Civil Society groups condemn passage of anti-democratic protest law

Conservation SA and other civil society groups have responded to the passage through the upper house of the South Australian Government’s anti-protest bill.

31 May 2023

Civil society groups have responded to the passage through the upper house of the South Australian Government’s anti-protest bill.

Civil society groups have responded to the passage through the upper house of the South Australian Government’s anti-protest bill.

The Bill passed the upper house with a minor amendment after a Tuesday night sitting that ran into the early morning, and it’s expected to pass the lower house today.

The amendment from SA Best removed the word ‘recklessness’, which legal experts warned would risk the laws capturing people who didn’t intend to cause any obstruction in a public place.

The government refused to adjourn the debate or send the Bill to a Committee, cutting short any opportunity for meaningful input from the broader community. Civil society groups have repeatedly called for an opportunity to review the implications and consequences of the legislative changes. We sincerely appreciate the work of both SA Greens and SA Best MLCs on the crossbench overnight as they laid out in considerable depth many of the intended and unintended consequences this legislation is likely to result in.

Craig Wilkins, Chief Executive, Conservation Council of SA:

“The fight is far from over. Alongside our colleagues from across civil society and the union movement we will always support the rights of citizens to protest and demonstrate to make society better, and seek a repeal. While it is deeply disappointing this appalling Bill has passed into law, we congratulate members of the cross bench for giving it far more scrutiny than the combined weight of the government and opposition”.

Abbey Kendall, Director, Working Women’s Centre:

“South Australia has lost democratic credibility tonight and we won’t get it back in 22 minutes, the time it took to lose it. We need a human rights act to ensure that all laws comply with our fundamental rights. We have shown how united and organised civil society is in SA, and we will keep fighting together.”

Dr Sarah Moulds, Director, Rights Resource Network SA:

“Thanks to the work of the cross-bench, we have seen some rights-enhancing changes that take us a step closer towards fixing this rushed and flawed law. But there’s no stopping the powerful momentum in our community to have a proper conversation about human rights. South Australians want to be consulted - not taken for granted. We understand that different interests need to be balanced, but we want a say in that process. Let’s build a human rights framework together so that we can address the problems that cause people to protest in the first place. We want to be proud of our parliament again.”

David Mejia-Canales, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre:

“Australia’s democracy is stronger when people protest on issues they care about. The Malinauskas Government’s new laws are not only anti-protest, but they are also anti-people. We consider it highly likely that this law will end up in the High Court given the significant chilling effect it risks having on advocacy and democratic participation across the state. South Australia needs a Human Rights Act so that terrible legislation like this can never be rushed through Parliament without proper scrutiny ever again.”

Adelaide Xerri, President, Amnesty International SA/NT:

“Today I do not feel proud to call myself South Australian. Protesting is how we hold those that represent us to account. The authoritarian nature of this law and how it was passed is a clear violation of our democratic and basic human rights”.

Ray Yoshida, Campaigner, Australian Democracy Network:

“No amount of spin can cover up the South Australian Government’s appalling treatment of our democracy in the past week. The minor amendment will provide cold comfort to anyone who wants to stand up for causes they believe in. We need to urgently reverse the dangerous trend sweeping the country of governments shrinking the space to voice dissent.”

Ross Womersley, CEO, South Australian Council of Social Service:

“This legislation will threaten and discourage citizens with genuine concerns about important community issues from engaging in peaceful and even disruptive protest. It’s shabby, unnecessary lawmaking which will have the impact of undermining our democracy. It underlines again why we should urgently be working to put a well thought through Human Rights Act in place. If nothing else, this would require our governments to engage in a much more considered approach to making any laws.”

Dale Beasley, SA Unions Secretary:

“The hasty passage of this Bill serves as a reminder that the rights of workers and the community, while hard won, can be easily lost. The government had an opportunity yesterday to defer the Bill for proper consultation, and it's galling that they refused to do so and instead pushed it through the upper house. We cannot accept that this is how laws are made in SA, especially laws that can land workers in gaol for standing up for their rights in public places.” 


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Contact Conservation SA on (08) 8223 5155, [email protected], or at our offices at the Joinery at 111 Franklin Street, Adelaide.

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