(LETTER: to The Victorian Premier, Acting Police Commissioner, and Australian Attorney General.)
RE: Reclaim Rally 4th April 2014 Melbourne, Federation Square—Right to Peaceful Assembly
Last Saturday on the 4th of April 2014 thousands of Victorians were denied their Right to Peaceful Assembly at a reclaim rally scheduled to commence at 1.00pm. Our admittance to the rally was blocked from 11.15am. The Reclaim rally was later closed down at the request of Police.
Australia is a party to seven core international human rights treaties. The right to freedom of assembly and association is contained in articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)and article 8(1)(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). See also article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) , article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). (1)
Any legislation that is passed in Australia needs to conform with these treaties. According to the Attorney General it must NOT:
- limit or regulates the ability of a person or group of persons to peacefully protest…
- treat people differently on the basis of their membership of a group or association.
On 4th April at Federation Square over 1000 people wanting to attend their Reclaim Rally were denied the right to peaceful protest, because a counter rally had linked arms across both entrances to their rally and prevented their Right of Peaceful Assembly.
Effectively what happened the Police were forced to uphold the rights of an earlier group of counter rally protestors who deliberately sought to stop our access to our pre-planned rally. This action by the counter rally invalidated the rights of every other Victorian present, to their Right to Peaceful Assembly at the Reclaim Rally at the top of the stairs in Federation Square.
When I asked why the Police why they would not allow us past the Police lines. They told me they couldn’t “guarantee our safety” getting past these counter rally lines to join our rally.
The counter rally was considered by the police as dangerous. We also understand that police horses were stabbed, officers were hurt and horse dung was hurled at police by the counter rally.
This bullying behaviour cannot be construed as peaceful. A 71 year old woman standing by the counter rally, waiting to get access to the Reclaim Rally had her flag ripped out of her hand by a person attached to the counter rally causing this shocking bruising.
I now understand that the Victorian Government passed the bill to restrict Police’s “move on” ability just in time for the Reclaim Rally Event.
The Victorian Attorney General Hon M Pakula in his Statement of Compatibility on the matter said
“The bill winds back the expansion of the grounds on which police and protective services officers (PSOs) may give move-on directions under section 6 of the Summary Offences Act 1966. Under the changes, the circumstances in which police officers and PSOs may direct a person to move on from a public place will be limited to where they suspect on reasonable grounds that:
-the person is breaching, or likely to breach, the peace;
-the person is endangering, or likely to endanger, the safety of any other person; or
-the behaviour of the person is likely to cause injury to a person or damage to property or is otherwise a risk to public safety.” (3)
I now believe these powers would have enabled the police to grant me and the hundreds of other Victorians wanting access to attend our rally and would have ensured our rights to assemble as well.
The Victorian Attorney General made the final comment in his Statement of Compatibility that:
“The amendments made by the bill provide a more appropriate balance between the use of move-on powers to maintain public order and safety, and the protection of the rights and freedoms of all Victorians recognised under the charter.” (4)
On the 4th April 2015 THESE AMENDMENTS FAILED their ability to protect our freedoms.
These amendments only upheld the rights of the earlier protestors. They subsequently denied all other Victorian’s their Right to Peaceful Assembly on the day.
These amendments in effect have given the power of assembly ONLY to the first group on the scene.
Those counter protestors, as we saw on Saturday, were able lock arms and prevent all other Victorians wanting to assemble at their Reclaim Rally.
We want this legislation amended so that the right to assemble is accorded to ALL Victorian not just the first people on the scene.
Further these rights are only given to peaceful assembly. The counter rallies were not peaceful, especially when 71 year old women are physically assaulted just for carrying a flag.
You need to consider that your amendments by limiting Police powers Under section 458 of the Crimes Act 1958 is putting the public at risk. Members of the public should not have to be hurt, and property damaged in order for the Police to be sanctioned to take action against the counter protestors. (5)
What you have created through this amended legislation is monumental public safety issues let alone exposure for the Victorian Government to be sued for not giving Police adequate powers to protect the Victorian public from being assaulted at rallies by counter rally attendees.
I along with hundreds of others was not given access or peaceful passage to our rally. We were all denied our right to Peaceful Assembly. I believe the limitation of the police powers contained in the Summary Offences Amendment (Move-on Laws) Bill 2015 has proved itself counter to our Commonwealth Right to Free Assembly and needs immediate amending.
I am not a lawyer, I am just a Victorian who wanted to attend my first rally peacefully and support my fellow Victorians doing the same. That right was denied to me by a group of agitators who had purposely set out to limit my ability to do this, enabled by this recent piece of Victorian legislation.
Current Victorian laws and policing denied my rights as an Australian citizen from being upheld. You failed the Commonwealth Right to Peaceful Assembly that the Attorney General stated was mine.
Please advise me how you are going to ensure that my right as a Victorian to Peaceful Assembly is going to be assured in the future, both through Police action and through legislation.
Concerned Citizen of Victoria
Notes (1) and (2) Attorney General on Right of Peaceful Assembly.
Notes (3) and (4) Statement of Capability by Victorian Attorney General.
Notes (5) Second Reading speech