Target: George Brouwer, Ombudsman of Victoria
Goal: Withdraw act defining sweeping limitations for public protests
A law was recently passed, called the Summary Offenses Act, giving police alarmingly broad power in restricting or shutting down protests in the state of Victoria in Australia. While supporters note that it will limit the ability for anti-abortion protesters to protest outside of clinics, the sweeping law could affect all protests that occur in a public area.
The Summary Offenses Act will allow police to disperse protests that obstruct people or traffic, or if they are blocking the entrance to a building. Police will also have grounds to disperse a protest on the mere suspicion that demonstrators could damage property or become violent. Violation of orders to disperse could result in a $720 fine or arrest and imprisonment. Police will also be able to ban demonstrators from certain public areas for one year, with violation of the ban punishable by two years imprisonment.
The bill could have a major effect on labor strikes, essentially criminalizing picket lines in the state. Large-scale street protests will also be at high risk for dispersion. The new law’s broad and far-reaching terms will allow the dispersion of the vast majority of protests at police discretion, as well as the detainment of almost any demonstrator.
Victoria’s Human Rights Act guarantees the right to peacefully assemble, as well as the right to freedom of expression. The Summary Offenses Act is in direct contention with this, allowing police to disperse protests essentially at their own discretion. Demand that the right to protest freely be restored to all citizens in Victoria, and that a more specific law be implemented that limits potential for abuse by police or government.
Dear George Brouwer, Ombudsman of Victoria,
Recently, the state of Victoria passed the The Summary Offenses Act, a law which gives police sweeping power to disperse the majority of public protests at will. The law states that if protesters are limiting access to a building, disrupting traffic or pedestrians, or are suspected of being about to commit acts of vandalism or violence, police can issue a dispersal order. Violators can be fined, arrested, imprisoned, or even banned from public areas.
While in some cases the law might prove justified, such as to prevent harassment in front of fertility control clinics, the broad language and sweeping generalization of the law will allow police to disperse protests at will. I ask that the current law be repealed in favor of a more specific law that leaves less room for abuse by police or government.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Somaya Langley via Wikimedia Commons