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Speech: Obstruction of Public Places (Anti-Protest Bill)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (04:25): I rise as the second speaker for the Greens to oppose the Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment Bill this morning, noting that in fact it is now over 12 hours since my colleague rose to do the same. I want to start with the actual offence, obstruction of public places, which is pursuant to section 58 of the Summary Offences Act. I asked, via the parliamentary library, if the Courts Administration Authority could advise me and my office on how many times there has been a conviction under this particular section of the Summary Offences Act in the last five years. The answer is zero.

I am not quite sure why we have identified this particular part of the Summary Offences Act for special attention to have the fines and penalties increased when in fact we have not seen it go through to a conviction once in the last five years. The Hon. Connie Bonaros mentioned, I think, three particular cases where there has been some interaction with it, where it has gotten a little way along, but not a single conviction under this part of the Summary Offences Act, which leads me to wonder why we are taking the advice of the shadow attorney-general, whose idea this was, as he noted in his contribution in that 22-minute debate in the other place, that this was his brainchild, the member for Heysen's brainchild.

Certainly, he was acknowledged by his leader, the member for Black, the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. David Speirs, that the opposition has been involved for some 24 hours or so in advocacy for legislative reform in this area. Twenty-four hours of a brain fart, really. That is what this is, for a piece of the Summary Offences Act that has actually never successfully seen a conviction in the last five years.

There has also been a lot of talk from the Premier that this does not change the Public Assemblies Act. The Premier has spoken of—and I share with him—his commitment to peaceful assembly. I note that at the protest today, many spoke who would perhaps normally be seen as allies of the Labor Party; in fact, many of whom were members of the Labor Party, some of whom may not remain members of the Labor Party. I note that that peaceful assembly out on what is our Federation Square, which is how that space (the Festival Plaza) has been touted to eventually be used, were not able to secure a permit to have that protest today, so indeed it was an unlawful protest and would fall foul of this particular provision when it is enacted.

At that particular rally that could not secure a permit to hold a peaceful protest near the location of those who they wished to hear their protest, that being the Labor caucus, outside in the Festival Plaza, within hearing distance of the Balcony Room of this parliament of South Australia, I note that some of the speakers were of great interest in terms of really where the Labor movement sits on this. There was SA Unions, there was the United Workers Union, there was the Ambulance Employees Association, the AEU, the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), the teachers, the CFMEU, as you would probably expect—a whole raft of unions were there. In fact, it was very well represented in terms of right across the board, the width and breadth of all sorts of industry and workers.

I point out again, they could not get a permit to hold that protest there today. So when the Premier says this particular piece of legislation that we are debating now does not touch not a letter, not a comma, I think was his quote on the news, does not touch the Public Assemblies Act, well that does not mean much if you cannot get permission to assemble lawfully under the Public Assemblies Act. I would have thought that a peaceful protest, in an appropriate place, with people who sought the appropriate permissions would have not been refused. I certainly would like some answers on why that permission was refused.

The Premier also noted, and certainly the Attorney-General has previously remarked in this place, that he and I probably have spent quite a lot of time on Parliament House steps as well as inside this place, at protests, at rallies, as part of what you would call both civil society and also part of protest movements seeking a better world, a fairer world, a more just world. The Premier pointed to the time that he took part in what I imagine those of us who are of a certain age took part in, which was probably the biggest protest that Adelaide has ever seen. That, of course, was the no war coalition organised protest in February 2003 against Australia's entry supporting the supposed coalition of the willing into a war with Iraq.

The gathering was so big it actually had to be split into two marches. It took more than one hour for it to move two city blocks. Thousands of people were still at the starting point when the front of the march reached parliament. That was from Victoria Square. It had wonderful speakers, quite a diversity. My colleagues mentioned the now Senator Hanson-Young, who was then known as the Adelaide University Students' Association President, Sarah Hanson. It also had speakers including Brian Deegan, the father of a Bali bombing victim; Ruth Russell from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; veteran trade unionists; teachers unionists; and Mem Fox, children's author. It was an incredibly diverse protest and I remember that day.

In fact, they do estimate that there were 100,000 there. There would have been more, except people could not get the buses, trains and trams because they were packed, they were not stopping at stations or bus stops and, indeed, the rally was told by the police at the start of the day that they were not to walk in the tram tracks, but of course they did. That rally, the one that Premier Malinauskas points to as his involvement in the protest movement, actually defied the instructions of the police, blocked the traffic, not just for 90 minutes but for many, many hours. So Premier Malinauskas perhaps does not quite remember that part of history as clearly as some might. I hope that he reflects upon that when he thinks about his involvement and just how protests actually work in real life.

Indeed, the media reports talk about the police having to bring in officers from Port Adelaide, Holden Hill and from quite far-flung places. Such were the numbers and the need for policing that day that it put an enormous burden, apparently, on the police force of the day. It is, in fact, reported on the front page of The Advertiser, if you would like to go and check.

When 100,000 say no to war, are they, in the future, going to be finding themselves falling foul of section 58? That is a question I would like the Attorney-General to answer if, for example, they are directed by the police to stay in certain areas but the size of the rally requires them to actually spill over into a much broader area. Something the Attorney-General would be very familiar with, and a phrase that I often reflect on is: there is no justice without peace. No justice, no peace, and if you do not know justice, you will not know peace.

The right to peaceful protest here is at the heart of our democracy and right now it is under attack. For those who do not have deep pockets, access to politicians who will offer to put the state at their disposal, or access to public platforms, protests can be the only tool that many in our community can use to be heard and to secure change, to change the world. And yet, anti-protest laws have already been passed in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, and here we are, right now, passing anti-protest laws in South Australia, something I would never have predicted a month ago. Yet, here in South Australia, our laws will carry the harshest financial penalties in the nation, and have been rightly condemned by the Human Rights Law Centre for that.

The fact that such draconian anti-protest laws are being rammed through this parliament is something that many South Australians do find deeply disturbing and will find deeply disturbing as they learn about it because this process has actually been so speedy. However, it is still going to be a slow-moving car crash as we watch South Australians learn that their rights were stripped away.

In terms of a South Australian government that has its roots in the labour movement, to have these fundamentally anti-democratic and anti-progressive laws championed in concert with the Liberal opposition does make one wonder if it is the alternative Liberal Party or the ALP that we see on the government benches in this state. It is devastating for our democracy.

It is only two years since the Speaker of the house and the Minister for Education instituted the Muriel Matters Award for South Australian secondary students who show self-initiative and commitment to making a difference in their community. Why is that relevant? Muriel Matters, as many of us know, was an Adelaide-born suffragette or suffragist who fought for women to have the vote in the UK. She was also an educator and an extremely prominent woman and member of the critical mass of people who were advocating for women's suffrage. She was largely active between 1905 and 1924 and she began that life of activism aboard the Women's Freedom League caravan, which toured England's south-east.

Although tirelessly campaigning for women's voting rights in the English counties for many years, Muriel Matters is most recognised for chaining herself to the grille of the Ladies' Gallery in the British House of Commons on 28 October 1908. Why is that relevant? One of the reasons that we have been given that we need to rush these laws through is that the modes of protest have changed over time. But back in 1908, Muriel Matters locked on to a grille in the UK House of Commons, where she then had to be removed still attached to said grille. Indeed, that grille now sits in pride of place in the Centre Hall of this Parliament of South Australia, soon to become known as the parliament of Santos.

That grille is a symbol of the oppression of women in a male-dominated society, and it was her firm conviction in fact that the grille should be removed. She was in the ladies' gallery. Women were not even allowed on the floor of parliament, and indeed her non-violent solution to chain herself to that grille was the centrepiece of a larger protest that was conducted by the Women's Freedom League.

While attached to that grille, Muriel Matters, by the legal technicalities, was judged to be on that floor of parliament and thus the words spoken by her on that day are still considered to be the very first words delivered by a woman in the UK House of Commons. Muriel was jailed for a month for—wait for it—obstruction, and indeed a piece of the grille, as I said, is now in the Centre Hall of this Parliament House and a daily reminder to all of us of the importance of the right of peaceful protest to shape our democracy. What a difference a few years make.

Perhaps we need to remind this government that the Labor movement was born out of protest: women's rights, racial justice, LGBTIQA+ rights, environmental justice, the rights to an eight hour work day; all things gained through the protest movement and the work of unionists. I draw your attention to the union movement in South Australia, which has recognised the threat that this legislation before us today poses to our state. SA Unions Secretary, Dale Beasley, has characterised this bill as 'hasty and reactive legislation', going on to say, 'peaceful but disruptive protests and demonstrations have been integral in achieving so much of what we now take for granted in our society.'

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has highlighted their dismay at the lack of consultation with any of the relevant stakeholders. The Australian Services Union SA and NT branch assistant secretary, Scott Cowen, has said that these heavy-handed increases to penalties for protesting are outrageous and that as union members the ASU stands strongly against them. As an ASU member, I thank him.

We must remember, of course, why this bill is happening. We are on the edge of the cliff. Our best scientists are currently telling us we have only seven years left to completely re-tool our economy, green our cities and restore our natural environments before the damage that we as people have caused from greenhouse gases becomes irreversible. That is the danger, and the solutions are of course still within reach.

Those solutions are what the protesters who have forced this issue to the surface are striving for. They are calling for 100 per cent green energy, no new coal mines, a transition to a better future, and justice for First Nations who are already on the front line of climate change and fossil fuel extraction. They are calling for that better world. What do they get? They get the APPEA 2023 conference, a conference of oil and gas professionals, with Minister Koutsantonis stating to them that he is, and this state is, at their disposal and here to help for a pathway to the future—of oil and gas.

The future of oil and gas is one that would create complete climate crisis, fuelled by a constant drive to profit and laws that punish anyone who stands in the way of that. The climate science is undeniable, and the time for action is now. My colleagues and I have said repeatedly in this place—but it seems to be making little impact so far on government policy—that when action from the government fails to materialise it is no wonder that rational, reasonable, and indeed retired, people, are driven to the point of desperation so much that they will tie, glue, lock on, suspend themselves on or over what they think will garner the most attention, in the desperate hope that maybe this time the major political parties will snap back into reality and recognise the terrible climate crimes that they are committing.

When you have a government and an opposition who are more interested in pandering to the corporates and to their donors than they are in looking after the environment, in giving young people hope and in being part of the climate solutions, you know you have a problem and you know that the protesters are not the problem.

We can still create a better future, but only if we urgently demonstrate that we do not accept the status quo, a status quo with irreparable harm to our collective wellbeing and to that of future generations, a scenario in which those who can least afford it will suffer the most. It needs to be made clear that disruption is not violence, and the disruptive protests that we have seen, that have somehow embarrassed Labor into fast-tracking these laws, perhaps because it was the same week in which they were promised the state was at their disposal, are entirely peaceful and consistent with the approach of the successful protest movements throughout our country's history. Without peaceful, disruptive but nonviolent protest we simply would not have many of the things we have today that make our lives worthwhile.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia is a signatory, states are required to respect, protect and promote the right to protest. Imposing tens of thousands of dollars in fines and prison sentences on people engaging in peaceful protest does not fulfil these obligations. In honesty, it undermines the right of people to create a better future for themselves and for others.

The Premier has, however, stated that, 'There has been an apparent increase in civil disobedience-type activities that cause huge disruption to the general public.' Have you seen 100,000 people on the streets lately? Have you seen a member of the public chain themselves to the upper gallery of this parliament lately? I would like the Attorney-General to explain this apparent increase in civil disobedience-type activities that have apparently been occurring lately, or whether it is, as it always has been, that part of a healthy democracy sees peaceful protest.

Yet, according to the courts data—so I do look forward to the Attorney-General's answer on that one—as I say, there have been no convictions recorded this year or in the previous four under section 58, the very section we debate today. Just as concerning, however, within this bill that we debate today is the change of language from 'wilfully' to 'recklessly', meaning even those unintentionally obstructing a public place could face charges.

I will also note that it is cruelly ironic to say that, on the same day that the government announced a penalty increase of some 66 times for this offence, the World Meteorological Organization said that there is now a 66 per cent chance that the planet's temperature will climb above 1.5º Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels for at least one year.

I turn to the inconvenience that has been caused, and I ask: why do people feel the need to protest? They are protesting because they feel the government is not listening to them, so perhaps the solution is to listen rather than legislate. It is distressing that we find ourselves defending our democracy in this way at now, almost 5am in the morning. The right to protest that is restrained to accommodate the political ideology of the ruling party is no right at all. To suggest otherwise is at best a dangerous misunderstanding of a foundational principle of our society, and it should cause this government to hang their heads in shame.

Protest movements are a vital pillar and a force in democracy, and the government does not get to dictate where people can exercise their democratic rights. That is not how good laws are made. Good laws undergo a process of consultation, scrutiny and debate before going to a vote. No-one, not even any members in the lower house, had a chance to examine the wording of the bill before that was passed, other than those few, that select group of Labor and Liberal MPs, and perhaps a couple of staffers, who whizzed this all up in what appears to be around about 24 hours.

This is not the first time legislation has been moved through the South Australian parliament at this speed. Every time it happens, we here in this parliament send a message to South Australians that their parliamentarians are not interested in due and proper process and in having an appropriate debate.

Minister Tom Koutsantonis is firmly in support of these laws and even alluded to the protesters being hypocrites. But I wonder what happened since June of 2020 when in the other place now Minister Koutsantonis said, on protecting those seeking health care from intimidation and harassment in safe access zones, 'The idea that I would vote for any measure that takes away the right to assemble, I have to say, does not sit well with me.' Perhaps he did not quite say it like that, but I have to say that they are his words and they certainly do not sound like his words right now, once he has put the state at the disposal of oil and gas.

He went on to say in that particular speech, 'I have a problem when the parliament seeks to take away the right of assembly. I do not think taking away the right of assembly gets the outcome we are looking for here.' He even said, 'Once the parliament gets a taste of banning protests, it is not that much of a step to take five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. I repeat: what a difference a few years makes. The Greens are enormously disappointed in the message this sends to our community this morning, particularly to our younger people who will be most impacted by our action or inaction on climate change.

To echo the words of author, Astra Taylor, in her book Democracy May Not Exist but We'll Miss It When It's Gone, structural change follows social unrest. There would be no minimum wage, workplace health and safety protections, an eight-hour work day, or the weekend, without the labour organisations, organisers and trade unionists who went on strike. There would be no gay rights without the legendary riots at Manhattan's Stonewall, and there would be no Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 without decades of direct action from impaired activists who blocked inaccessible buses, pulled their bodies up the unwelcoming Capitol Hill steps and even pissed in public to make the point that they could not use regular washroom facilities.

The forward march of democracy resembles a kind of two-step move rulemaking trails open revolt, like sedimentation hardening into rock after a storm. But, just as often, the rule of law has a retrograde function. Regulations created behind closed doors can have the explicit aim of undoing hard-won gains, entrenching the reign of the already powerful instead of incorporating the people's demands. Political structures are devised to guard against further insurrections.

Some will disagree with the tactics of the recent climate protesters, but the overarching point is that people are putting their liberty on the line to make a safe future for everyone. They are the smoke alarm and our house is on fire. It is time to stop trying to shut down the smoke alarm and start fighting the fire.

I will finish by saying that the Greens are not alone in our fierce opposition to this bill and, alongside my colleagues from SA-Best and the crossbench, who have spoken out strongly in this place, I thank all the groups from across civil society who have taken a stand against this piece of legislation. I also thank those many constituents who have called or emailed my office. Please be assured your voices have been heard.

I wish to express my gratitude to those brave activists, volunteers and dedicated grassroots groups who are doing everything within their power to uphold the standards of a democratic society. You are on the right side of history. Keep fighting the good fight.

In conclusion, this bill before us does appear to have been a captain's call. We know that the Premier is oft said to be an average footballer. This time, if this were a political game, he would not even be getting a game in the division 12 ressies this coming weekend. He has made a mistake. He has made an error. A fundamental rule of politics is 'Dance with the ones that brung ya'. He has dumped them at the front door in his pursuit of oil and gas today. He has dumped them at the front door, leaving the dance card free, in pursuit of a Liberal vote that is clearly up for the taking—but he did not have to sacrifice Labor principles to go after that vote.

With that, I indicate I will have an amendment: that this piece of legislation, which looks set to pass, be referred to the Voice. When we set up our state Voice for First Nations people they should be able to have a say on this legislation because I have very little doubt that, should the police wish to use this in a way they have not so far, we will see an impact on First Nations people and protesters.

Again, I note that the Attorney-General and I have been at many of the same protests, and I point to the ones around Wayne Fella Morrison, which would have all violated this particular section that we are probably going to see pass into law today. When we see a death in custody of a First Nations person, that protest should be respected, should be heard, rather than penalised or punished with more imprisonment.

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The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise, unsurprisingly, to speak in support of the Summary Offences (Reversal of Section 58 Amendments) Amendment Bill put to this council for debate by my colleague the Hon. Robert Simms. The Greens wholeheartedly support the repeal of the retrograde...

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