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Bill to Repeal Summary Offences Act (Anti-Protest Bill)

14 June 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:28): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Summary Offences Act 1953. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:29): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The bill that I am introducing today is a bill to repeal the changes that were made to the Summary Offences Act just two weeks ago; that is, the move by the Labor and Liberal parties to introduce draconian antiprotest laws into our state that have been met by community outrage.

You will recall I gave a long speech on this topic just a fortnight ago. I intend to revisit some of the highlights for your benefit, Mr President, as I know you enjoyed the speech a great deal. I will actually just speak very briefly on outlining my reason for introducing this bill to repeal the changes to the Summary Offences Act.

I am a great believer that in politics it is possible to make mistakes and when one makes a mistake one should fess up and change course. A terrible mistake was made in this chamber two weeks ago when, despite the best efforts of the Hon. Tammy Franks, the Hon. Frank Pangallo, the Hon. Connie Bonaros and myself, and what was a challenging debate that went for, I think, about 15 hours, the Labor and Liberal parties pushed ahead with these laws that really strike at the core of democracy in our state, that really undermine one of the central tenets of our democracy, and that is the right to peacefully protest.

I think it is fair to say that I have never seen such a strong and forceful reaction from so many diverse sectors of the South Australian community. Organisations such as the Council of Social Service, SA Unions, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Law Centre and the Conservation Council all came together and joined crossbench MPs in speaking out against these laws and urging this parliament to change course. Sadly, their pleas were ignored.

I have also never received so much feedback from the community on an issue. I received, I think, about a thousand emails in four days. Emails continued to flow in when it became clear that this bill had passed through this chamber, because members of the community were so aghast.

I will say that most of their outrage was directed towards the Labor Party. That is because the Labor Party was founded on the struggle of workers and on union action, on protest action. They considered this bill to be a slap in the face to those Labor activists who have done the hard yards, who have manned polling booths, who have been handing out flyers, and who have been out promoting the cause of the Labor Party over years and years. It was a slap in the face to that history and an insult, actually, to all citizens to have our fundamental rights in our democracy being impacted in this way.

I am introducing this bill to repeal those changes that were made in this chamber just a fortnight ago to give the major parties an opportunity to change course; in particular, to give the Labor Party an opportunity to listen to the union movement, to listen to those community groups, rather than the Leader of the Opposition, who drafted this law, to actually listen to the community and change course.

My intention is to leave this bill on the Notice Paper to give the parties time to reflect and to bring it to a vote in the fullness of time when they have had an opportunity to consider the implications of what they have done. It is never too late to change tack, it is never too late to reverse a bad decision when one has been made and this repeal bill will give all sides of politics an opportunity to do the right thing, to listen to the community and to respect the central principles of our democracy.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. B.R. Hood.