So this evening I paid a visit to the Victorian State Parliament with a group of around 30 other people. A diverse mix of folk – amongst them unionists, lawyers, environmentalists, people who could get their house bulldozed for the East West tunnel, people who care about peace, refugees and transparency and democracy.
We were there to watch the Summary Offences and Amendments Sentencing Bill (Anti Protest Bill) get passed. A law which will allow police unprecedented discretionary powers to ‘move on’ peaceful protesters, and others they might suspect of a fairly broad range of things, from public places.
We watched in a fairly subdued manner, with some occasional rumblings as anti choice Liberals such as Bernie Finn, used the platform to throw random vitriol around about concerned community members who voiced their dissent to his fundamentally anti choice, and anti women ‘March for the babies’ events.
A few more folks spoke. The Greens had already spoken against the bill before we arrived and a number of ALP members took to the floor to express concern about a wide range of aspects to the bill.
And then the riot police got called in.
Did the speaker call order when ALP speakers were interrupted for standing up for the rights of union workers? No. Did the speaker call order when ALP members were interrupted for making points about the disproportionate impact this bill will have on homeless and marginalised people? Or when they were interrupted talking about community legal centre submissions on the bill, and those known militants in the Salvation Army having concerns with this bill?
No, instead after a couple of completely minor interjections, the Speaker decided that this whole darned freedom of speech, public being able to witness ‘democracy’ in action was being so seriously distracting that he closed the gallery. Why? Did someone yell out a bit too dramatically or crank open some bad singing and chanting? Did some ‘serial pest’ activist roll out some audacious banner they cunningly snuck in there? Perhaps try an epic commando roll? Did someone try and kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia or even look a bit funny at one of the Liberals?
NO – there was some relatively subdued clapping when one of the ALP speakers talked about workers rights. GAME OVER. CLOSE THE CHAMBER. WHEN PEOPLE PEACEFULLY RAISE THEIR VOICES IN DISSENT FOR LACK OF ANY OTHER ACCOUNTABILITY OR WAY TO EXPRESS CONCERN – CALL THE CRITICAL INCIDENT RESPONSE TEAM.
Because, apparently a bill being rushed through parliament and a few folk scrambling to get to the gallery in time to witness this abomination, and demonstrate approval for some minor level opposition to our democracy being dismantled – this CLEARLY deserves the riot squad.
In case anyone needs some context about the deep level of concern many share on this bill – Tony Abbotts’ hand picked Federal Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said the following: ”It unnecessarily gives police too much power to move on protesters unjustifiably,” he said. ”I have an issue with the low bar that is being set to give police the powers to move people on.”
The Salvation Army has said “These laws will disproportionately affect marginalised young people, people experiencing homelessness, poverty and mental health issues.”
The government even admitted they would be removing fundamental human rights, “… the laws will, in certain circumstances, limit the rights to freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly and freedom of association”.
There is some excellent analysis on the political motivations of the law here.
You can read submissions against the bill from a range of respected legal and community advocates here – they include: Flemington and Kensington Legal Centre, Human Rights Law Centre, Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Fitzroy Legal Service, Law Institute of Victoria, Victorian Trades hall Council, Homeless Law, Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) Inc. Victorian Council of Social Service and Madge.
Many thousands have marched, a massive and wide spread opposition is growing.
The small group of people in that gallery were representative of a much larger movement, of many 1000’s of people who do not want to see democracy further stifled in this state.
We were there for unionists, for teachers, for nurses, for people who fought for the rights we now have. We were there for environmentalists, for people who care for refugees, who care about the city we live in, and who have saved the buildings we now cherish. We were there for those defending their homes and communities from an unwanted road project that will bring no benefit but much pollution, at a cost of billions.
And I was also there for the farmers I have been working to support who could stand to be criminalised by these laws for merely standing at their gates near unwanted and controversial gas mining sites, to defend their land, and our food, from being poisoned and groundwater and livelihoods destroyed.
We bear witness for all that couldn’t be there.
This legislation is yet another step down the slippery slope. If we don’t fight for our rights now, they will take them away. Don’t let this happen.
You can follow the live feed from the evening at #antiprotestlaw and check here for blurry images.
**UPDATE** There have been several media articles about last night. We want to give a big shout to the quality reporting of the Herald Sun who said we ‘stormed’ parliament. I wonder if they have one of those auto word generators for their articles. I know I like to check my bag, go through a metal detector and get a security pass and sit and listen quietly to speakers for an hour before I do some good old fashioned storming. Slightly less hysterical articles from the Age and the ABC.
***UPDATE TWO*** This issue has gained international attention with a great deal of interest from a diversity of people. Between this website and our facebook posts we have received over 20 000 hits in the last 24 hours regarding this action. You can check footage from ABC also here, a Huffington Post article and Common Dreams here.
** This article has been slightly updated with a couple of additional links**
Nicola Paris, CounterAct