SUMMARY OFFENCES AND SENTENCING AMENDMENT BILL 2013
I rise to make a contribution to the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013 following the superb contributions by the shadow Attorney-General and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
In doing so I reiterate the fundamental position of the Australian Labor Party that not only do we oppose this bill but that if we are given the honour of being elected at the end of this year, we will repeal this bill as one of our first actions in government.
Why do we make this commitment? We do it for some very fundamental reasons. This bill essentially erodes the hard-fought-for rights of people to protest in this state. Its genesis is a deep, abiding and visceral hatred by this government of people who seek to show dissent, people who seek to organise themselves, people who are part of organised labour, people who are part of the trade union movement. We see this demonstrated every day by this unelected Premier when he comes in here at question time. There is nothing that excites this Premier more than bashing the Labor Party and the trade union movement. These are the only two things in life that give him pleasure. It is the same old shtick by this government.
All this morally bankrupt government can do is bring forward this sort of legislation that essentially erodes the fundamental rights of citizens in our community to stand up and protest when they see decisions proposed by this government that are wrong. It is wrong in relation to the east-west tunnel, which is a fundamental mistake that has been made by this government. I support the right of members of my community to protest peacefully against the east-west tunnel every single day. I support the people of the community of Tecoma if they want to stand up and support their right to freely express their view about decisions made and about how their community ought to operate in the future.
I also support the right of members of the trade union movement to peacefully protest to ensure their fundamental rights are protected. That is why we oppose this legislation. It is draconian and antidemocratic, and it echoes back to those very dark days of the Bjelke-Petersen government. Who could ever forget those days when, if more than two people — three people — congregated together it was an illegal act. We see the views of this deeply conservative Attorney-General echoing through this legislation. That is very clear to us.
There are a number of aspects to this bill that I think are extraordinarily dangerous. The first is that in the context of this bill a police officer or a protective services officer (PSO) merely needs to suspect on reasonable grounds that a person has committed an offence in that place or is causing a reasonable apprehension of violence in another person, is causing or is likely to cause an undue obstruction to others or is present for the purposes of procuring or supplying drugs. The bill refers to reasonable grounds.
I was very concerned after having recently read a really excellent brief provided to, I think, all members of Parliament by the Fitzroy Legal Service. It provided a brief to us to inform the community of the potential impacts of this bill. The briefing paper was provided by Meghan Fitzgerald, the solicitor for the Fitzroy Legal Service, and is endorsed by no less prestigious organisations than the Salvation Army; the Council to Homeless Persons; the Victorian Drug and Alcohol Association; HomeGround Services, one of our major and distinguished emergency housing providers; Youth Projects; Justice Connect: Homeless Law; Flat Out; the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service; and others. These are prestigious organisations, particularly the Salvation Army. They have noted that very deep concerns have been expressed about the potential impact of this particular bill on the most marginalised communities.
It is not surprising that I would deal with this issue, given that i have a long history of working with and supporting marginalised communities, not only in my own electorate but more generally across the state. What strikes me particularly about this bill is the aspect of it that goes to the question of someone causing or being likely to cause an undue obstruction to others. I will tell the house the story of where I was on Sunday. I went down to Enterprize Park to represent my party and to acknowledge the tragic death of a homeless man called Mouse, who had been stabbed to death in the viaduct underneath the railway line at the park. I went to that event with members of the Salvation Army and with the Lord Mayor and other distinguished people. I was simply there to acknowledge the fact that not only had dreadful harm being done there but to say more broadly to the community that homeless people are welcome, that there is a place for homeless people in this city and that this poor 42-year-old man’s life had not been taken in vain.
I was there to say that we as a community were prepared — and there were perhaps 200 to 300 of us present — to stand up together and say, ‘No, your life actually did amount to something, Mouse. We do acknowledge your life, and in the future we need to do better when we are trying to deal with homeless people in this state’. Certainly the legacy of this government thus far is a very sad legacy when it comes to addressing homelessness.
What does the bill mean for those displaced people? Causing unreasonable obstruction is one of the tests for whether a PSO or police officer can move somebody on. The people who are sleeping under that viaduct may well, in the context of this bill, cause unreasonable obstruction. They may offend people because they are living in the public realm. This is where they live. I invite any member to go over to the substation in Fitzroy Gardens at the back of this Parliament at lunchtime today, because they might offend members there. There will be homeless people sleeping around that substation tonight.
Members may find that offensive and an unreasonable obstruction. Indeed Victoria Police could find that an unreasonable obstruction as well and move those people on, but move them on to where? They have nowhere to go, and that is why they are sleeping in parks. That is why people are sleeping in vulnerable conditions underneath the viaduct at Enterprize Park.
The bill is completely unreasonable. It is unjustified that this piece of legislation is before the Parliament. It will deleteriously impact upon the most vulnerable people in our community. I refer not only to homeless people but also to my friends in the Aboriginal community, who also live in the public realm because that is how they choose to congregate. Smith Street is a major connection point for members of Aboriginal communities moving through Melbourne and seeking to link up with relatives and friends. There is absolutely the potential that someone will create an unreasonable obstruction and the police will be able to move them on.
I submit that this piece of legislation is deeply rooted in the most conservative elements of this government. It is a shameful piece of legislation. It seeks to vilify and criminalise organised labour in this state, which is a shameful thing. Indeed it has the real potential to inflict very severe harm on the most marginalised in our community — people who live their lives in the public realm. Shame upon the government!