's release on bail, The Advertiser on 17 May reported that 'release was granted over the objections of police prosecutor Andrew McCracken, who said Ms Thorne's antics warranted a prison sentence'. This bill proposes to introduce a higher penalty and three months' imprisonment for obstructing a public space.
I will turn my attention to the issue of imprisonment first and the concerns that the Greens have in that regard. In the case of the bill we are responding to, Ms Thorne had already been charged with an offence that carries the potential for three months' imprisonment. While that is a matter for the courts to determine, it shows the police have a series of offences that are already at their disposal under the Summary Offences Act that could carry various penalties, including a period of imprisonment. It is therefore unnecessary to introduce new options for imprisonment for obstruction of a public place if the offence of disturbance of the public peace already carries such a penalty and is already potentially in use.
I do not understand why the government needs to increase the penalties. I find the fact that the penalties have been increased by more than 60 times absurd. Given there are other avenues available under the Summary Offences Act, I do not understand the urgency of the government in pursuing this. That is something I intend to raise in the committee stage as part of the series of questions I have that I will put to the Attorney.
If we turn our minds to the penalty increase, it is worth considering whether a penalty of $50,000 fits the offence of obstructing the peace. If we consider the other offences and their penalties, we do consider how disproportionate that is. I did have a look through the Summary Offences Act, and I considered some of the penalties. I will go through them because I think it is relevant to note where this sits in the broader act and how out of step it is. I will go through the sections of the Summary Offences Act and the potential penalties for you so that you can see the inconsistency and the disproportionality of the penalty that is being proposed.
I reference the brief penalty summary, Summary Offences Act 1953. If you look at the description of the offence, section 6(2) refers to hindering or resisting police. That carries a penalty of $2,500 or six months in jail; violent disorder, 6A, a $10,000 fine or two years in jail; disorderly/offensive behaviour, $1,250 or three months' imprisonment; fight in a public place, $1,250 or three months' imprisonment; offensive language, $1,250 fine or three months' imprisonment; carrying an offensive weapon, $2,500 fine or six months' imprisonment; carrying an offensive weapon in the vicinity of a licensed premises, $10,000 or two years' imprisonment; manufacture, supply or possess a dangerous article, section 21C(2), $7,500 as the maximum penalty or 18 months' imprisonment.
For being unlawfully on premises (primary production premises), section 17(a1), the basic offence is a $5,000 fine or six months' imprisonment, or the aggravated offence is a $10,000 fine or 12 months' imprisonment. Unlawfully being on premises, section 17(1), where the unlawful purpose is an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or more, the penalty is two years, or for any other case the penalty is a $2,500 fine or six months' imprisonment.
What about trespassing on premises? That is a $5,000 fine or six months in prison. What about disturbance of farm animals? That is a fine of $2,500 or six months' imprisonment. Unlawfully possessing or transporting liquor for sale: if you commit a first offence, it is a $20,000 fine; a second offence is a $40,000 fine. If you unlawfully possess or transport that liquor for sale, a first offence is $20,000 while the second is $40,000.
As to commercial benefits from unlawful possession and how those are derived, the first offence is $20,000 and the second is $40,000. For supply of liquor in certain areas, the first offence is $20,000, the second offence is $40,000; indecent language, a $250 fine; indecent behaviour, $1,250 or three months' jail; grossly indecent behaviour, $2,500 or six months' jail; urinating in a public place, $250 fine or an $80 expiation fee; humiliating or degrading filming, one year in prison; distribute invasive image, a $20,000 fine or four years' imprisonment if the person is under the age of 17, or in any other case it is a $10,000 fine or two years' imprisonment; pass a valueless cheque, a $10,000 fine or two years' imprisonment; and unlawful possession of goods suspected of being stolen, a $10,000 fine or two years' imprisonment.
If you steal a dog you could be fined $50,000 or spend two years in prison. I think this is a reform that was brought in recently, following the election. If you throw a missile with an intent to injure, annoy, frighten or damage, it is two years' imprisonment, or if it is reckless it is one year. If you make a false report to police, it is a $10,000 fine or potentially two years' imprisonment. Creating a false belief: a $10,000 fine or two years' imprisonment. What if you remain in or re-enter declared public precincts? Well, that is a $1,250 fine. Then, of course, there are the more serious offences that carry much more significant penalties.
What strikes me, though, looking at that, is just how disproportionate the penalties are that have been proposed in this case, they are really out of step with some of the other provisions in the act. The Premier in the other place, when he introduced this bill into the lower house and it was skyrocketed through, described this bill as creating a strong deterrent for similar actions as were seen two weeks ago.
The bizarre thing is that we have seen the most impactful changes. Indeed, I think I have demonstrated that through some of the cases that I referred to earlier—and I will go back and highlight others further down the track. Some of those I have talked about so far demonstrate that, actually, some of the most impactful changes in our democracy have come from acts of civil disobedience much more extreme than what we have seen, much more extreme than just simply blocking off a lane of traffic.
Do we really want to deter South Australians from engaging in something that is so integral to our democracy? Are we so afraid of the public in this parliament that we want to control their behaviour through such extreme penalties? What is the government afraid of? Why are they trying to intimidate these protesters?
It seems to me that what we saw the other week when we saw these climate protesters, who are calling out the fossil fuel companies, drawing attention to the acts of the fossil fuel companies and the gas conference that was occurring, was a group that is actually highlighting what is wrong with our democratic system—a system that is far too responsive to the needs of the big fossil fuel industry and not listening to the needs of everyday people. That was what the protesters were seeking to call out. This bill is just about shooting the messenger and demonising those who are actually trying to highlight what is wrong with our political system.
I also want to touch on some of the problems that we have with the changes to the terminology in the bill. There are some issues with the combination of terms and some of the potential unintended consequences that may flow. Firstly, clause 2 of the bill amends section 58 to remove the word 'wilfully' so it would then read:
(1) Subject to subsection (2), a person who intentionally or recklessly engages in conduct that obstructs the free passage of a public place is guilty of an offence.
That change of language in this clause increases the offence to consider not just the intent of the person but also the recklessness of the obstruction.
Proposed new subsection (1a) introduces the words 'directly or indirectly' to the offence. The combination of the word 'reckless' with 'indirectly' could have consequences that we have not yet fully understood. There are myriad circumstances that could be collected within the combination of these two words in the offence. This is some of the stuff that I think is really alarming about this bill, because those implications have not been properly thought through.
The Hon. Connie Bonaros and I have some amendments that will seek to ameliorate some of these problems and provide greater clarity in terms of the interpretation of the bill, but it is still so fundamentally flawed that we will not be in a position to support the bill even if those amendments are successful. But we will advance them nonetheless, because the Greens believe we do have a responsibility to try to improve legislation, even when the legislation is as bad as the kind that the government and opposition are seeking to advance in this place today.
To look at some of the examples of some of the issues that are potentially wrong with this bill, you have homeless people who are sleeping on the street who could be moved on from a major sporting event. They could be using this offence. You have people who are attending live music, queueing outside a venue on the street, who could be potentially captured. This is the legal advice that we have seen—young people gathering in a group outside the local supermarket in a regional town.
As someone who has been a long-term advocate for people who are homeless, I am concerned that we could potentially see this bill being used, as we have seen in other places around the world, where if we are hosting a major event or activity SAPOL is given additional powers to move people on or, even if they do not use those powers, that they could be a disincentive for people being on the public space. That really worries me.
I am also worried about the potential for young people who might gather to be impacted as well. We have often seen young people demonised in public discourse. When people see a group of young people congregating, there is often this narrative that they are up to no good. There could be a desire by police to move those people on and to demonise those people, and because the bill is so broad I am not given any assurance from the government that that potential will not happen. It just seems to be, 'Oh, well, we trust the police.'
While I understand why that would be a position the government would take, I do not think we can have a bill that is so broad that it gives the police such sweeping powers in our democracy. There are also some significant issues around the definition of a public place, because that is also really broad, much broader than some of the context that people have talked about in the media commentary around this where people have said, 'This is just applying to blocking off a lane of traffic; people who are really doing the wrong thing, disrupting a major event.' That has been the narrative. But actually, 'public place' is much broader than simply closing off a lane of traffic. It includes, and I quote from the act:
(a) a place to which free access is permitted to the public, with the express or tacit consent of the owner or occupier of that place; and
(b) a place to which the public are admitted on payment of money, the test of admittance being the payment of money only; and
(c) a road, street, footway, court, alley or thoroughfare which the public are allowed to use, notwithstanding that that road, street, footway, court, alley or thoroughfare is on private property.
What does that mean in practice? What spaces are we talking about? This means potentially you could be charged with an offence that carries a maximum penalty of $50,000 or three months' imprisonment if you are blocking public space in any of these places: universities, music festivals, theatres, food courts, shopping centres or foyers of buildings.
I mentioned the student sit-in activities that I was involved in back when I was at university as part of peaceful protest. They would certainly fall within the remit of this legislation and this will have a very chilling effect on our universities as students seek to protest myriad issues: climate crisis but also the links that our universities have with weapon companies like Saab and so on. It is really concerning to me to see the sweeping changes being proposed here without any consideration by the opposition at all. They have just facilitated this through the lower house and have given a very short speech with very little explanation or consideration of the implications of the bill.
There is the government who have not thought through the implications and have not provided any explanation around how these things will work in practice. These are the things that the Greens will explore in the committee stage. When people go into these places, is it reasonable for them to think that they could be charged with obstructing—either directly or indirectly—a public place and that they could be found to be guilty of this?
The government will argue—and I know that they have said this in their commentary—that this offence has always been there. It does not capture anyone it did not capture before. That is not the case. The word 'indirect' when paired with the term 'reckless' means this definition of public space could capture people that the previous bill did not include. Add to that a changed definition along with a much more extreme penalty and there is a real recipe for disaster.
That is not the only issue. You are also required, potentially, to pay for the cost of any action taken by a relevant entity in response to your obstruction of the public space, bearing in mind this is not just a protest action: this is any obstruction of public space. In the bill, a 'relevant entity' is defined as SA Police, an emergency service organisation, or any body or person prescribed by the organisations. If you directly or indirectly cause the obstruction, you will not only have to pay the penalty, but you will have to pay whatever response someone else deems necessary.
Let's say you are one person who obstructs a kerb on the edge of the road. That is beyond your control. If the police decide for the safety of the public they must close all the lanes on the road and it takes six police vehicles and numerous officers along with an ambulance, you could be liable for thousands and thousands of dollars. Even worse, if you look at the note under subsection (1a), you are not only responsible for the obstruction that you have caused but you are also indirectly responsible for the obstruction caused by the relevant entity.
While there is a reasonableness test in the clause about the cost that you will be required to pay, you are not in control of the costs of response even though you are liable for it. It is a really poor state of affairs when you are liable for something that is totally out of your control. This puts all of the power in the other party and not the individual who is subject to these laws.
The definition of a 'relevant entity' is open to the whims of the government of the day. Under the bill it is defined as SA Police, an emergency services organisation, or—and this is one of the sections I think is really concerning—a person or body prescribed by the regulations. One can only imagine what the government may do with those regulations. Thankfully, they would be disallowable by the parliament, but this could end up being a rather broad definition. People could be required to pay the costs to whatever this relevant entity is, and the sum the potential offender is now liable for could skyrocket to be totally disproportionate to the crime of obstruction.
What is considered a 'reasonable cost'? The bill allows for a reasonable cost or expense to be recovered from the offender. If this bill passes in this place that will be for the courts to determine; however, it is concerning they are even considering asking offenders to pay that cost, let alone the onus of proof being shifted in this way.
Once the costs have been incurred in dealing with the offence, the bill requires a certificate to be signed by the chief officer to certify the cost of dealing with that. We have been advised that the proposed subsection (1c) is a reverse onus of proof, so the defendant would then have to prove that the costs or expenses were not incurred or were unreasonably incurred.
What this law is actually asking—and again, I will explore this further with the Attorney in the committee stage—from my understanding of this bill, is it is now asking the defendant to go further, to prove that a service over which they have no control did not incur those expenses. Given the difficulty of obtaining such proof this is a complicated provision that would put the defendant on the back foot; we are expecting the defendant to do the work, to find out how much it might cost to hire a cherry picker to cut someone down, or whatever it might be.
Let's consider, in practical terms, how this bill—
The Hon. T.A. Franks interjecting:
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Hon. Tammy Franks asks a very important question—
The PRESIDENT: Order, the Hon. Ms Franks! Interjections are out of order.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: It is a very good point the Hon. Ms Franks raises and one I think we should explore in the committee stage, one of the numerous scenarios we can present to the Attorney for his counsel, because as chief law officer I expect he has turned his mind to these scenarios, because this is how the bill is going to play out in the real world.
Let us consider how this bill could affect freedom of speech and assembly. The Law Society has provided some information to the Attorney-General and, indeed, to members of parliament, relating to that:
Any reassessment of section 58 of the act must give appropriate weight to the right to protest and the potential for chilling implications for freedom of association and political communication. It is difficult to conceive that such consideration was given in the 24 hours between announcement and passage of the bill.
Of course; that is a statement I think every member of the community would agree with. How could consideration of these issues have been given, given that the bill was literally announced and passed on the same day through the other place? However, there has been some passage of time now, and I would expect that the Attorney has turned his mind to these scenarios and will be able to provide clarity in this place.
According to the political dictionary, a 'chilling effect' is a situation in which rights are restricted because of indirect political pressure or overboard legislation. It is frequently used to describe ways in which free speech is impacted by our institutions or those who hold power.
Sitting suspended from 17:59 to 19:47.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I thought it might be helpful, given that we have just had a recess, to do a brief recap of some of the issues I covered prior to the dinner break, just to refresh members' memories. Prior to the dinner break I moved a motion on behalf of the Greens to refer this bill off to a committee, the Legislative Review Committee, but I also suggested and talked through at length some of the concerns the Greens have with the process that has been adopted in the lower house, which really was totally inappropriate for a bill of this scope and implication.
Then I talked about how that contradicted some of the democratic principles that started in ancient Rome, but then have been cemented through protest action through the ages. I talked about some of the examples of those acts of civil disobedience—the Stonewall riots, the Mardi Gras, I talked about the Franklin Dam and then, at your request Mr President, I spoke about some of the local South Australian matters, which I knew you were particularly interested in. Then I worked through some of the specific provisions of the bill the Greens had concerns with. I was at the point before the break of going through some of the concerns of the Law Society. I will return to those now. In its submission, the Law Society noted that:
Any reassessment of section 58 of the Act must give appropriate weight to the right to protest and the potential for chilling implications for freedom of association and political communication. It is difficult to conceive that such consideration was given in the 24 hours between announcement and passage of the Bill.
I agree with that. That is certainly the view of the Greens. There was inadequate consideration of those issues.
I have talked a lot about my concern about this bill having a chilling effect on protest, and a chilling effect on democracy itself. I thought, therefore, it might be useful to examine what I mean when I talk about a chilling effect, and how that operates on the ground when we are looking at protest. According to Political Dictionary:
A 'chilling effect' is a situation in which rights are restricted…because of indirect political pressure or overbroad legislation.
Is it ringing any alarm bells for you, Mr President? I submit to you that this is legislation that is overbroad. It does potentially create a situation where someone's rights could be restricted because of indirect political pressure being applied by the government. It is frequently used to describe ways in which free speech is impacted by our institutions or by power. I have not heard the government give us a compelling reason to stifle freedom of speech and public assembly within this bill.
On the federal government's Attorney-General's website, it states, and I quote from that document—it is publicly available, but it would be useful to record it for the benefits of Hansard:
The right to peaceful assembly protects the rights of individuals and groups to meet for a common purpose or in order to exchange ideas and information, to express their views publicly and to hold a peaceful protest. The right extends to all gatherings for peaceful purposes, regardless of the degree of public support for the purpose of the gathering.
Regardless of the degree of public support for the purpose of the gathering. I think that is a really important point to make because we have heard a lot of media commentary, people really vilifying the Extinction Rebellion group and saying they do not agree with their actions. What if, though, this were relating to a protest that they do agree with? That is actually what would happen. It is not just a law to deal with the actions of one particular protest group; it is one that affects them all, but not just the right to protest. It impacts on any public assembly.
We need to address the real concern that these proposed laws may discourage individuals from exercising their right to protest due to fear of severe consequences, thereby stifling dissent and suppressing democratic participation itself. Surely this is not the intention of this Labor government. If so, that would be a terrible indictment on the Labor Party indeed. If it is not their intention, then it is concerning that they have not properly considered the implications that can flow from this bill.
As I indicated earlier, the history of protest has shown us that civil disobedience is crucial to advancing social change, social change that many of us here in this chamber would be the beneficiaries of. By introducing a jail sentence for people who are exercising their democratic right, this bill is likely to have a chilling effect on peaceful assembly here in this state. There are also some human rights considerations here. The right to publicly assemble and the right to participate in public life have both not been given sufficient consideration in the other place, and so I do want to tease those issues out a little bit more because they were not addressed in the lower house when this bill was rammed through in lightning speed.
Queensland, Victoria and the ACT have human rights acts or charters. The Victorian human rights charter protects the right to gather for a common purpose or to pursue common goals, and on their website, under the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission says: 'Democracy relies on people being able to gather peacefully to share their beliefs and opinions.'
Sadly, we do not have a sufficient human rights framework here in South Australia, and I will say I think that is very concerning. I was very concerned to hear the comments of the Leader of the Opposition, when he implied that it is some sort of amazing boon to live in a society where your head is not cut off if you engage in peaceful protest. That is a very low bar to apply to human rights. I thought that was an absurd comment for him to make, and I was very disappointed that when I asked the Attorney-General about it in question time today he did not disavow those comments.
I am sure he does not share them, but he did not disavow those comments, and I thought that was disappointing because it was a ridiculous thing for the Leader of the Opposition to say. But it does point, I think, to a culture of disrespect for human rights in our state, and this law is part of that culture. That is why I think a human rights charter would be a very beneficial addition. I will talk about that tomorrow in private members' time because I have a motion before this house to talk about it then. I am sure you will look forward to that. I will be working on it overnight and, yes, it will be good.
In Queensland, Victoria and the ACT, this bill would have come under scrutiny within the context of a human rights framework. It is a problem that we do not have any mechanism to address those issues in South Australia. Ideally, and this is one of the reasons why I want this to go to the Legislative Review Committee, what you would do is refer this bill to the committee and then say, 'Let's consider all the human rights implications, the compliance with other bills and the like.' Indeed, should that motion succeed today, then there is an opportunity to consider that.
One of the questions I would ask myself, and indeed you may be asking yourself as well, Mr President, is: how did we find ourselves here? How did we get here? Why are we here? Well, really, it is a time to reflect on the process that has led us here to this chamber and consider whether this is good governance or best practice for our democracy.
On 18 May this year, these events were spurred by talkback radio and they began with the Leader of the Opposition, David Speirs, appearing on FIVEaa at 8am the day after Ms Thorne was arrested and the day there was a civil action in Flinders Street protesting against the use of fossil fuels in relation to the damage of climate. On radio, the Leader of the Opposition said, and I will quote because I think it is useful to understand the intention of the bill to go back to what the architect of the bill said at the time when he fomented the idea on talkback radio. He said:
Well, the penalties are pathetic and thanks for having me…I think your listeners would be on the same page as me with this one. $750 is all that Meme will have to pay and I think you [have to] build that into your disruption plan, really. You can whip around your mates and say, 'I'm going to go and clog up the city and cause some chaos for the cause of climate change' and that may be a worthy cause [for some people] but it is…not in the minds of others.
He then continues, when asked if it was possible for him to bring an influence to the issue, 'Certainly is.' Well, he was right about that. He has had a great deal of influence as the ghost writer for the Hon. Peter Malinauskas, the Premier of South Australia. He has come up with this bill, he is the architect of this bill and he has suggested this idea to him, and the Hon. Peter Malinauskas has just taken the idea up. He said in his response:
Certainly, we've drafted that amendment, it was quite a simple one. Josh Teague, my shadow attorney-general has drafted an amendment to section 58 of the act, Obstruction of Public Places, and that's where the fine currently sits at $750.00. We want to lift it to $50,000 or 3 months' imprisonment.
Three months' imprisonment. He continued:
Now, that sounds like a huge leap, but we think we need to give the judiciary the flexibility to be able to take into consideration really serious obstruction.
They are the Leader of the Opposition's words, not mine. I think it is very useful to get the background because it informs the government's thinking on the bill, and he continued:
…judges need to have greater equipment in their toolkit, so to speak, when looking at what they can hand down, so we've drafted this amendment and I hope the Labor Party supports it. I get on with Peter Malinauskas [the Hon. Peter Malinauskas, the Premier of South Australia] pretty well. I hope that he takes a pragmatic approach to this. If he supports it and I support it [we can roll it] through the parliament.
The Leader of the Opposition is a soothsayer. I suspect when he made those comments he did not anticipate that he would find such compliance with the Labor Party. He then continued to make some comments about Ms Thorne, which I think are totally inappropriate, where he said:
There's no doubt about that, and that woman, Meme from Willunga, she looked belligerently into the camera…[and said], 'I'd do it again' because I'm sure she's got, [she's the kind] of person that would be sitting…on…superannuation. I don't know her specific circumstances, but she looks like that person to me, and let me tell you, she looks like that person to most of your listeners and it's about time someone like her was slapped with a $20,000 fine so she thinks about it twice before she does it again.
That is the nature of political debate in our state. That is the political debate that has informed this bill that has been rushed through this parliament. What an insulting way to refer to a constituent and what an inappropriate way to refer to someone who is exercising their democratic right and doing so because they have an issue of concern to them—that is, the future of our planet.
It goes on. At 8.45 the same morning, 45 minutes later, the Premier appears on the same radio station to comment on the opposition's position, and he says, and I quote:
I haven’t had a chance to read the transcript or hear what the Leader of the Opposition said...but...if there is an opportunity for the Parliament to act quickly...I think we should, I’ve spoken to the Attorney-General this morning and asked him to draft up a piece of legislation to see if we can’t get it into the Parliament today to try to respond to this because the idea that people would abuse what is...sacrosanct...in our State to enjoy peaceful protest but then take it beyond that to...disrupt others...is something we won’t abide by and I think there’s an opportunity...for bipartisanship with the Opposition to see if Parliament can’t respond too quickly. We’re on the case and we’ll see what we can get through to Parliament today...
Well, they were on the case. If only the Labor and Liberal parties were willing to work together to deal with the climate crisis or the cost-of-living crisis or the housing crisis or the myriad other challenges we face, rather than just working together to ram through anti-protest laws like this. I do not know what the rush was. I can only imagine that this was some attempt to try to control the media narrative for the day. If that is the case, then I think that is very disappointing.
The conversation continued on ABC radio. I will quote again from the Leader of the Opposition because, again, I think it is very useful to understand what his interpretation was and why he put the idea forward—because it is his idea. The Leader of the Opposition said:
Magistrates and judges in this State, all they’ve got in...their toolkit are fines, it’s $750 to throw at these people and I am proposing an amendment to the Summary Offences Act for Obstruct of Conduct to increase that $750 to $50,000 or 3 months imprisonment.
It is actually not correct. Whilst it is true that magistrates can only apply a maximum penalty of $750 for obstructing a public place, there are a number of offences under the Summary Offences Act that are used to charge people who conduct civil disobedience. In the case of Ms Thorne, she was in fact charged with two charges; I understand these to be obstructing public space and disturbance of the peace. So it is incorrect to say that there are not other options available to magistrates. Again, this leads me to question: what is the urgency with this bill? Why not refer it to committee? Why not consider the implications? To go back to breakfast radio, the Leader of the Opposition continued:
The Act doesn’t cut it today and I’m hoping for bipartisan support in this one or something that we can negotiate with the Government…
The ABC then took a call from the Hon. Peter Malinauskas, Premier of South Australia, who again affirmed that he was wanting to rush some legislation through. He said:
I think the leader of the Opposition is right. I think there’s an opportunity here for the Parliament to respond to this action quickly and we can’t have a situation where…people...are...just trying to serve the community are having their lives and their incomes...disrupted through the acts of people who abuse the right to protest...I’ve asked the Attorney-General this morning to work with the Opposition to draft up a piece of legislation that...we can get into the Parliament today...
The Premier was then asked about the proposed changes to penalties, and he replied:
I think it’s 750 [dollars] going to 50,000 and then up to three months imprisonment. I think there’s a few different other areas that we should contemplate in law reform in this regard but the measure the Opposition is proposing this morning I think has merit and I think it’s an opportunity for the Parliament to respond to quickly...
The Premier then went on to make it clear that he believes there is a distinction between some appropriate protests and some that are inappropriate. He said:
There is a fundamental difference between someone protesting at Parliament, peacefully, with placards and articulating their beliefs...absolutely appropriate—
versus people closing off a lane of traffic. That takes us to 9am of that morning. While radio continued on the issue throughout the day, the government were racing behind the scenes, it seems, to deliver on their promise of rushing something through the parliament on that very same day. By 12.05 the same day (18 May), standing orders in the other place were suspended to enable the introduction of a bill without notice and passage of all stages without delay.
Three members gave second reading speeches: the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow attorney-general. By 12.26, the bill went straight through the committee stage and had passed the House of Assembly by 12.27. There were no questions at the committee stage at all—no questions, no scrutiny.
Let's do the maths on this. At 8am, the Leader of the Opposition proposes a policy. By 12.25pm, it has been supported by the government and the opposition and legislation has been introduced and passed through one house of parliament—four hours and 27 minutes, with just 22 minutes of parliamentary debate for a wideranging law that could have serious implications for our state.
When the Leader of the Opposition said he wanted to work together with the government, I am sure that was not what he was expecting. He must have been clapping his hands when the Hon. Peter Malinauskas, the Premier of South Australia, came to him and said, 'Let's just get this through and make it happen at lightning speed.'
Not only was there no parliamentary scrutiny but as members of the upper house we did not even see the legislation until it was tabled in this place and here we are, just seven days later, with the government and the opposition working together to get it through this place. It is very good that we have the crossbench here to raise the issues through the committee stage, to talk about the issues through the second reading stage and to really ventilate the issues that have been raised with us in the broader community.
In addition to the lack of parliamentary scrutiny, I think it is important to highlight the fact that the community itself, the voting public, had no opportunity to see the bill until it actually passed. There was no time for stakeholders to consider the bill, to form a position or to provide any feedback to members of parliament.
This is an issue that I would really like to take up in the committee stage, to understand who the Attorney-General engaged with in developing the bill and what the consultation process was in the four hours between when it was announced that morning on talkback radio and when it was passed in the House of Assembly, because I think that is very important for us to understand.
Why was the government trying to rush it through so quickly? Questions have been raised by human rights law professionals about the constitutionality of this bill, and again that is a question I intend to explore in the committee stage. In a letter from the Human Rights Law Centre dated 24 May 2023, concerns were raised, and I quote from their document. The concerns include that the bill could be:
…unconstitutional and struck down by the High Court as an impermissible burden on the implied freedom of political communication. The Human Rights Law Centre has been involved in successful legal challenges to anti-protest laws in other jurisdictions. We consider it highly likely that the Bill would be challenged in the High Court given the significant chilling effect it would have on advocacy and democratic participation across the state.
The letter from the Human Rights Law Centre also claims that there could be implications for international human rights law. The letter states:
We are concerned that the Bill is inconsistent with well-established principles of international human rights law. Australia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and South Australia must act consistently with our international legal obligations under the ICCPR. Article 21 requires protection of the right to peaceful assembly and article 25 recognises everyone's right to take part in public affairs. The breadth of the Bill and the 60-fold increase in penalties means the Bill unreasonably and disproportionately limits both.
These are serious concerns. They need to be considered by a parliamentary committee like the Legislative Review Committee. That is the appropriate body that this parliament could charge with the responsibility to consider these issues. If you are in any doubt about that, Mr President, I think it would be helpful for me to highlight the terms of reference of the committee.
The PRESIDENT: No, I am not in any doubt. It is okay.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: You may not be, Mr President, but others may be, and to inform their consideration I think it is useful to hear what the terms of reference are of the Legislative Review Committee. The terms of reference include to inquire into, consider and report to the parliament on the following matters referred to the committee under the Parliamentary Committees Act 1991: (i) any matter concerned with legal, constitutional or parliamentary reform or with the administration of justice, excluding standing orders or rules of practice of the parliament and (ii) the acts or subordinate legislation in relation to its expiry.
It is the appropriate forum to fully delve into the implications of the bill. Given it has been rushed through the other place and now this place, and the potential for broad-reaching implications and unintended consequences, we need to give the bill proper scrutiny. I know that I am the first of my colleagues to speak, and all of us will touch on various important elements of the bill over this evening and potentially coming days. The Legislative Review Committee is the proper place to do this.
The government is in hot water over this bill. It is unusual for unions to unite against the Labor Party, but this is what we are seeing here. I really urge the government to refer this bill to the committee, to ensure that we can consider what the bill means in practice. Does it do what it intends? Does it have broader implications? Does it have unintended consequences? Has it been subject to appropriate scrutiny? If it is not the wish of the chamber to refer the bill to the Legislative Review Committee, then I foreshadow that I will be moving some amendments. I have filed two sets of amendments, but I will only be moving those in the second set.
I will now talk a little bit about what these amendments seek to do and their genesis. The amendments seek to do the following. Amendments Nos 1, 2 and 4 in my name create a sunset clause for this bill to ensure that provisions of the bill expire after 12 months.
If we accept the government's argument here that it is vital that this bill be dealt with this week, which I do not accept, but if we do accept that argument, then it is entirely appropriate to say, 'Let's apply a sunset clause so that we can see how it plays out in practice so that we can see whether the government's assurances around the impact on human rights, the impact on the peaceful right to protest, the impact to gather in a public space, are in fact live issues. Let's have a trial and we can revisit it in 12 months.'
Amendment No. 3 inserts a reasonableness test into section 58 by adding the words 'without reasonable excuse'. This would bring us into line with other jurisdictions with respect to similar anti-protest laws. It would limit the number of people who could be inadvertently captured by the offence. For example, it has been argued by some of the legal experts who have informed my consideration of this bill that there is a risk that people suffering from a health incident or, potentially, homeless people could be captured by this bill because they are obstructing a public space, so adding in the term 'without reasonable excuse' would make it clear that people in those circumstances would no doubt be deemed to be obstructing the public space for reasonable reason. This is an important inclusion to ensure that we are protecting people who may be inadvertently caught in the net of this bill.
Amendment No. 5 would establish a review after 12 months. The previous amendment established a sunset clause. This one would establish a review. It would be very important that we look at the effects of the bill, how the offence is being used in practice. The amendment requires the Attorney-General to carry out a review.
I have talked about my concerns around the bill in terms of how it offends the principles of democracy and I have talked through some of the specific principles of the bill, but I now want to draw your attention to some of the community feedback that I have received. I thought it would be useful to get a sense of the breadth of concern there is in the community, so I will go through some of those concerns with you that I have received.
I will go through some of them now. One is from a phone call from a longstanding Labor Party member who rang my office and wanted these comments noted. She said:
This dirty politics…is not just about kicking…the Greens who care about climate change, but it also kicks…the people who got them elected…
This is said of the government. Continuing:
This is dirty politics that has deep roots. My Labor Party card is kryptonite in my hand. I'm hurt. It stinks. Thousands from all arms of Labor are angry. This bill breaks every law of democracy in this country.
This is another one from a concerned constituent:
Good afternoon, I'm emailing as I am very concerned about the changes to the anti-protest laws passed by the lower house.
While I am someone who cares very deeply for our environment, I haven't had personal involvement with groups like Extinction Rebellion. However, I am strongly opposed to these changes.
I am a mother with young children, and over the last few years, several times we have talked about how good it is that we live in Australia, where we are free to protest and have the freedom to loudly and publicly criticise and oppose government and business decisions. We've spoken about how this is something very important and very special, and is not something that is allowed in other countries around the world…
I was so shocked to read the news over the last few days, and to read the public comments from some of our elected members.
I truly expected better from some of our South Australian parliamentarians as I've always been proud of the leadership and progressiveness of South Australia…These rules have been rushed. These changes haven't been done with consultation. These changes are a huge step backwards for democracy, civil liberties and human rights in SA. And they go along with a lot of awful commentary about people who are putting everything they can into trying to avert the climate crisis.
These are unprecedented times of massive environmental change and when we are on such a tipping point, we need to be fostering as much positive environmental action and pressure on businesses and those that wish to maintain the status quo as possible.
The last federal election was seen as an election on climate…and yet we are ignoring the strong level of community support for climate action, by taking away our rights to strongly demand change. I would appreciate you using your position to block these changes in the upper house. Otherwise, could you please explain to my kids (aged 5 and 9) why you are restricting human rights and civil liberties here in South Australia during a climate emergency.
I think it is a very fair point that the constituent has raised. I have another email from Nicola Dean who said:
I am writing to you in regards to the proposed changes in the protest laws in South Australia. Although it is inconvenient when individuals who feel strongly about issues obstruct traffic or the 'free passage of public place', the benefit of having a robust democracy cannot be understated. South Australia has a strong history of democracy.
As a South Australian woman, I am so proud that SA was the first state to allow women to be elected to parliament and one of the first in the world to allow women to vote. These changes would never have happened without the brave protests of the suffragettes. What about Martin Luther King in Alabama, or Gandhi? Granted, they were arrested and detained multiple times for obstruction of free passage…but are South Australians so conservative that they are saying that this is a good thing? Are we to degenerate into a repressive police state like Hong Kong?
I am a doctor who migrated to South Australia in 1998 and I work full-time in the public hospital system. You will find no greater advocate of our city and the wonderful benefits of living here. But this is wrong. [Do not let this change] go through.
This one is from Rick Mason:
Dear members of the Legislative Council,
I write with considerable concern at the recent Anti Protest laws passed by the lower house. This legislation is draconian and does not meet democratic processes. New bills should not be passed in just 20 minutes without…consideration and debate. If we are to remain a democratic society then we need to do better than to behave in such an autocratic manner.
I agree with that. We should not be rushing bills of this magnitude through. He says:
Under our democracy we have a right to peaceful protest. Inconvenience is not a rational reason to ban protests…We the people of SA and the people of Australia deserve better.
This one is from Jayne Jennifer:
I am alarmed at the plan to rush through legislation to increase penalties against protesters. The right to protest is fundamental to our democracy. There are many significant changes that would not have happened if there had not been protests on the streets.
The climate emergency is already causing major disruptions with much more to come. A vote for disproportionate penalties against peaceful protesters would be a significant mistake for the SA Parliament. Please continue to speak out and vote against this legislation…
There are many of these emails from people from across the community who have concerns who have taken the time to write to me with their personal emails, and I think they have done so to many members of parliament.
The Hon. F. Pangallo: Well, let's hear them.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Alright, thank you, Mr Pangallo, I will keep going; there are a few others. This is from Ann Doolette:
The honourable members of the South Australian Legislative Council, I implore you to not pass the Summary Offences Amendment Bill. This is heavy-handed. It's a disproportionate response to community accepted protests in civil society. Frankly, it smacks of bullyboy tactics and suggests a government and opposition that are in with the oil and gas industry. It saddens me that a government can pass legislation on a day when the oil and gas industry is inconvenienced, yet governments pass and prevent, and dawdle and prevaricate endlessly about protecting our environment.
This is the fundamental problem, isn't it, with our democracy, when the penalties flow to those who are belling the cat on the climate crisis and when we have governments that are actually shooting the messenger.
That is what this is: it is shooting the messenger, penalising the people who are speaking out about what is wrong with our society. First it is penalising those who speak out about climate. Is it next going to be penalising those who speak out against the economic crisis or the housing crisis that we face? This bill potentially captures all those things. At a time of increased pressure in our society, these democratic principles should be protected, and I am very concerned that they are being undermined.
The Hon. F. Pangallo: Trampled on.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Hon. Mr Pangallo says 'trampled on', and I agree. They are being trampled on, and it is a really terrible turn of events. I will return to some of the community feedback I have received because I think it is very relevant, but I do want to change tack for a little bit and talk about some of the broader feedback that I have received. Indeed, I did request people to provide me with feedback over my Facebook page. I asked members of the community for their views, if they had anything they would like to feed in. They have provided some for me. Thomas Marlin said:
This is not a left or right issue. This is about democracy. The left and right will often protest for different reasons. One does not have to agree with their point of view to understand the importance of upholding this right. Labor in name only.
The Labor Rank and File will vote with their feet—goodbye letterboxing, corfluting and election day volunteers.
Happy for you to highlight the chalking parents did to save their schools as an act that would potentially jail us or cost us a house in fines…
…this move by the [Malinauskas] Government is filling our youth with a feeling of hopelessness in a time when we need hope more than ever. Passing an undemocratic Bill in 22 minutes to also hold the ideology that we cannot rapidly and swiftly act adequately on our biodiversity and nature crises is beyond disappointing.
The Labor movement was built on the right to protest. This is a betrayal of all of the years of struggle by our grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
Rick Sarre, a former Labor candidate, said in InDaily—this is an excerpt:
…while UniSA Emeritus Professor of Law Rick Sarre described the legislation as regrettable from a civil libertarian point of view.
This is what he said to InDaily—a former Labor candidate:
It is another example of governments wrongly thinking they can make problems go away simply by 'getting tough.'
I fear a knock-on effect that will stifle future public discourse and deter protests by those seeking to bring public attention to their legitimate grievances.
…who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom;…
They are some observations from Martin Luther King in his Birmingham jail letter. But it is not just constituents who have been speaking out, and their views are obviously vitally important to us here in this place, but there is a range of civil groups and political groups that have also added their concerns to this debate.
Indeed, earlier today, the Hon. Frank Pangallo, the Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. Tammy Franks and I held a press conference with key leaders from civic and community life in our state. They included the head of SACOSS, Ross Walmsley, the head of the Conservation Council, Craig Wilkins, a range of other people from the Human Rights Law Centre, Amnesty International, a range of key civic and community leaders, including Anne Bainbridge from the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia—all of them very concerned about what we are seeing here in this parliament.
I will also read some excerpts from the feedback from the Law Society, because I did say this was not a left and right issue. The Law Society does not have a reputation as being a hard left organisation. They are not considered a hard left organisation. They are a measured, expert group that provides advice to all sides of politics in a dispassionate way—legal experts—but they are very concerned about this bill, very concerned.
I believe all members of parliament would have received feedback on this. In their submission to us they make a number of points. They say that their concerns with the bill are significant and relate to its substantive content and potential consequences, as well as the pace at which the bill was passed through the House of Assembly. The society strongly opposes the bill. The society understands the bill will be before the Legislative Council and urges the parliament to delay the bill's passage to enable it to be considered.
That is what I am seeking to do, not in giving this speech but in seeking to refer the matter to the Legislative Review Committee so that all of the consequences can be appropriately considered. They say that passing a law without consultation with relevant stakeholders at such a rapid pace is a practice that should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The Law Society states:
The purpose of consulting on such matters allows scrutiny, expert opinion and the receipt of alterative views on the merits and particulars of a given law. It may be accepted that in rare instances (such as a war, pandemic and natural disaster) the legislature may have to act very swiftly to prevent personal injury or other damage but the occasions for that kind of action should be few and far between.
Is this a wartime measure? Are the actions that we saw on the streets of Adelaide two weeks ago, where some climate protesters engaged in peaceful protest, so serious that they required a response of the magnitude that we have seen from the government and the opposition who have worked in lock step to rush these laws through the House of Assembly?
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (20:25): It is lovely to see the honourable member back here, Mr President. The Law Society also states:
For the Parliament to seek to pass a Bill in the way demonstrated in the House of Assembly on 18 May 2023 not only seriously undermines the ability of the Parliament (and by extension the general public) to receive considered and appropriate advice on proposed new laws, but it also undermines the democratic process. This is particularly concerning where the laws contemplated may have implications for individuals in criticising or assembling to oppose or criticise the actions (or inaction) of Government.
They go on to note—and this is a fair point that I have made myself—that:
The public did not even have the opportunity to review the content of this Bill or Parliamentary debate relating to it, before the Bill passed a House of Parliament. At the time the 'debate' on the Bill occurred, it was not even possible to locate the Bill using the Legislative Tracker.
They go on to state the important point that:
The Society understands the origins of this Bill were in a talkback radio appearance by the Opposition leader. The proposed reform was subsequently supported and adopted by the Government. Shortly after being Tabled in the House of Assembly, the Bill progressed through the House and on to the Legislative Council where there appears to be every intention to progress the Bill at a similar pace in the next Parliamentary sitting week.
I am pleased to say that is not what has occurred. We have already passed the 20-minute mark of the debate that was shown by our colleagues in the other place, and I think that is good. That is at least one action that this council has acted upon. But I do urge members of the council to take on board the other feedback of the Law Society with respect to the Legislative Review Committee and the substantive concerns that they have with the bill.
They talk about those at length, and they are similar to the issues that I take up with the amendments that I have lodged on behalf of the Greens. I know that they are also similar themes that the Hon. Connie Bonaros will touch on with her amendments because she has also drawn on a number of those themes. I think it is fair to say that the Greens and SA-Best have worked very closely on developing amendments to ensure that we cover the range of issues that has been raised with this bill.
They talk about a lot of the issues here. The nature of modifying the offence, the issues around the definition of a 'public place', the substantive content of the bill in terms of the increased penalties and the cost-recovery expenses are all issues that they talk about. They also look at the impediment to free speech and the right to protect. It is a very important submission, and I would urge members of parliament to read it.
The Hon. F. Pangallo: Are you tabling it?
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I do not know that I need to table it in this instance because I think members of parliament already have it, but I would take your advice, Mr President.
The PRESIDENT: If it is a publicly available document there is no need to table it.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: They also issued a press release and I think it is worth hearing what they had to say in that press document. They said:
Rushing legislation and bypassing scrutiny is not how good laws are made.
I agree. They went on to say:
The Law Society has serious concerns at the manner in which the Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment Bill 2023 was rushed through the House of Assembly on 18 May.
This is not how good laws are made.
Good laws undergo a process of consultation, scrutiny, and debate before being put to a vote.
The public did not even have a chance to examine the wording of the Bill before it passed the House of Assembly.
This is particularly worrying in circumstances where the proposed law in question affects a democratic right...
They go on to make some of the points that are contained in the body of the document, but it is important to highlight that. There have been a number of people who have spoken out about this. What I think has caused people's surprise is not just the swift and disproportionate nature of the response, which has been breathtaking, but the substance of what is contained within the bill.
Sarah Moulds is a senior lecturer in law, justice and society at the University of South Australia and director of the Rights Resource Network in SA. Sarah is somebody who does a great deal of work on this issue. She makes the point that this is not the first time that legislation has moved through parliament at breakneck speed:
Every time it happens it sends a message to South Australians that their parliamentarians are not interested in what they think about lawmaking.
She goes on to say, and it is a fair point:
These protesters believe their actions to be justified by the climate emergency our community faces, and the flow on implications for our health wellbeing and prosperity. This crystallises a moment that will continue to define the challenges posed by climate change to our democratic polity and institutions. Sadly, our Parliament has decided to respond to this moment in a way that is highly reactionary and uninspiring.
This is true. We are at a moment of significant challenge, where we are facing a series of crises: the climate crisis, rising inequality, and we are in the middle of an inflation crisis. When society is facing these moments of pressure, that is when the citizens will seek to protest, to demonstrate.
It is incumbent on us, as members of this place, to listen to what the community has to say, to ensure that the laws we put forward address their concerns, not to simply try to silence them, not to say, 'It was inconvenient for us to listen to you, and we are going to make it difficult for you to express your view.' That is not what we should do in a democracy like ours.
This is something that has attracted national media. It was a leading story in The Guardian, and there was a lot of concern around this—a lot of concern. As I say, The Guardian carried the story, and I have read quite a bit from their coverage of the issue, but I also want to highlight to you some of the concerns that the Human Rights Law Centre have raised. I have not touched on their views yet, but I think they are very relevant to this debate.
The Human Rights Law Centre have made a submission, which I believe has gone to members of parliament. They say:
The freedom to assemble and protest allows Australians to express their views on issues important to them and to press for legal and social change. Attending a protest is a way for people to have their voices heard and participate in public debate.
Australia has a proud history of protests leading to significant change, including the preservation of Tasmania's Franklin River, the apology to the Stolen Generations, and the advancement of LGBTIQ rights by groups like Sydney's '1978ers'…
I talked about that earlier in relation to their role with the Mardi Gras parade. They touch on some of the issues that the Law Society has touched on. They express a number of the concerns:
…the Bill makes defendants criminally responsible for their direct obstruction of a public place, but it also intends to capture conduct even if it indirectly causes obstruction of a public place.
The Bill provides an example of what this may include, namely, if police or other emergency services need to restrict access to the public place to, 'safely deal with the person's conduct'. In other words, a person may be found guilty of an offence for the acts of police or other emergency services if they obstruct a public place while they respond to the defendant.
It is not clear from the text of the Bill what level of connection, proportionality or appropriateness is sufficient for police and emergency services to 'safely deal' with a person's conduct under this new provision but there is a risk that under this provision, a person may be found guilty of an offence for the acts of police or other emergency services which are outside of their control.
That is a real worry. They also talk about the establishment of the offence of obstructing a public place. They say that this amendment that is being promoted by the government and the opposition, as they worked in concert to rush it through the lower house, would make an offence of obstructing a public place much easier to establish. They say:
Currently, under the Act, to establish the offence of blocking a public place, the conduct must be wilful.
Under the new laws that have been proposed, blocking of a public place would have to be intentional or reckless, and yet legally there is a distinction between what is wilful and what is considered intentional or reckless. I am reminded of my time at law school when we learned about the actus reus and the mens rea—the guilty mind in Latin.
The Hon. C. Bonaros interjecting:
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: That is right, the element of intent as the Hon. Connie Bonaros has stated. The intention requirements in this bill have been significantly altered and that has implications when one accompanies that also with some very serious new penalties. It is a significant change to the bill, as the Hon. Connie Bonaros states, not just simply keeping things as they are, which is what the government is trying to advocate.
I know that the Hon. Connie Bonaros has some amendments in this regard and will no doubt tease out this issue further. I certainly indicate the Greens are supportive of those amendments if our push for a committee is not successful. I am hoping by giving this long explanation that I will convince members of the need to refer the bill on to a committee. I can see there is a lot of interest in that proposition from members here and I am hopeful they will get behind it.
What have other organisations said about this bill? What have other groups said? Amnesty International has come out as have the Australian Services Union (SA and Northern Territory), South Australian Council of Social Service, Extinction Rebellion, Australian Democracy Network, and CounterAct. Human rights advocacy groups are certainly sounding the alarm after what has been rushed through the state parliament. Here are just some of the comments that have been made. I think it is useful to reflect on those. Amnesty International campaigner Nikita White said:
The South Australian upper house must reject the Bill, which will unfairly restrict people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
This crackdown on the right to protest means all our ability to fight for human rights and combat the climate crisis are under threat. People shouldn't face huge fines, and even prison sentences, just for standing up for what's right.
These harsh penalties on those protesting peacefully are part of an unacceptable trend in Australia which has seen the right to protest stymied in recent years.
In a moment, I am going to talk about what some of those threats are, to position this bill within that broader not just national context, but international context, because I think that is quite relevant. The South Australian Council of Social Service CEO, Ross Womersley, said:
Protest, including peaceful disruptive protests have been key to achieving many of the welcome changes and improvements in our community and the rights that we all take for granted.
Disturbance and interruption are the things that invite and cause us all to stop and to reconsider. Being punished unreasonably seems completely at odds with our democracy and the community we would like to continue to build.
What did the Australian Services Union SA and NT Branch Assistant Secretary Scott Cowen have to say? He said:
The right to protest is fundamental to our democracy. Union members are proud to stand up for our rights at work and for justice in the community.
What about the South Australian Extinction Rebellion? They note that:
The South Australian government's decision to choose protest suppression over climate action reveals its complicity in the industries that are driving the climate crisis.
The Australian Democracy Network campaigner Ray Yoshida said:
This is a completely disproportionate response from the Malinauskas government to peaceful community protest, and disappointing that they would rush it through without proper scrutiny. We urge the Government to reconsider its approach and we call on the Legislative Council to reject this draconian bill.
What about CounterAct's Nicola Paris? She says:
Protest is essential for democracy. Ramming through increased penalties without scrutiny that are 66 times higher than the original fine for a minor (summary) offence and adding a jail sentence is not democracy. Inconvenient, disruptive, peaceful protest has changed the world for the better.
Fossil fuel driven climate change has killed and disrupted millions worldwide, and displaced thousands locally—and yet the ALP said this week that they were 'at the disposal' of this industry…that's been made devastatingly clear.
I think these are very fair points that have been raised by these key leaders in the community and they are really sounding the alarm about what the government is doing here. They are really sounding the alarm. The Australia Institute has also raised some concerns. Bill Browne, Director of Democracy and Accountability at the Australia Institute, has observed that:
Harsh new penalties for peaceful protests, including jail terms, represent an alarming threat to civil liberties and a healthy democracy in South Australia. The proposed changes in South Australia are the latest in a worrying trend towards harsher anti-protest laws, following changes in NSW that saw a climate protester jailed.
Well, it is very true: it is part of an alarming trend. This is not just a view that has been remarked on by these civil and political groups but also, might I reference, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation have noted these concerns as well. They say in their letter to members of parliament:
Despite the government's assurance that these amendments do not criminalise any behaviour that is not captured by the current provisions, these amendments are not focused or targeted; they are broad.
It is clear that as a whole these amendments represent a significant change to and an expansion of the offence. It is clear that many of the actions that have been taken by unions in the past could be taken to contravene these laws.
We are dismayed by the lack of consultation with any stakeholder and the haste with which this legislation was presented to and passed by the House of Representatives.
We have an opportunity to put that right today, if we refer the bill on to a committee so that all of these groups have an opportunity to appear before the committee to put their case so that the issues can be meaningfully examined and worked through rather than us trying to truncate a debate late at night to meet the government's time line.
The Conservation Council has also raised some concerns, and they also issued a media release which I might return to a little bit later. I was really interested to note as well that the City of Mitcham has passed a resolution in relation to this. I think that is a really interesting thing to note. They have heard some feedback from their constituents that their residents are concerned about the speed at which the proposed amendments to the Summary Offences Act passed through the lower house and the possible unintended consequences of these amendments. I can understand their concerns.
I also want to draw your attention to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (SA branch), who wrote to the Hon. Tammy Franks and myself. They said they were writing to us about the bill, the summary offences bill, which they regard as posing a number of threats to our system of representative democracy, disproportionately restricting our freedom of assembly and protest. These are the elements that are fundamental to our democracy, yet this bill is disproportionately impacting on those.
I have spoken a bit about the community concern in relation to this bill. I have spoken about the specific provisions and the historic context in which the bill sits, but I also think it is worth looking at what other jurisdictions are doing to see where South Australia sits. Really, I think when one considers the interstate and international context, it is very concerning indeed.
In 2019, the Queensland government passed the Summary Offences and Other Legislation Amendment Act. Four United Nations special rapporteurs said the laws were inherently disproportionate and could criminalise peaceful protest. The Queensland government consulted a mining lobby group, the Queensland Resources Council, on the laws—totally inappropriate.
In New South Wales we saw the parliament passing new laws bringing in harsher penalties against protesters. Penalties of $22,000 or two years' jail could be enforced. The laws apply around the port of Newcastle, the port of Kembla and the port of Botany, but the government intends to expand them. The legislation was supported by the Labor Party, unfortunately, but it was slammed as undemocratic by the Greens.
The New South Wales parliament passed these new anti-protest laws. That is a real worry, but I note that the fine that has been proposed in South Australia, along with the changes to the intention requirements, actually make the South Australian laws potentially more heavy-handed. That is really disappointing. I note the comments of the New South Wales Labor leader at the time, who is now the Premier, Chris Minns. He said that he supported the legislation as it was important for the safety and security of New South Wales. That is really disappointing.
I want to quote from my colleague, Greens MLC at the time, David Shoebridge, who is now a federal senator for the Greens. He is pushing for federal protest laws to protect the right to protest, at a federal level, to stop the erosion of these rights at local state jurisdictions. He said:
That's not just bad policy, it's deeply anti-democratic. This move to target political and environmental campaigners may well be in breach of the constitutional protections for political communication and we can anticipate a [court] challenge on them very soon.
The Human Rights Law Centre came out against those laws over in New South Wales, as did the Aboriginal Legal Service, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, and the Environmental Defenders Office. Again, as we have seen in South Australia, a broad cross-section of the community is being mobilised against these laws.
I want to touch on Tasmania, where we have seen really alarming anti-protest laws rushed through there, as well, back in 2002. This was leading Tasmanian and national civil society organisations, that were quite active on that. In that context, a community member who obstructs access to a workplace as part of a protest could face 12 months in prison, and a community member obstructing or protesting the destruction of old-growth forest on a forest site could face penalties of up to $13,000 or two years in prison. There was a range of concerns expressed, but I would like to mention the words of Bob Brown from the Bob Brown Foundation, who said:
There are many more than me, and many younger than me, who will not be deterred from peacefully protecting Tasmania's seas, forests and wildlife. The government, bowing to corporate thuggery, is criminalising effective peaceful protest while legalising seal shooting, owl destruction and parrot extinction. It is up to all citizens to determine for themselves what to do in this age of such deliberate destruction of nature.
Rodney Croome, President of the Equality Tasmania group, said:
Tasmania is a more inclusive place for LGBTIQA+ people thanks to three decades of protest, so [we are] very concerned about the adverse impact of this bill. We are glad the upper house voted down the clause restricting protest in public places. But overall, the bill will still have a chilling effect on protest and the reforms that flow from it.
Victoria has also gone down this path because of the concerns of the timber industry—and I am pleased to say that the timber industry is becoming obsolete over in Victoria, and that is a good thing—but that bill has very concerning elements. I should make it clear I am referring to the logging of forests when I am referencing the industry there. Those are some of the concerns that the Greens have been mobilising on for many years, and it was the timber industry there that advocated for these tough anti-protest laws to be put in place. A lot of concerns were raised by those groups.
I think it is worth noting some of the things we have seen overseas as well. I note that over in the UK recently there was a move initiated by the Tory government to criminalise protesters who were seeking to demonstrate in relation to the coronation of King Charles. It was very concerning to me to note that that jurisdiction is going down that similar path.
There has been a move in the United States, as well, to try to curtail the rights of protesters. Peaceful protesters are being undermined by the Republican Party. Indeed, since January 2017 the US has seen a wave of bills introduced by state and federal lawmakers that would limit the rights of people to protest.
These anti-protest bills are often introduced in response to prominent protest movements, including movements for racial justice, for campaigns against new oil and gas pipelines, demonstrations on college campuses and protests supporting better working conditions for teachers. Anti-protest bills undermine the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly. This is what they have remarked on, and it is a fair point.
Marco Rubio, a Republican in Florida, has also introduced significant penalties for protesters on interstate highways. He says that a bill introduced on 13 September would prohibit deliberately delaying traffic, standing or approaching a motor vehicle or endangering the safe movement of a motor vehicle on an interstate highway with the intent to obstruct the free, convenient and normal use of an interstate highway, with an offence punishable by up to $10,000 and 15 years in prison.
I guess the reason I highlight these things to you, Mr President, is that there is a broader debate I think at the moment happening around democracy. Democracy itself is coming under significant pressure. We are seeing the rise of the New Right, we are seeing the Trumpian ideology getting traction overseas and democracy itself is coming under attack and facing sustained pressure. In that context, I suggest that maintaining the right to protest is fundamentally important, it is vital, absolutely vital, yet it is being eroded throughout the world.
I want to highlight some of the comments that have been made. I mentioned some of the issues that have been raised by members of the community, but I think it is worth looking at the views of some famous people with respect to democracy and their perspectives. Let's have a look at those. What have people of note had to say about the right to protest and the importance of protests? One of my favourite poems, which I think is relevant in this context, is from Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no-one left to speak for me.
It is a relevant poem because a lot of people have said, in the days following the Extinction Rebellion protest and the draconian laws that have been rushed through the other place, 'I don't like Extinction Rebellion, so therefore I'm okay with the laws'. This is what some people have said. But what if it is a protest that they do agree with, that they care passionately about? That is why it is so important, whatever one's political views, to defend those fundamental principles in our democracy, because we can all find ourselves on a different side of that debate.
Let's consider some of the famous points that have been made: Nelson Mandela—'It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured.' Noam Chomsky—'If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe it at all.' Mahatma Gandhi—'Civil disobedience comes as a sacred duty when the state has become lawless and corrupt.' Vaclav Haval—'A society that has no place for dissent and protest is not truly free.' Angela Davis—'I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things that I cannot accept.' Malala Yousafzai—'When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.' Desmond Tutu—'If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.' Ruth Bader Ginsburg—'Protest is the lifeblood of democracy.' Ai Weiwei—'The right to speak freely is the foundation of all other freedoms.'
I think it is also worth looking at what some members of this place have said—not this chamber, but that this parliament have said about the right to protest in the past. I will mention some comments from the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis in that regard. He says, and I quote from Hansard on 17.6.20:
The party I am in was formed out of a right to protest, out of a right to withdraw labour, out of a right to speak up against inequality and a right to assemble en masse, often in breach of the law, often illegally. That is how we got the eight-hour day. That is how we got women the right to vote. That is how we have now these rights that we all believe are inalienable: the freedom of the press, the right to assembly, the right to join a union, the right to withdraw your labour.
He goes on to say:
What you do not do is use statute in the parliament to take away democratic rights.
Really? Very interesting comments from the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis, given in a very different context to this one, but true words, although given in a very different context. Very interesting. They were not appropriate in the context in which he gave them, but they are relevant to this particular debate. It is not just the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis in the Labor Party who has expressed concerns regarding this, and I do want to put some of those concerns on the record because I have had so many people who have contacted me in recent days.
I remember hearing the Attorney-General when he introduced the bill into this place last week remark that he has had people coming up to him on the street, I think, to talk to him about the bill. I, also, have had people coming up to me on the street to talk to me about the bill—obviously quite different conversations that I have had than the honourable member has had. The feedback I have had has been very different. People have said to me that they are appalled that the Labor government is doing this and that they are so disappointed that this is the direction that they are going in because this is not what they thought they were going to get.
I think one of the areas where this is most clear is in the comments of the ambos union secretary Leah Watkins, who highlighted the then opposition Labor Party's support for an AEA-organised protest on 1 April 2021, which called for greater ambulance resourcing. She said this at the rally today. I was there. I heard it, along with Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. Frank Pangallo and the Hon. Tammy Franks. We all heard it, and it has also been reported in InDaily. What she said was:
We blocked both sides of North Terrace. Labor, the Greens, SA-Best and many independent MPs stood with us in protest of the then-dismissive Liberal government.
She told the rally:
Later that year on the 17th of November, we rallied on North Terrace again, as we tabled our petition calling for adequate ambulance resourcing and an end to ramping.
Again, they rallied with us. Our rallies were big, they caused disruption, they closed roads and they stopped trams…obstructing a public place to peacefully protest for a safer community for all.
Watkins said the Labor Party's strength in government and opposition was always its willingness and openness to listen to the community and to listen to workers. 'Listen to us now,' she says, 'Vote down this bill.' Will the Labor government listen to the community today and vote down this bill? They have an opportunity to change course. They are hurtling off a cliff, but they have an opportunity to change course.
We on the crossbench have offered them an opportunity to change tact. They can support the committee that we are proposing as a way of getting themselves out of this mess. It is an offer that is on the table today to the Labor government if they support the motion that I am putting forward, made in good faith, an offer to say, 'Let's take this off the table. There are so many issues. You can try to resolve them by looking at it through a committee.'
It is also worth pointing out some of the other views of people in the Labor Party. It has been reported in InDaily that the Labor Party State Council passed a motion after new laws passed the lower house to call for consultation on the bill. This is the Labor Party itself calling for consultation on a bill of the Labor government.
The motion states that the council 'supports the fundamental right to protest and the right of citizens to exercise this' and 'notes that citizens have a right to safety within our community'.
'State Council…requests that the State Labor Government institute a process to ensure consultation with the community so that all implications of the Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment Bill…are duly considered by the Parliament prior to its implementation to ensure that the right to protest is not unreasonably curtailed,' the motion states.
That is a state Labor Party council resolution published in InDaily calling on this state Labor government to change course. I think it is a pretty compelling piece of evidence if the state Labor Party council is saying this Labor Party has got it wrong on this issue. I think this Labor government has done some really good work. I have been proud to support a lot of the good ideas that they have put forward. I recognise the really good work that has been happening in the autism space, under the leadership of the Hon. Emily Bourke, the really good work that has been done with the Voice to Parliament, the national leading legislation that has been initiated by the Attorney-General and I recognise his really good work and commitment on that. There are lots of really good things that this Labor government has been progressing in the parliament.
I am trying to be kind; I do not want them to go away feeling too upset with me but I make the point that they have done some good things but they are damaging their credibility by going down this path. There is an opportunity to have a committee to move away from the direction that they are seeking to go on.
Do not just take my word for it, what about the views of former Labor minister Steph Key? She is a really good community activist. She has done a lot of work in the community. She says that she referenced this motion that was passed by the state council and she said there was really no excuse for this legislation. She said that the ALP council last week wanted to make it clear that members wanted to make sure that the ALP council had a very clear position on this bill. She said:
I think that was unanimously supported by the people that are supposed to advise the Labor government and the Labor Party about what [their position] is. So, really, there is no excuse for this legislation. The only ad I can give them is they've got no experience of campaigning except for themselves.
I do note from this article in InDaily that the government talks about potential amendments. We will seek amendments, and I will talk about those when we get to that stage, but our concern is, of course, that the bill is so deeply flawed that even if those amendments are successful, we will still not be in a position to support the bill.
I am drawing towards a close of my comments on the bill. I am happy to elaborate a little bit further. The Attorney-General has queried my desire to finish up. I am happy to talk in a bit more detail about the bill but I am conscious that other members would also like to make a contribution. Just to summarise the position of the Greens, we are appalled that this bill has been rushed through. We are appalled that this bill has been prioritised above other pressing priorities, such as the climate crisis, such as reform of the Residential Tenancies Act, which we have been pushing for some time in this place and still have not seen the bill progress to the upper house.
We are concerned about the appalling process that has been adopted here in this parliament and the effect that this bill could have on not just protesters but a whole range of people in civic and political life. My view is that all of us rely on social movements and protest for our political rights. Therefore, when you attack those rights, you attack us all. It is an attack on workers, it is an attack on LGBTI people, it is an attack on women, it is an attack on all of those people who rely on social movements and protest movements for the advances that we have made on social and political rights.
People say they do not like protests, but they certainly like the five-day working week, they certainly like the right to vote, they like the right to be treated equally before the law, and they like the right to marry. Marriage equality is one of those examples of a long-term campaign that was achieved through protest action when you had the parliament being recalcitrant and you had actually the community driving the change.
At the end of the day, protest is what drives change. Without protest, there is no progress. I do just want to make a little remark. A number of young people have contacted me, contacted my office and I have seen a lot of their comments on social media, and I just want to say to them: do not lose hope in your advocacy, particularly around the climate crisis. We need their passion, we need their enthusiasm in the social movement to drive the changes that we need. I just want them to know that there are people here in this place who will continue to fight for them and also make it clear that the Greens will do everything we can to overturn these laws.
If this bill does end up being passed by the parliament, we will be doing what we can to try to overturn those laws. In the interim, I really urge members to support my push for a parliamentary inquiry, because I think that does give the government an opportunity for a reset, an opportunity for all of the issues that have been raised by the vast array of groups, to put those issues on the public record and give the community an opportunity to have their say because they have been shut out of this process. Consultation is all that they are asking—consultation and the opportunity for a bad law to be averted.
I think it would be disastrous for this parliament to be progressing down this road of potentially passing a bill like this tonight when there has not been the opportunity for all of the issues to be appropriately considered by a parliamentary committee. With that, I commend my motion.