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Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Amendment Bill 2019 - Second Reading
Parliamentary Activity - Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I am not surprised he wants to come to the end of this. It is painful, there is a certain level of repetition in this room and we will continue all night if that is what it takes to make the point that thousands of Tasmanians have already made to us. The petition that was tabled today from Thursday -
Ms O'Connor - Thursday last week. There are now 2700 signatures against this legislation.
Dr WOODRUFF - There are 2700 signatures since Thursday last week which have already been lodged on an e-petition - that is less than one week. I think that would be a record in Tasmania. It demonstrates but a very small part of the level of passion in this state to uphold our rights. Tasmanians may not be aware of the detail of much of our law but everyone in their hearts at the most basic level, at the most barbecue conversation level, would understand some basic rights that Australians have always had . It is part of our history, it is part of our stories. I liked the contribution of Mr O'Byrne when he was talking about his grandmother reminding him that he always has the right to go out and hold up a placard.
As a child, I remember some part of me just knew that that was a possibility. If all else failed, I could go to the streets to make my voice known.
This is a bill which seeks to remove the rights that every reasonable Tasmanian would expect that they would have the ability to exercise if they find themselves in a situation where they have been diddled out of their pay, where they have been unfairly treated in a business, or where they are confronted with the enormity of the climate crisis that confronts all of us.
The young children who rallied - tens of thousands of them - in Tasmania a couple of months ago, understand that they have to take to the streets. They understand that peaceful protest is the only way to be heard and to get action on climate. The Extinction Rebellion activists, the Knitting Nannas, are the members of no formal group but are people who come together to express their deep concern and anxiety at the lack of action on the biodiversity crisis that is unfolding on the climate heating which has a ticking clock that really only has minutes to go until midnight. In a figurative as well as literal way, here we are at 12 minutes to midnight, and that is about as close as we are as a human species to really approaching the edge of the cliff. We know this because the United Nations and the world scientists have told us this. We are coming to understand the gravity of what is confronting us as a community of people on this beautiful planet. With that understanding comes a level of desperation, a level of frustration, at governments that are failing to act.
We know and we see that more action, more peaceful protest, more activism will occur. That is exactly what governments are around Australia and across the world are seeking to push back on. They want control over their populace on behalf of the corporations that they represent. Political parties which have corporate interests that they are there to represent above and beyond all. Political parties are in danger of selling away, completely, the rights of Tasmanians in order to further the interests of corporations that seek to extract resources, regardless of whether they will imperil the survival of the humans who depend upon the intact biodiversity that they will trash.
We have protesters in Queensland, across Australia including the wonderful Dr Bob Brown, and the fantastic people who accompanied him from Tasmania and joined with him in the Adani convoy that went across regional Australia and connected with communities of activists, ordinary everyday people, living in rural communities across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. That convoy was a perfect example that people are out in rural communities. The politicians who ought to be speaking for them are not doing their job.
Certainly, the Barnaby Joyces and the Michael McCormacks of this world are not speaking for people in drought-stricken Australia.
Ms O'Connor - God no, they are stealing their water.
Dr WOODRUFF - They are stealing their water and giving it to cotton farmers. They are handing over to Cubbie Station the water of the Murray- Darling River. Meanwhile, farmers downstream get nothing, and worse, Aboriginal communities that have lived, protected and cared for the beautiful Murray-Darling River watch in grief as it dries up, as the trees die, as their birthing trees that have been responsible for bringing into life tens of thousands of generations of Aboriginal people along those areas, those very trees are dying, forever, lost.
That is a grief I cannot imagine. I do not think any one of us who has non-Indigenous history could understand that relationship with the country . That is disappearing. People are understanding that it is a loss that cannot be borne, and people are determined to get a response. That urgency means that people will take actions commensurate with the threat that they are facing, which is why we are seeing people - typically nurses, teachers, social workers, chemists, academics, grandparents, everyone -
joining Extinction Rebellion. People from all walks of life.
A wonderful video was posted in England of a man, over 90 years old, who was involved in a Extinction Rebellion protest. It was beautiful to see how gentle the police officer was as he was arresting someone who was barely able to walk, and gently shepherding him into the back of the paddy wagon. The guy was like, 'Yes, I am doing this for my kids, my grandkids and my great grandkids, because what else can I do?'
We have been here before with this horrible bill. We know why this Government is bringing it on, because they can feel the pressure that is mounting in the Tasmanian community, just like governments elsewhere in Australia are feeling the pressure. Good on the Labor Party in Tasmania for standing against this bill, because it sure was not the case that their colleagues in Queensland stood in the same place. It has been Labor and Liberal parties across Australia that have started to bring in these bills.
This bill before us is the worst of the worst. [Bookmark: _Hlk25793887] After the Bob Brown and Jessica [Bookmark: _Hlk25793874] Hoyt case that went to the High Court, on behalf of all Tasmanians and all Australians, challenging the unconstitutionality of the last Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 - after that case was successfully decided in favour of the people, in favour of Bob Brown and Jessica Hoyt on behalf of the people, the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne put together a wonderful, very well researched publication called Say It Loud: Protecting Protest in Australia. They sent me and probably every other member of parliament a copy of this, to reaffirm the essential component that protest plays as a part of our democracy. The freedom of expression, the freedom of association, the freedom of assembly that enable protests to happen are an essential plank of our democracy.
They made the report, and they have determined 10 principles to guide lawmakers, governments, civil society and protesters on how to protect protest in Australia. It is worth reading the principles to this Government because they clearly do not understand them, and it would be worthwhile for them to recognise the principles which this bill is seeking to overturn. These are principles that all Tasmanians would understand and support intrinsically.
The first is that protest activities are protected by the Australian Constitution and international law. The second, any regulation of protests must be limited to what is necessary and proportionate. The third, as far as possible, protesters should be able to choose how they protest. The fourth principle, laws affecting protests should be drafted as clearly and carefully as possible. The fifth, laws regulating protests should not rely on excessive police discretion, and where discretion is necessary, it should be properly guided by the law. The sixth principle, lawmakers and governments, including police, should take positive steps to promote freedoms of expression and assembly. Seven, notification procedures should facilitate, not restrict, peaceful protest. Eight, lawmakers and governments should not prohibit protest based on its message, except in narrow circumstances where that message causes harm to other people. Nine, other human rights of protesters must be respected including privacy, equality, and freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment. And the tenth principle to protect protest in Australia is that the use of force by authorities should only occur in exceptional circumstances, and as a last resort.
We have a very proud history of protests leading to significant change in Australia. The reason that people protest is because of unjust circumstances, and their desire to seek restitution or justice or protection for the environment, or for people or other animals who are unable to speak for themselves. We have heard numbers of examples of different protests that have had that effect tonight, and I want to add a few more for Hansard that are important to recognise in the debate.
In addition to the important history of protest in securing the environmental beauties that we are so proud to hold, as custodians on behalf of all people on this planet, are the Franklin Dam activities, the Tamar Valley pulp mill which the member for Clark, the Leader of the Greens, Cassy O'Connor, talked about in detail before, the Wesley Vale protest, the Ralphs Bay protest, the recapturing of the beautiful Ralphs Bay on behalf of the people who lived there now and into the future. These are all wonderful, successful restorations of landscape for the intrinsic beauty of the animals and plants that exist there for our pleasure and enjoyment in future.
In my past, I was involved in protests to protest against war. I remember being involved in the massive protests that swept Australia to stop John Howard taking Australia down the pathway to the Iraq war. We eventually determined that there were no weapons of mass destruction, which was the pretext to drag a whole nation to war and we are still in that war. We were sucked into a war in the Middle East, which was all about securing oil, and here we are still fighting over fossil fuels. What this country is doing hardening against protesters is preparing for the future uprising that we are already seeing occurring against the end-stage extraction of oil and coal and gas by massive fossil fuel corporations.
We have seen the proposals for the Adani mine but, far greater than that, in the Beetaloo Basin, five times the amount of carbon would be emitted with the extraction of gas from the Beetaloo Basin. This is something we must prevent at all costs. If we do not do that, we are signing our own death warrants as a species. We do not have a choice unless we have a will to die and I do not, not now, anyway. I will do what I can prolong my life and the lives of everyone I know and the all people I do not know because that is the human spirit, to want life and to want to give life to other people. That is behind protest, a sense of fairness and justice. We are entitled in the world. We have many opportunities. We should be opening the door to people who are less fortunate than ourselves and we should be keeping the door open for our own people who do not have the fortunes that we have, who demand their right to speak up against injustices in the workplace, through bad dealings with businesses and, fundamentally, when they see environmental wrongs.
The other great contribution was of the suffragettes. Thanks to the suffragettes there are many women in parliament. Here we are, benefiting from the work of those early women who were pilloried and attacked for being 'not of their sex', for not being feminine enough, for standing up and being offensive, for basically demanding to have control over their own lives and bodies. Women, until the late 1800s, were defined in law as chattels of men. We were objects that were owned by men in English law, running into the late 1800s. That is, not much longer than a century ago; women were owned. In many countries around the world, women still are owned. These things are not far away.
As a young woman, I went to protests for my right to choose my reproductive rights, my right to choose whether I were to keep a baby or have an abortion. That seems like a long time ago but we are still having those discussions today. We have to keep the opportunity, painful as it is, and I know people in this Chamber would have very different views on that topic but we must respect each other's right to voice our views. This bill would shut all that down. It would shut down every woman in this Chamber's right to protest for or against that particular topic. Reflect on that, every woman in this Chamber. We may have different views -
Ms O'Byrne - And Mr Barnett, he protested against the legislation.
Dr WOODRUFF - It is not about his body.
Ms O'Byrne - No, I'm just saying that he enjoyed the right to protest.
Dr WOODRUFF - On the topic of a woman's right to choose what happens to her body, for or against, this bill shuts that down. It is good to think about that. Every instance, not only the continual discussions about vegans in dark hoods. This is not about that. This is about this Government controlling the narrative, kicking up fear and loathing in the community and creating demons where there are people with kind hearts trying to bring to public discussion the urgency of animal cruelty, or the urgency of women who are still unable to get an abortion in the public health system in Tasmania.
Maybe we should have another protest about that because this Government has still not done anything about that. We had Reclaim the Night marches. Women went on the streets, in the dark, wearing whatever they wanted to and they did not necessarily ask for a permit, and why should they?
Ms O'Connor - 'Criminals'.
Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, 'criminals'. If they wanted to make an especially loud noise, stand on the road and get in the way of a few cars, it is off to jail with them for 18 months. If they got stroppy and did it again, it would be four years.
Let us talk about what happens if you trespass on private property. If someone breaks into our house, what do they get? One year jail. What if they break in with a firearm, scare the bejesus out of you, the kids, the dog and every neighbour? Two years. The Knitting Nannas: if they come back after they have been arrested; four years. How is that reasonable? It is not reasonable. It is frightening in its lack of reason and it shows a level of madness in thinking.
I want to talk about what has happened with Aboriginal Australians. In 1972, four Aboriginal men put a beach umbrella outside parliament house in Canberra. That Aboriginal Tent Embassy has been there in some form or another ever since. That has created a conversation in Australia that slowly, painfully, has moved us toward an understanding about so many issues, starting with Charles Perkins negotiating with Malcolm Fraser in 1976. As a result, because of that Aboriginal Tent Embassy provoking and enabling those conversations, that strong public debate, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was passed in 1996.
There were huge protests that went on for decades about the horrific Stolen Generation, the horrible stories of families, Aboriginal children, stolen from mothers, fathers and communities, in 1988, when the Bringing them Home Report was handed in, there were sorry days initiated every year from 26 May, the date of that report. In 2000, 250 000 people walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. That was an amazing moment. People in Australia were shocked and moved to their core. It still ground on. John Howard refused to bend to the weight of those people and the motion behind that.
Eventually, Australia and politicians listened, and finally in 2008 Kevin Rudd made a formal apology, noting the reality that white Australians had inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss to our fellow Indigenous Australians. That is only part of the road we need to travel in restitution, in recognition of dispossession and loss, and the genocide that was inflicted on Aboriginal Australia, and the requirement for a treaty and so many other things.
That is the movement that has enabled the public conversation and has put people into an uncomfortable place. Here we are today with a bill which is a joke, which has the constitutional experts of the country providing the best evidence that this is breaching our rights, and that it is likely to be unconstitutional if it goes back to the High Court.
The Attorney-General is not in here, but it is awfully embarrassing again, that she is in a Cabinet which was responsible for releasing the public consultation for this. On 26 January, Australia Day this year, during the fires, during a state emergency, this Government chose to release a consultation on such an important document. No government notices were issued. Press releases about it appeared to have been backdated on the website.
This is a bill which removes the majority of the operative and the incidental provisions from the underlying act, and according to Dr Gogarty, who wrote a response -
The amending provisions are extensive and they effectively involve rewriting the legislation from the inside out.
If the Government was serious about doing its job, they should have just thrown it out and written another version, but they purposefully have not done that. The inference from Dr Gogarty is that they purposefully have not done that, to confuse people, to make it very difficult to understand. The public has been left with no ability to comment on such a highly complex amending bill.
There is no legal advice or other information that has been provided by the Government to explain why various provisions are being removed, why they are being amended, or why they have been inserted in response to the High Court's judgment. This is meant to be fixing it up, but actually it is all about obfuscation and making it difficult.
It is a fundamental rule of law, or principle, that the public is able to understand what rights and duties they have, and which of those rights and duties will be altered and taken away by law. Given the bill imposes criminal sanctions and modifies a range of common law freedoms -
especially including the freedom of speech, the freedom of association and the freedom of movement - clarity and accessibility in relation to this bill should have been central to its redrafting and to the consultation process. In actuality, the opposite has happened.
We are left with an amendment bill that is difficult to understand, and difficult to see how the provisions operate, and why they have been removed and replaced. Never mind, we are all doing our job over here, despite the fact that the Government has made it as hard as possible to investigate this bill. We will take all the time that is needed to go through it clause by clause, so it is crystal clear what a dog of a bill it actually is, because that is the work that must be done. If this Government thinks that they can just flick something out on Australia Day during the fires, wave their hands around for a few months and hope everyone goes to sleep, well forget it. It is not going to happen. There are 2700 people who have signed on to that e-petition now. If that is what it takes to make the Government happy, that they are whipping up fear and division, well they can feel happy - job done.
They obviously do not mind getting the heat on every single topic. They are getting the heat on their failure with the health system, the heat on the disaster in Risdon Prison. It is ballooning, it is going off, and we will give the heat on this bill for as long as it takes, until it is repealed.
The House divided –
Bill read the third time.