Human rights lawyers slam attempts to ram through anti-protest laws in SA

May 19, 2023

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) is deeply troubled by the South Australian Government’s attempts to rush through new anti-protest laws, which threaten to breach Australia’s international human rights law obligations. 

The Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment Bill 2023 (the Bill) seeks to introduce a number of changes, including increasing the penalty for the offence of obstructing public places to a maximum fine of $50,000 or three months  imprisonment and broadening the scope of the offence to include indirect obstruction of a public place.

ALHR President Kerry Weste said, “These laws will have a chilling effect on people’s freedom to engage in protest action throughout South Australia. We cannot overstate the fact that in a democracy like SA, laws that have a human rights impact should, categorically, not be rammed through the parliament without property scrutiny or consultation with the community.” 

“Every single adult and child in South Australia has an internationally-recognised human right to peaceful assembly.* The right to peaceful assembly protects the right of individuals and groups to meet and to hold a peaceful protest. This is a fundamental right that extends to all gatherings for peaceful purposes regardless of the degree of public support for the purpose of the gathering. Importantly, the right to peaceful assembly can only be legally limited in ways that are necessary and proportionate. By introducing this Bill, without any adequate consultation whatsoever, and then ramming it through the House of Assembly within a matter of hours, it is impossible for the Malinauskas Government, or any member of parliament, to properly establish that the Bill meets these necessity and proportionality thresholds.”

“This Bill has the potential to impact a wide range of protest activity: students, healthcare workers, First Nations people and their allies, environmental campaigners, disabled campaigners or any South Australian resident who directly or indirectly obstructs a public place in order to campaign for their rights face a life-changing prison sentence and crippling fines. This is neither necessary nor proportionate.”

Ms Weste emphasised, “Without the right to assemble en masse, disturb and disrupt, to speak up against injustice we would not have the eight-hour working day, and women would not be able to vote. Protests encourage the development of an engaged and informed citizenry and strengthen representative democracy by enabling direct participation in public affairs. When we violate the right to peaceful protest we undermine our democracy.”

“ALHR urges members of the Legislative Council to oppose the Bill and ensure its human rights impacts are properly inquired into, including through public consultation. This Bill and the way in which it is being rushed with so little scrutiny, lays bare the dire need for a South Australian Human Rights Act. The people of this state deserve to have their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression protected in law. They deserve a law that requires the SA Government to properly consider everyone’s rights,” Ms Weste said

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.

 * The right to freedom of assembly and association is contained in articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 8(1)(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) See also article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)