Why are we opposed to the Police Offences Amendment (Workplace Protection) Bill 2022
This is the Tasmanian Government's Bill that replaces the Workplaces (Protection from Protestors) Act 2014. (That was the legislation that was declared by the High Court of Australia to be constitutionally invalid).
The Government is making another attempt to bring in its anti-protest provisions, this time through amendments to the Polices Offences Bill.
This Bill has passed the lower house and is about to come to the Legislative Council. If it is passed by the Leg Co taking part in legitimate and peaceful protest activity will be criminal behaviour, and being charged will have harsh consequences.
We’re concerned the Bill is unnecessary, undemocratic, and will have a chilling effect on peaceful democratic protest. It may also have a range of unintended consequences.
Women’s Health Tasmania has joined with a number of other civil society organisations, including groups like TasCOSS and the Human Rights Law Centre, to ask that this Bill be withdrawn. At the very least the Parliament should send it to a select committee for proper scrutiny before it gets voted on.
Our three main concerns
- The wording of the proposed amendments is very broad and key terms are not defined. This means it could be interpreted in a large variety of ways. It could lead to unintended negative consequences.
- The penalties in the Bill are severe, and are not in proportion to the offences listed.
- The Bill will have an effect on legitimate and lawful protest activity, which could have a significant impact on Tasmanian democracy.
Examples of the potential impact of the Bill
- Under the amendments proposed by the Bill, any protest taking place on private property (not defined), in which a business was ‘obstructed’ (not defined) could be seen as ‘aggravated trespass’ under this Bill. This is regardless of where the protest takes place or what obstruction or risk the protest activity might cause. Protestors charged would face 12 months in jail. (The previous proposed legislation had similarly broad and uncertain provisions - it is this that the High Court was so critical of.)
- A protestor can be charged because of something they did not do, or know about, and that did not even occur. They can be charged with causing a serious risk to themselves or someone else, even if they did not do so directly, even if they were completely unaware of any potential risk, had no intention for harm to occur, and even if no harm did occur (there is just a risk of harm). The Bill does not define ‘serious risk of harm’.
Without the right to peaceful protest women would never have got the vote. We would never have won the right to equal pay, or access to legal abortion services. We are still protesting for the right to live free from family violence and sexual assault.
All around the world democracy is under attack. We need to protect our right to peaceful democratic protest.
It is our view that the Government needs to talk to the community a great deal more before, and to define more clearly what it is trying to achieve, before it brings this legislation to the Parliament.
The members of the Legislative Council are here Legislative Council Members (parliament.tas.gov.au)