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Police Offences Amendment (Workplace Protection) Bill 2022

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 5 May 2022

Tags: Anti-Protest Laws, Protest, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, someone please, give Ms O'Byrne an Oscar. What a performance. In fact, she is about as good at that lectern as Amber Heard is in the Johnny Depp trial, a total fake.

Members interjecting.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Ms O'BYRNE - Point of order, Mr Speaker, as I am sure you understand, I do take personal offence at that, and so I should, and she should withdraw. I come to this House, as every member does, with a passion for the causes that I speak about.

Mr SPEAKER - Order, personal offence.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, I will withdraw it. No worries about that but I do think Ms O'Byrne should nominate for an Oscar, because that was quite the performance.

Ultimately what we could smell here is Labor preparing to roll over on this legislation. That fake outrage about workers, pretending every worker out there is a member of a union is really quite breathtaking. There are countless workers, who are not members of unions, and they have rights too. Labor just wants a carve out for the unions because the unions are there political and financial backers. They could not give less of a toss about other workers.

Members interjecting.

Mr SPEAKER - Order. Dr Woodruff, you are interjecting on your own member. Interjections should cease. Ms O'Connor has the Floor. There should be no other person in the Chamber speaking.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you Mr Speaker, I interjected before, against your wishes, asking Ms White why there should be a carve out just for unions. Ms White said, because they are workers. There are so many workers who are not part of unions. In fact, conservationists who go out there and defend the forests or defend the marine environment -

Members interjecting.

Mr SPEAKER - Order, order. Member for Bass, you have made your contribution, the member for Clark is now making hers. Everybody else should be quiet, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Speaker, conservationists are nurses, they are doctors, volunteer firefighters, teachers, business owners, people like respected Tasmanian business owner Anthony Houston, they are workers too. But Ms White and Labor do not see those workers, they do not have any regard for those workers, because they are not in a union. Young people striking for a safe climate, they have jobs too. I know it might shock Labor, but they have jobs too.

Ms O'Byrne - Industrial awards apply to everybody in the worksite.

Mr SPEAKER - Member for Bass, I must warn you. You cannot continually interject.

Ms O'BYRNE - If I can, Mr Speaker, can I point out that I do believe -

Mr SPEAKER - On a point of order?

Ms O'BYRNE - On a point of order. The member is misleading the House. Industrial awards and WorkSafe standards apply to every worker in the workplace, and not just those who are union members, even if that is what you would like to be the case.

Mr SPEAKER - No. A point of order is not a point of clarification, okay? Sit down. Resume your seat please, Ms O'Byrne. If you interject again I will ask you to leave.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Speaker. Young people striking for a safe climate have jobs too. Many of them are studying to be scientists, teachers, doctors, nurses, all manner of worker. Young people who strike for a climate, many of them are going to TasTAFE, and many of them will not be members of a union. Labor's confected concern for workers is really next level.

I will point out that we had to listen to the minister here talking about his concern for workers: it is bucketing down outside. The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a statewide warning. It has told people - basically - to stay at home and not leave home unless you have to. We are sitting late at night, we have people here from departments, we have attendants, we have people in Hansard, I believe there are still people in the dining room, employees, workers, who are actually being put at risk by this late sitting. This late sitting, of course, is happening because minister Barnett wants to have a political wedge before the Legislative Council elections this Saturday, and before Australians vote to boot out the Morrison Government on 21 May.

Neither party in here has a shiny record in terms of caring about workers, and neither party in here cares enough about young people and every day Tasmanians who want to defend this place.

This legislation gives more rights to a Chinese state-owned mining company in the Tarkine, and to a corrupt corporation from Brazil, than it does to Tasmanians defending their forests, young people striking for a safe climate, and coastal communities trying to protect their shared waterways.

This is not a worker protection bill. It is a corporate protection racket. The only time that the legislation mentions the word, 'workplace', as far as we can see in any meaningful way, is in the title. The title should actually read, 'Police Offences Amendment (Corporate Protection) Bill of 2022'. Recently in the Supreme Court, the Government's own lawyer confirmed that there is an urgency about determining the takayna lease place due to protests on Helilog Road.

This legislation is about corporations like a Chinese state-owned mining company, MMG, which wants to stick a toxic tailings dump in rainforest habitat you will not find anywhere else on earth - and both these parties in here are fine with that. Could not give a toss about the natural environment, not even slightly, pay lip service on climate, give young people the middle finger. You want to talk about psychological distress, minister and Ms O'Byrne, get out more and talk to the kids. If you two stagnant, disgusting old parties think that you can arrest your way out of a climate and biodiversity crisis, you are utterly deluded. Young people think they have nothing to lose. The depths of their despair about the future is existential. It is deep in their guts and it is breaking their hearts.

Yet, we are seeing Labor in Queensland, Liberal in New South Wales and a sick combination of the two down here, doing the bidding of the corporations and delivering a neo Liberal anti peaceful protest agenda because they are frightened and rightly so of people power. They are frightened and so they should be because the age of disruption is here and you are not going to be able to arrest your way out of it. People will defend those forests because they know once they are gone they will never come back the way they were.

People will defend the swift parrot because they know that if Forestry Tasmania keeps doing what it is doing that bird is gone forever. On our watch that exquisite bird, the fastest parrot on the planet, and these two disgusting, anti-environment, old parties are part of that. People of all ages across the generations will defend the masked owls' habitat, they will defend the wedged tailed eagles' habitat because they know governments will not.

Conservationists, Greens in parliament, are all that our threatened and endangered, exquisite, iconic, endemic species have. At a federal level, the EPBC act is driving these species to extinction. At a state level, a plethora of legislation is doing the same. Have a look at the kind of people who join Extension Rebellion, for example. I can guarantee that when I am out of politics I will be one of them. Every age group, every demographic, every profession, from scientists to doctors to tradies to bus drivers are joining Extinction Rebellion. Why? Because they know time is running out. The only solution is disruption. That is all we have now.

As my dad used to say, bring on the revolution. Bring it on. The level of complacency and idiocy amongst the old parties is breathtaking, it is depressing and it is accelerating the problem. We export a million tonnes of native forest woodchip out of this state every year. It goes straight to China, straight out of our forests which you will not find anywhere else on earth. We have both the major parties in this place really cool with MMG smashing down a rainforest gully, the likes of which you will find nowhere else on earth or in the universe for a tailings dam. You have this minister and this Government cheering on Xi Jinping's mining company, unlawfully approving leases, trying to hurry things up in the court so Xi Jinpin's mining company can get its way, and fiddling Tasmanian law. So, that the holder of a mineral tenement has more rights than a Tasmanian over their own land

This legislation is rightly rejected by Aboriginal Tasmanians who for 220 years have been marginalised, dispossessed, robbed and paid lip service to. That protest the other morning when members of the Aboriginal community went through the city to put pressure on government over treaty; they were technically a public nuisance. They were impeding business activity and yet this Government pays lip service on treaty. Labor says it is a friend of Aboriginal Tasmanians and yet with a few tweaks to give their union mates a carve out, they would sell Aboriginal people down the river.

Members interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - They would, it is so obvious. These two sick old parties are corporatists neoliberal shills.

We had some absolute garbage from Ms O'Byrne. One of them related to allegations of tree spiking. On any number of occasions, peaceful, non-violent protesters, conservationist have been accused of the most terrible and dangerous of actions. And that is tree spiking. Police investigations, inquiries. Never, ever, has there been any evidence that tree spikes have been planted by conservationists, but there has been enough evidence that they have been put there by forest workers.

Mr Winter interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - We have just heard Mr Winter groan. I will give him the apology from the former premier, Lara Giddings. This is an ABC news article going back to 20 February 2012 when we were in government with Labor.

The Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings has apoligised for accusing environmentalists as using tree spiking as a tactic in a campaign against native forest logging.

The premier made the tree spiking claims at a pro-timber rally on the weekend. She said:

I have seen some and I believe there have been complaints made to the police because of it.

The story continues:

It is understood a bolt was found in a log being processed at Ta Ann's Huon Valley Mill last Thursday, during a tour by the Premier.

What do you know, they found a bolt in a piece of timber, just when the Premier happened to be there? What a coincidence. It is amazing, isn't it.

Ms Giddings now said:

She should not have linked the incident to environmentalists and apologises to anyone who took offence.

Every time conservationists are accused of spiking trees, peaceful protestors, conservationists and organisations like the Bob Brown Foundation or the Wilderness Society categorically deny being part of it and in fact called for police investigations. We have had enough of the lies. The demonisation of people who are standing up for the planet we all share, for the clean air we all breath and for young people. And for life on earth.

I know it is raining outside and it is a bit cool, but the planet is cooking. We have just had released this week, science out of the Australian National University, which makes it clear that because of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, we are sequestering, we are preventing, about 22 million tonnes of CO2 every year from entering the atmosphere.

It is the great gift that we have to the world for a safe climate. Yet we have a government that is felling these forests, a Labor Party that is cheering them on and both of them seeking to criminalise those who would defend those mighty carbon banks. It is perverse, utterly perverse.

History will judge people who sit in this Chamber and are part of the destruction and the denialism very harshly. I hope some members in this place have the capacity for self reflection as they age and they judge themselves harshly too.

When we were out on the lawns today with conservationists who were protesting the legislation that we are debating now, a very well-known activist Grant Maddocks picked a little clump of oak leaves and gave it to me for this debate. He said 'The oak, like the leaves on your carpet in that place, is a symbol of democracy'. And a fundamental foundational tenet of democracy is the right to peaceful protest. Yet we have got neo-liberal governments across the country, the last gasp of disaster capitalism, undermining the right to peaceful protest. It will have a chilling effect on protest and that is the purpose.

When you undermine the right to peaceful protest, you undermine the foundations of democracy. When you have a government and an opposition who are more interested in pandering to the corporates, pandering to their donors than they are in looking after nature, giving young people hope, being part of climate solutions, you know you have a problem. Boy, do we have a problem here.

The history of protest on this island has helped to create the island that we share: from Lake Pedder to the Franklin, to Wesley Vale, the Tamar Valley, the Styx, the Florentine, Ralphs Bay, rights for LGBTIQ+ people, the community up at Westbury who protested, who stood up to defend their place and they won. That is core of who we are as Tasmanians. It is core to our identity and it is core to our brand. We would not have the brand that we have now if not for the fight and the commitment and the heart of conservationists over decades.

Talk to older people who have voted Labor or voted Liberal all their lives and they will acknowledge that we have a lot to thank the conservation movement for. Our wealth, our agricultural exports, the fact that people want to come here from all over the mainland and all over the world because there is nowhere else on earth like this, that is hard won. That is decades of peaceful protest, of activism, of driving change, of having Greens in this place, of having Greens at the negotiating table.

If not for the Greens in government, we would not be a global climate leader because we would not have scientists lauding our carbon negative status. Yet what this Government and this minister wants to do, is to stop Tasmanians from standing up to defend this place. It is fine if you have a permit, if you are authorised, if you are allowed you may have a protest. But do not dare get in the way of corporate profit or we will smash you with higher penalties, we will jail you for longer, and if you happen to be the Bob Brown Foundation we will try to send you broke. It is most certainly not going to work. We have seen some very chilling developments like the arrest of young Mr Billy Rodwell, [OK] 23, who was arrested in takayna and jailed for three days on a false assault charge and denied bail. A young person who was visiting the island, went to takayna and was so moved by what he saw - as anyone who is empathetic when you go into the Tarkine - and he stood up. He got arrested. He got slapped with a false assault charge and then the police lobbied against him going out on bail and he was jailed for three days.

Inevitably, Mr Mark Miller, the principal legal officer for Tasmania Police had to issue an abject apology for the Tasmania Police actions in that case.

Does anyone remember when Dr Lisa Searle [OK]and other Tarkine defenders, two years ago or so, were driving back from the coupe and a bunch of yobbos in a car targeted them and tried to drive them off the bloody road? No concern for their life. And this is Dr Lisa Searle who is a Tasmanian hero. Lisa Searle, who will spend days up in a forest giant trying to protect it. A doctor. She is a worker too, Ms White.

The attacks on conservationists from people in the industry are well documented. I do not know if anyone here remembers the car in the Florentine that had the protesters in it and some loggers came in with baseball bats and effectively tried to kill them. Where is your outrage about that?

We will obviously go into Committee on this bill. I want to read in the letter, that I am not sure Ms O'Byrne had access to or time for, from the Civil Society organisations that want this bill rejected; and if it is not to be rejected, they want it to be sent off to a committee. These groups that have signed on to this letter are the Human Rights Law Centre, the Tasmanian Council of Social Services, The Australia Institute, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Community Legal Centres Tasmania and the Australian Democracy Network. In a plea to this House, in a letter to you, they have said:

The Police Offences Bill should be withdrawn. At the very least we urge the Tasmanian Government to refer it to a committee.

So, I move -

That all the words after that be omitted and the following words inserted: (1)

A select committee be appointed with power to send for persons and papers and records to inquire into and report upon: (a)

The Police Offences Amendment Workplace Protection Bill 2022 No 15, and (b)

Other matters incidental thereto. (2)

The committee shall consist of six members being two from the Government, nominated by the Leader of the House; two from the Opposition, nominated by the Leader of the Opposition; one from the Tasmanian Greens, nominated by the Leader of the Tasmanian Greens and the Independent member for Clark and that committee report by 1 November 2022.

Mr Speaker, I have the right now to speak on this amendment, but I am not going to speak for the full time that I am able to speak because I want the people who work in this building to go home. But when parliament resumes, Mr Speaker, we should be debating this amendment, because civil society has called for this bill to be referred to a parliamentary committee. It is the very least we can do, given the concerns that have been glossed over by Ms O'Byrne, but that have been raised by organisations, civil society, that we have to respect - the Tasmanian Council of Social Services, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

This bill should be referred to a parliamentary committee. Of course, Mr Speaker, we will vote strongly against it, but this bill is odious, it is overreach, it applies - for example - for simple trespass, the penalty increases five-fold where the person has caused a risk to safety of another person while trespassing, and they have committed this offence previously - this carries a greater penalty than drugging another person, assaulting a police officer, and setting fire to a property. It doubles the current penalty for trespass -

Mr SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, if I could interrupt for just a moment. There is no problem with what you are doing, except your motion - I have to disallow in the sense that it is not worded correctly, it must contain or mention the bill that we are dealing with.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am very happy, on the fly, if the Clerk would not mind handing it back to me, to put the name of the legislation into the motion. This is a motion that has come out of community organisations that have a direct stake and interest in this odious, overreaching legislation. I can inform the House that if it is still ruled out of order, Dr Woodruff in her contribution on the Tuesday next will move for the committee in a motion that is correctly worded.

Mr SPEAKER - I am not trying to hold it up. I am just saying I have advice that it is not correct, and when working on that you need to move an amendment.

Ms O'CONNOR - To the amendment.

Mr SPEAKER - To the first line and so that it is more appropriate, and so that I do not have to rule it out of order.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER - What you are doing - the process - is okay, and so you need to move an amendment.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Speaker, I amend the motion I put forward to establish a committee to state that all the words after, 'bill' be omitted; do you want me to withdraw the original motion?

Mr SPEAKER - You can withdraw the original motion then, and move that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, I withdraw the original motion and I read in -

I move that -

All the words after 'bill' be omitted and the following words inserted:

'be referred to

(1) a select committee be appointed with power to send for persons and papers and records to inquire into and report upon -

(a)) the Police Offences Amendment (Workplace Protection) Bill of 2022 (No. 15), and

(b) other matters incidental thereto;

(2) The committee shall consist of six members, being two from the Government nominated by the Leader of the House, two from the Opposition nominated by the Leader of the Opposition, one from the Tasmanian Greens nominated by the Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, and the Independent Member for Clark, and

(3) the committee report by 1 November 2022.

Mr Speaker, given the potential consequences of this legislation to civil society organisations - including unions, I might add - this bill should be examined by a committee. Other members in this place should not have a problem with that. If they believe in it so much, then they should support the referral to a committee. As I indicated earlier, I do not intend to take up my full speaking time on this amendment, because I want people here to able to go home. But I will just say this about the legislation, which is why people in this place - our colleagues - should support the referral to a committee.

This is from the Australia Institute's very thorough examination of this bill.

The Workplace Bill 2022, sets disproportionate penalties for the offences of public annoyance and aggravated trespass. It increases the penalties for public annoyance more than threefold. It doubles the current penalty for trespass, where a person obstructs a business activity, putting the penalty for trespass at the same level as offences including loitering near children, possession of an implement with intent to commit a crime, and aggravated assault.

It triples the penalty from the current amount for trespass, where a person's trespass causes risk to the safety of the person. A person would receive similar penalties for obstructing a crime scene. From simple trespass, the penalty increases five-fold, where the person has caused risk to the safety of another person while trespassing, and they have committed this offence previously. This carries a greater penalty then drugging another person, assaulting a police officer, and setting fire to a property.

Mr SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, the desk now needs a copy of that motion, so, if there is a single copy that we can distribute.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Where a body corporate - and why the bill just does not put Bob Brown Foundation in the text I cannot know - but where a body corporate obstructs a business it increases the penalty from simple trespass by 24 times. No other penalty units in the Police Offences Act of 1935 are set so high. In fact, it is 600 penalty units which is four times higher than the current highest penalty unit in that act.

I am going to conclude my debate on the amendment there because I am aware that a member of this House has an appointment at 7:30, and I also know that it is time the people who work in this building, who are not paid as well as we are, were given the opportunity to get home, safe and sound, and be cosy when they are.

I commend the amendment to the House.