13 Feb 2014

Two Ways Victoria Is Clamping Down On Protest

By Sue Pennicuik

The Victorian Government is eroding democratic rights by introducing two bills aimed at restricting the movement of environmental and community activists, writes Greens MP Sue Pennicuik

Debate commenced on the Sustainable Timber and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2013 in the Victorian upper house this week. This is one of two anti-democracy bills currently before the state parliament. The other is the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013.

Far from ensuring that logging is sustainable or that wildlife is protected, the Sustainable Timber and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2013 aims to shut out the public, with increased penalties for people who enter public forests or wetlands to rescue injured wildlife or simply observe what is happening on public land.

Amendments in the bill provide that entry into a "timber harvesting safety zone" can be prohibited even before work has started. As soon as the minister decides that the government wants an area to be a no-go zone, it and 150 metres all around it, will be declared as such.

The bill also allows for a person to be excluded from a timber harvesting zone or area of state forest for up to 12 months. This could be applied to persons who are objecting to timber operations or conducting scientific studies to ascertain whether certain protected animals are present, which would preclude logging.

With regard to duck shooting, the bill triples the penalty for "hindering or obstructing hunting" and increases penalties six-fold for "entering or remaining in a specified hunting area" or "approaching a person who is hunting". The new penalties could see people fined up to $8600 for these offences. There has been no event or any valid reason given that would warrant such a massive increase in penalties.

On the contrary, the most horrendous event for many years occurred on the opening morning of duck shooting season last year, when at least 760 "game species" and 155 protected species, including 104 rare and threatened freckled ducks were massacred and illegally left on the water to die by around 150 shooters at just one site - Box Flat private wetland near Boort in northern victoria.

Despite a police and DEPI investigation where duck shooters who admitted being present and the landowners were interviewed, no-one saw anything and no charges have been laid.

The government’s response to this behaviour by duck shooters at Box Flat – described as "deplorable" by the deputy secretary of DEPI, has been to increase penalties for Victorian citizens who are trying to stop the annual slaughter of native water birds which the majority of Victorians oppose.

The Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013, which has not yet been debated in state parliament, significantly expands the circumstances in which police and PSOs may direct a person, or group of people, to "move on" from a public place for up to 24 hours. It is not clear how police will ascertain what a "group" is or which individuals are part of a group.

Currently, under section 6 of the Summary Offences Act 1966, "move on" powers can be exercised if a person is or is likely to breach the peace, endanger or likely to endanger the safety of any other person, or is likely to cause injury to a person or damage to property or is otherwise a risk to public safety.

Move on powers do not apply in relation to picketing a place of employment or when demonstrating or protesting about a particular issue. The bill expands the grounds on which police can use "move on" powers and it essentially removes the exemptions for demonstrations and pickets.

The new provision allowing for a person to be moved on if they are attempting to impede another person from entering or leaving a premise will effectively shut down community pickets, which are a traditional form of protest and up until now have been protected under the law.

No evidence has been produced or case been made for this significant extension of police powers against the rights of citizens to protest. The additional "move on" grounds are unnecessary - police already have more than sufficient powers under the current act.

Under the bill, police will also be able to apply to a court for an exclusion order in circumstances where a person has been directed to move on from a particular place, three times in six months, or five times in a year. The person could be banned from the specified place for up to 12 months. This will effectively prevent people who feel strongly about an issue from protesting about it on multiple occasions.

If passed, this bill will fundamentally curtail the rights of citizens to protest, demonstrate or take part in a picket. Whether people are demonstrating about environmental, social or industrial issues, they will now be subject to extended and discretionary "move on" and arrest powers.

This is a draconian piece of legislation, designed to shut down community protests, pickets and activism, including community opposition to government projects and decisions. The government should withdraw it.

The Sustainable Timber and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2013 and the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013 are both serious attacks on the rights of citizens to scrutinise and, if they wish, to oppose and protest against the decisions and actions of government.

All Victorians should be concerned at the erosion of their democracy that is occurring at the hands of this state government.

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This user is a New Matilda supporter. M.R.
Posted Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 13:58

Mein gott! Napthine is trying to outdo Mr Rabbit!! Are they having a competition for totally appalling right-wing redneck policies?

Is there no Opposition in Victoria?

Is that whacko independent going to vote for these?

emmavr72
Posted Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 14:32

Two horrifying, inexcusable bills. Surely Labor could work on Geoff Shaw, see if he is willing to block them. Napthine and his government need to be stopped!

kore and sore
Posted Friday, February 14, 2014 - 20:30

I recently saw this on the internet.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goxsLw443dw

Got me wondering where my right to protest ends and criminal conduct begins.  Looks to be a protest about forests, but not in the forest. Sue, do you think we will see more of this type of protest if the law gets tougher in the bush?  I hope this doesn't come under your definition of picketing.

O. Puhleez
Posted Saturday, February 15, 2014 - 08:27

The wildlife protection laws in this country are a sick joke. When was the last time a shooter or farmer was prosecuted anywhere for illegally shooting something? They blaze away at anything that flies or otherwise moves on duck opening day, and without a worry.

Take a drive through the wheat-growing areas in Spring and early summer when the crops are all at their most rapid growth stage. The only kangaroos you will see will be small and young: the stragglers left behind after their elders and parents have all been shot out, legally or illegally.

Stand by. Abbott's budget will cut heavily in areas of 'unncessary' expenditure, like CSIRO wildlife surveys, and federal cuts will flow through to the states, resulting in lower state outlays for parks, rangers, inspections and the rest of it.

If it can't be cut up and sold for timber, meat, fur or some other commodity, it might as well not exist. It is off the market fundamentalist radar, and of no consequence.