The South Australian government has passed legislation to lift fines for obstructing a public place from $750 to $50,000 – or three months jail – after a marathon 14-hour overnight debate.
The Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment Bill 2023 passed shortly before 7am Wednesday, with Labor and Liberal support.
SA-Best MPs Frank Pangallo and Connie Bonaros and Greens MPs Robert Simms and Tammy Franks moved a series of amendments to the legislation – which passed the Lower House in just 22 minutes last Thursday. They included sending it to a committee for examination, giving it an expiry date, introducing a reasonableness clause and removing wording that included “indirectly” obstructing as well as directly.
Labor and the opposition voted the proposed changes down. But SA-Best succeeded in an amendment to change wording of the new bill to remove “reckless” intent.
The legislation was introduced after an Extinction Rebellion protest last Wednesday, in which a Willunga woman abseiled from the Morphett Street bridge above Adelaide’s North Terrace and caused widespread peak-hour traffic disruption.
Besides increasing the maximum fine for public obstruction 66-fold, the legislation will make defendants potentially liable for emergency services costs responding to a public obstruction, and broaden the offence’s scope to include indirect obstruction of a public place.
The bill outraged legal and human rights groups as well as the union movement, which argued it was an attack on the right to protest and democracy. More than 15 unions rallied at Festival Plaza, behind Parliament House, against the legislation on Tuesday.
The state government has repeatedly said the legislation does not make any changes to the Public Assemblies Act 1972, which governs the right to protest in South Australia, and is intended only to lift penalties for protests which deliberately obstruct public movement.
Premier Peter Malinauskas again defended the move on Wednesday morning.
“There’s a distinction between a protest or a demonstration or a disruption, which is very welcome here in South Australia for people advocating their cause,” he told ABC TV.
“The distinction between that and then hanging from a bridge in a way that completely locks down a significant part of our city, stops ambulances being able to get to our major hospital … When these types of events happen repeatedly from the same people, who crowd-fund the fine payment, $750 … I think that speaks to a need to increase the
size of the fine, which is what Parliament passed early this morning.”
- This article first appeared in InDaily and is republished here with permission