Australia's Draconian Anti-Protest Law Passes Amid Protest
Protester: 'If we don’t fight for our rights now, they will take them away.'
Australia's Victorian state parliament passed a draconian anti-protest bill on Tuesday, prompting protests in the Melbourne parliament chamber that were violently shut down by security.
The Summary Offenses and Sentencing Amendment Bill has been widely criticized as a crackdown on freedom of expression and public protest, as well as an attack on marginalized, poor, homeless, and undocumented people.
When opponents of the bill voiced their opposition during debate in the chamber on Tuesday, security "proceeded to drag people by their arms, legs and their necks out of the gallery for daring to express the concerns of the community," said protester Samantha Castro in an interview with 7 News describing the scene, which was captured on the video below.
In addition, a riot police squad was called to the scene to disband the approximately 30 protesters. The demonstrators "were representative of a much larger movement, of many [thousands] of people who do not want to see democracy further stifled in this state," wrote Nicola Paris of nonviolent direct action group CounterAct, in a statement about the action.
Now passed, the bill drastically expands police powers to force individuals or groups of people in public places to "move on" on the suspicion that they will cause violence, obstruction, or sell drugs, and it expands powers to ban, imprison, and fine people who are deemed not in compliance.
"These laws will disproportionately affect marginalized young people, people experiencing homelessness, poverty, and mental health issues who occupy public spaces, both as a result of social choice and necessity," reads a statement from a coalition of Australian organizations that oppose the bill.
"By necessity, people experiencing homelessness live their lives in public places," reads a statement from Australian organization Justice Connect. "Unlike the rest of us who could go home if told to move-on, homeless people have no-where else to go."
Many suspect the law is aimed, in part, at stifling demonstrations and worker pickets in the state, including Melbourne protests against an East West Link Road under construction that critics charge would displace residents, contaminate the environment, and expand carbon pollution.
Describing the Tuesday protests, Paris wrote, "We were there for unionists, for teachers, for nurses, for people who fought for the rights we now have. We were there for environmentalists, for people who care for refugees, who care about the city we live in, and who have saved the buildings we now cherish. We were there for those defending their homes and communities from an unwanted road project that will bring no benefit but much pollution, at a cost of billions."
"This legislation is yet another step down the slippery slope. If we don’t fight for our rights now, they will take them away."