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Public Assemblies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

30 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:35): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise to speak in relation to the Public Assemblies (Miscellaneous) Bill 2023. This bill comes in response to the antiprotest laws that were introduced by the Malinauskas government in partnership with the Liberal opposition earlier this year and rushed through as part of a pact between the two major parties. You will remember that I spoke at length on that bill, and I thought I might revisit that speech now. That was a joke, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: Funny joke, the Hon. Mr Simms, very funny joke.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Just testing, Mr President. I just wanted to see if everybody was listening. There was a look of great alarm that swept across everyone's faces. Don't worry, my speech will be very short.

Peaceful assembly is a key part of a democratic society. It is how citizens hold public institutions to account. When the Dunstan government introduced the Public Assemblies Act in 1972 it set South Australia apart as a best practice in protecting the right to protest. It came after a Vietnam moratorium protest was met with force and there was an attempt to manage that protest. A royal commission into the protest found that 130 protesters were arrested and dragged into paddy wagons. The Dunstan government moved swiftly to introduce an act to ensure that the right to protest was protected, and I commend them for doing so.

While the new obstruction laws did not technically touch the Public Assemblies Act, the influence of that change could have ripple effects, and there are potential unintended consequences that need to be addressed.

The Human Rights Law Centre has recently released the 'Declaration of our right to protest', which has already been signed by over 60 civil society organisations. These include Amnesty International, SACOSS, the Australian Democracy Network, the Conservation Council and many more. The declaration states, and I quote from the document:

The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental human right that allows us to express our views, shape our societies and press for social and legal change. Participating in peaceful protest is a way for all of us to have our voices heard and be active in public debate, no matter our bank balance or our political connections.

The declaration contains 10 fundamental principles for protecting protest in our democracy:

  1. We must protect the right to protest.

  2. Governments must accept that public protest involves some level of disruption.

  3. Laws affecting the right to protest must be clear.

  4. Limitations on the right to protest must be properly justified.

  5. Protesters must have all their human rights protected.

  6. Participating in a protest is not an invitation to surveillance.

  7. Independent monitoring of protests must be facilitated.

  8. Protests should not be restricted based on their message except where that message could harm others.

  9. Police must not interfere with the right to protest unless it is absolutely necessary.

  10. Giving prior notice to authorities about a protest must be optional.

The Greens believe that protecting protest is vital in a healthy democracy, and that is the genesis of this bill. This proposed legislation would provide clarity around the right to protest and clarity for organisers of peaceful protests and plug some of the gaping holes in the government's obstruction legislation that was rushed through this parliament with such poor consideration of the implications for our human rights.

Firstly, the Greens bill would insert a positive obligation to protect assemblies. That is a provision that already exists in other jurisdictions, places like Finland and New Zealand. In addition to the declaration, the United Nations has also issued 10 principles for proper management of assemblies. I quote from their document:

The State's obligation to facilitate and protect assemblies includes spontaneous assemblies, simultaneous assemblies and counter-protests. Assemblies, including spontaneous assemblies and counter-protests, should, as far as possible, be facilitated to take place within sight and sound of their target.

The State's obligation to facilitate extends to taking measures to protect those exercising their rights from violence or interference.

The Law Society has also indicated their support for this right and have considered this bill. As part of their consideration of the bill, they state:

The inclusion of this provision was welcomed by the Committee, which considered it to be more cognisant with international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Clause 4 of the bill reduces the time frame for giving notice of assembly from four days to 48 hours. That is consistent with the standard issued by the United Nations, which states that the ideal time for notification is 48 hours, allowing for assembly organisers to oppose issues in a timely manner. With modern methods of communication being more immediate, 48 hours is a reasonable time frame and much more workable in the modern age.

Clause 5 of the bill addresses a concern that was raised by a number of organisations during the passage of the new penalties for the obstruction offences back in May. Many organisations expressed concerns that even if they went through all of the required steps to have an approved protest they may be held responsible for actions of their participants who stepped outside of the limits of the approved assembly. That is a concerning development for our democracy—a really concerning development—and it has the potential to have a chilling effect for protest in this state. That is why the Greens are seeking to clear up any ambiguity.

The provision in the Greens bill would provide absolute clarity that organisers are not liable for the acts of participants of their assembly if they act outside of the approved proposal. This will give comfort to many organisers who are currently unclear about how the new obstruction penalties interact with the Public Assemblies Act. Those interactions have not yet been tested by the courts, and we want to make sure that any loopholes are closed before we get to that point. This bill is in line with the international standards of protecting the right to protest. The least we can do is to provide clarity to protest organisers and protect the right to protest. This bill does just that and it would ensure that our democracy is protected and enhanced.

I know that we are at the time of year when people start to set New Year's resolutions and to think about the future. As our Premier prepares to sing Auld Lang Syne and celebrate the New Year and sets his New Year's resolutions, I hope that one that he sets is that he will never go down this path again, of working in lockstep with the opposition to rush through draconian laws such as this that so fundamentally infringe on South Australians' civil and political rights.

His New Year's resolution should be 'Don't go down that dark road again. Don't take your marching orders from David Speirs and the right wing Liberal Party. Listen to community organisations, civic and political groups. Listen to their collective wisdom rather than the talkback shock jocks and David Speirs and Alex Antic and others on the side of the Liberal Party.'

The ACTING PRESIDENT (The Hon. T.A. Franks): Member, it is the member for Black or the Leader of the Opposition.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Apologies, Acting President.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (The Hon. T.A. Franks): The Liberal opposition was not going to do it; I have to.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Hon. David Speirs, Leader of the Opposition, and right wing shock jocks and others were really fanning the flames of division and disquiet, whipping up some sort of moral panic in relation to people who were belling the cat on the climate emergency. It was a dark chapter for our state. It was an embarrassing chapter for our state.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: David Penberthy is so right wing, isn't he?

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Hon. Michelle Lensink says David Penberthy is right wing. I would argue he is—I would argue he is very right wing. I refer to the number of attacks that Mr Penberthy has made on me and the Greens over the years to prove my point.

This is a chance for a fresh start in the new year, for the government to turn over a new leaf and to positively embrace the opportunity that the Greens have presented to them with this bill. With that, I conclude my remarks.