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Premier – Anti-Protest Bill

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 23 November 2020

Tags: Anti-Protest Laws, Protest, Freedom of Speech, Australian Constitution

Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, the failed Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act was basically regarded as unconstitutional by the High Court. Your Government introduced amendments last year. The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Amendment Bill passed the House of Assembly after your Government gagged debate on it because it was allegedly urgent on 28 November 2019. A bit over a year ago a bill that we were told in the House of Assembly was urgent and therefore debate had to be cut short has been sitting in the Legislative Council now for an entire year. Can you explain the delay? Will you confess that it is because it is still a dog of a bill and it is not going to pass the upper House, if the lower House vote is any indication?

Mr GUTWEIN - This has been a challenging year all round. The parliament hasn't sat or didn't sit for a period of time and then obviously we've had a range of legislation and other matters that have been more directly linked to the COVID-19 recovery that we have prioritised.

We still remain committed to that legislation. I believe very firmly that people that want to go to work should be allowed to go work and people who want to run a business shouldn't have that business impeded. What that bill enables and my understanding - I don't have a briefing here in front of me on a basis of clause by clause - is that it simply provides for the right for somebody to run their business or to go to work without being impeded by protest.

It doesn't stop people from protesting near a facility or in a peaceful and respectful way. What it does is it clearly wants to stops people who impede a workplace and shut it down. It is fair and reasonable.

Ms O'CONNOR - First of all, there is no indication there is a significant problem with any workers or workplaces being impeded by the right to peaceful protest, which is enshrined in the constitution, at least implied in the constitution, the freedom of political communication.

The thing is, Premier, we were told it was an urgent bill. Parliament's debate was gagged because this bill was allegedly urgent. It has now been upstairs for a year. Yes, it has been a big year, but there is a whole suite of information non-COVID related that has gone through both Houses. Why don't you just admit now it is going to fall over upstairs if the vote downstairs is any indication. I hear you laughing, Ms Ogilvie, but you voted for it.

Ms OGILVIE - I am laughing because there has been a pandemic this year and there are two bills upstairs, as you know.

Ms O'CONNOR - But you did vote for it. So Premier, would you admit now, it is going to fail? You don't want to have a failure on your hands. Why don't you withdraw the legislation and then we can repeal the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act? We have a handy bill on the table for just that purpose.

Mr GUTWEIN - Ms O'Connor, unlike you, I won't reflect on the machinations of the Upper House. I have great faith in the upper House to make wise decisions.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sure, that is why they will vote against the bill.

Mr GUTWEIN - As I have pointed out, we have had a range of other matters that have been in front of us this year. That bill will be put to the upper House at an appropriate time.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have only had the two questions. The same number as Ms Ogilvie.

CHAIR - Yes, but Mr Ellis is entitled to the same number of questions as you too, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Isn't that just ridiculous.


Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, were you being truthful with us before when we were talking about the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Amendment Bill? We were told it was urgent. It wasn't an urgent piece of legislation. We have done a bit of checking back and there are two bills from 2019 that have made it through the House of Assembly and not been passed by the Legislative Council. One is the mandatory minimum sentences bill and the other one is the anti protest laws.

Before you tell us that the House had a lot of COVID 19 related legislation to deal with, yes, we did, and we dealt with it collaboratively but the House and the Legislative Council have managed to pass the Anzac Day Trust Winding-Up Bill, together with a number of other miscellaneous amendment bills.

Will you be truthful with us and tell us that the anti protest law was not an urgent bill at the time? It is not an urgent bill now. It is not necessary legislation; you know you are going to lose the vote upstairs. Why don't you just say, yes, we are not going to bring it on for debate?

Mr GUTWEIN - We remain committed to having that debate at a time that suits the Government.

Ms O'CONNOR - So it is not urgent? It was never urgent.

Mr GUTWEIN - At a time that suits the Government. I will not discuss Government tactics here at the table; I do not think that would be fair nor reasonable but we remain committed to that bill.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I ask you then, can you explain the conflict between the entire business of the House being gagged in relation to that legislation on 28 November last year when it was passed without the support of the Greens or Labor where we were told it was an urgent bill. It is now clearly not an urgent bill. The obvious conclusion to draw there is that you know that you are going to fail. Also, the issue here is that it was a misuse of parliament's time and our trust to tell us that it was an urgent bill when it clearly wasn't because it has been languishing upstairs for a year.

Mr GUTWEIN - As we can both agree there have been some significant changes in the last eight to nine months in the management COVID-19. Regarding that bill, we remain committed to it. It will be brought on at an appropriate time. Regarding discussing our Government's strategy, that is as far as I am prepared to go.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you think it is good law?

Mr GUTWEIN - A law that ensures that people can go to work and earn their lawful living and importantly, laws that ensure that businesses cannot be shut down through protest on their site, then I think that is an important law, yes.

Ms O'CONNOR - Not important enough to bring it on for debate.