: Is the state government scared of the people of Victoria?

Is the state government scared of the people of Victoria?

Lizzie O'Shea

There is no other real explanation for the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013. This Bill was introduced last year during the Christmas silly season, when the government was sure it would not get the proper scrutiny needed for such contentious reform. It represents a significant expansion of the existing ‘move on’ powers, which allow police officers to give a direction to a person or group to leave a public place for 24 hours. At present, there is a protest exception to these provisions which means they do not apply to pickets, demonstrations or speaking and publicising a point of view.

If passed, the Bill would bestow unprecedented power on police officers to issue move on orders in a range of new situations. If you are part of a group, officers can issue you a move on order if they merely suspect you are simply likely to breach the peace. You do not have to get this order personally for it to apply. These proposals cover such a broad range of activities that they could end up being used on homeless people. The protest exception has also been reduced, so any kind of direct action, including picketing a workplace, will no longer enjoy protection from the expanded move on powers. The effect is that people exercising democratic rights can be arrested, fined and — here is the kicker — ultimately could face jail. The police may apply to the court to obtain an exclusion order against certain people to prevent them from entering or remaining in a public place for up to a year. If you breach an exclusion order, you could be sentenced to up to two years in jail.

The proposed reforms criminalise a whole set of political expression and actions that otherwise form the bedrock of liberal democracy. The government is unhappy with their constituents and would like to lock up the ones they don’t like. The Bill arguably sits in stark contrast to the constitutional protection of political communication expressed in Lange v ABC (1997), to a number of provisions in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, and to many international standards, the best known being the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

LIZZIE O’SHEA is an Australian lawyer.

(2014) 39(1) AltLJ 63
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