Civil society and human rights groups condemn anti-protest Bill rushed through South Australian Parliament.
- Amnesty International Australia
- Australian Services Union SA+NT Branch
- South Australian Council of Social Service
- Extinction Rebellion SA
- Australian Democracy Network
Human rights and advocacy groups are sounding the alarm after the South Australian Labor government rushed the Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment Bill 2023 through the South Australian lower house.
The Bill passed the lower house on Thursday 18 May 2023 and is poised to see people peacefully exercising their right to protest risk a fine of up to $50,000, up from the current $750 penalty, or jailed for three months.
The scope of the legislation and the enormity of a $50,000 fine will have a chilling effect on the right of citizens to peacefully protest and on South Australia’s democracy.
Attorney General Kyam Maher said he hoped the Bill would “soon” pass the upper house.
Amnesty International Australia Campaigner Nikita White said:
“The South Australian upper house must reject the Bill, which will unfairly restrict people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
“This crackdown on the right to protest means all our ability to fight for human rights and combat the climate crisis are under threat. People shouldn’t face huge fines, and even prison sentences, just for standing up for what’s right.
“These harsh penalties on those protesting peacefully are part of an unacceptable trend in Australia which has seen the right to protest stymied in recent years.
“Everyone should be concerned about increasing repression and anti-democratic laws ft in Australia. Peaceful protestors should not be met with the threat of thousands of dollars in fines or imprisonment.”
South Australian Council of Social Service CEO Ross Womersley said:
“Protest, including peaceful disruptive protests have been key to achieving many of the welcome changes and improvements in our community and the rights that we all take for granted.
Disturbance and interruption are the things that invite and cause us all to stop and reconsider. Being punished unreasonably seems completely at odds with our democracy and the community we would like to continue to build.”
Australian Services Union SA+NT Branch – Assistant Secretary Scott Cowen said:
“The right to protest is fundamental to our democracy. Union members are proud to stand up for our rights at work and for justice in the community.
The South Australian Government’s heavy handed increases to penalties for protesting are outrageous and as union members we stand strongly against them. We call on the Malinauskas Government to withdraw this attack on the right to protest.”
Extinction Rebellion SA:
“The South Australian government’s decision to choose protest suppression over climate action reveals its complicity in the industries that are driving the climate crisis. It shows our government is in denial about the urgency and seriousness of the climate crisis.
Both major parties have decided to treat peaceful protest as the problem, rather than rising to the challenge of facing and responding to the existential threat of the climate emergency. In doing so, they are continuing to fail to act to protect their own citizens from the terrifying future the world’s scientists warn is coming as well as undermining the democratic rights of citizens who might call them to account.
Extinction Rebellion is part of a proud tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience focused on bringing a better world into being. Unlike earlier movements, however, Extinction Rebellion is using civil disobedience because science makes it clear that all life on earth is at risk.
This week, Extinction Rebellion drew attention to one of the industries that threatens life as we know it: the fossil fuel industry. Instead of responding with policies based in science, or acting in line with our state’s declaration of a climate emergency, the major parties have co-operated to bring in ill-conceived legislation that massively penalises peaceful protest and undermines democratic rights for all.”
Australian Democracy Network Campaigner Ray Yoshida said:
“This is a completely disproportionate response from the Malinauskas Government to peaceful community protest, and disappointing that they would rush it through without proper scrutiny. We urge the Government to reconsider its approach and we call on the Legislative Council to reject this draconian bill.”
CounterAct’s Nicola Paris said:
“Protest is essential for democracy. Ramming through increased penalties without scrutiny that are 66 times higher than the original fine for a minor (summary) offence, and adding a jail sentence is not democracy. Inconvenient, disruptive, peaceful protest has changed the world for the better.
“Fossil fuel driven climate change has killed and disrupted millions worldwide, and displaced thousands locally – and yet the ALP said this week they were “at the disposal” of this industry at the APPEA conference – that’s been made devastatingly clear.
Counter Act recently coordinated an open letter representing 250 organisations and millions of members speaking up to protect protest nationally.
This bill follows increasing repression of the right to protest in Australia in recent years. In 2022, multiple states (NSW, Victoria and Tasmania) introduced anti-protest laws which impose thousands of dollars in fines and prison sentences on protestors engaged in civil disobedience.
The Bill passed in the South Australian parliament’s lower house following days of protest by Extinction Rebellion in response to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference being held at the Adelaide Convention Centre.