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SA anti-protest Bill gets the nod

Written by: Nick G. on 31 May 2023


Just before 7am this morning, the SA Upper House passed the Labor government’s changes to the Summary Offences Act.

Unlike the Lower House, where Liberal and Labor combined to introduce the changes in a world record 22 minutes, the presence of SA Best and SA Greens MPs in the Upper House stretched the debate over the Bill into a 14-hour all-night sitting.

The four cross-bench MPs sought to amend the Bill to send it to a committee for further deliberation, give it an expiry date, and add a reasonableness test, and remove references to “indirectly” causing a public obstruction. In the end, only the removal of a reference to “reckless intention” was carried.

The new Bill increases the financial penalties for obstruction of a public place 66 times, to a new fine of $50,000, and introduces a three month’s jail time. It also makes defendants potentially liable for emergency services costs responding to a public obstruction, which could also run into thousands of dollars.

The all-night sitting of the Upper House followed yesterday’s rally, called by SA Unions, and attended by 800 people including officials and members from 15 unions. 

Part of the hysteria whipped up by Malinauskas and sections of the media included the prospect of the whole city being thrown into gridlock, and ambulances being prevented from taking critically ill patients to hospital, if actions such as the woman who dangled above traffic from a city bridge were allowed to occur.

However, Ambulance Employees Association general secretary Leah Watkins said this needed to be debunked entirely. “Our members are trained to deal with obstructions to their passage on a daily basis.  It’s a stretch to say that the bridge incident required changes to this law”.

Referring to AEA rallies in 2021 against the then Liberal government, she said ““We blocked both sides of North Terrace. Labor, the Greens, SA-Best and many independent MPs stood with us in protest of the then-dismissive Liberal government… Our rallies were big, they caused disruption, they closed roads and they stopped trams… obstructing a public place to peacefully protest for a safer community for all.”

Other members of emergency services union present were the Firefighters Association and a healthy presence of members of the Police Association – although the latter were there to “supervise” the rally rather than to support it.

Although the denizens of the Cowards’ Castle on North Terrace have got their way with the passage of the Bill, the unity shown by 80 community groups who signed a public letter to the Premier, the resolve of the thousand people who took to the streets and deliberately conducted sit-downs, the defiance of the unions who held their own rally of 800 people yesterday outside a meeting of the ALP State Caucus – all provide a solid basis for a continuing defence of the right to protest with disruptive intent.



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