Victoria recently amended the Summary Offences and Sentencing Act via the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill. The changes give Victorian police greater discretion and powers when dealing with protesters, amongst the changes include the power to order protesters to disperse if they are:
- Blocking entry to any building;
- Disrupting traffic; or
- If it is expected that the protest will become violent, cause a reasonable fear of violence, or becomes likely to damage property.
‘Move on’ orders will be used to disperse crowds, with penalties for failing to comply resulting in potential arrest and a $720 fine. The law will also allow police to apply to a magistrate to ban protestors from certain public places.
‘Move on’ orders were originally introduced in 2009, however police could not previously issue them if protestors were picketing a place of employment, or protesting over an issue.
The amendments have sparked concerns from political and activist groups over the right to engage in political communication. Greens MP Sue Pennicuik called the bill an assault on the democratic right of Victorians to protest.
Attorney-General Robert Clark responded by stating that the laws have been enacted to prevent protesters from deliberately preventing people from going about their business, and the amendments do not seek to silence Victorians’ rights to engage in lawful and peaceful protest.
Victoria has recently been a hive of protest activity. Protests in the State range from industrial disputes, anti East West Link picketers, anti-Tecoma McDonald’s groups, anti-abortion activists, and mining protestors.
The Federal Government also recently announced the re-introduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which has the power to fine individuals that picket building sites up to $34,000. The move came after numerous picket lines restricted or stopped work on building projects in Victoria.
The laws will come into force on September the 1st at the latest.