The Victoria state government in Australia passed a law Tuesday that will give unprecedented amounts of power to police to suppress protests. The Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill passed through the Victorian parliament despite heavy opposition within the general population. During the legislative proceedings alone, police arrested four protesters in the legislative chamber’s public viewing chamber for causing disturbances.
Under the new law, police can order protesters to disperse if they are blocking the entrance to a building, obstructing people or traffic, or most notably, if the police expect the protesters to turn violent. The penalty for violating orders to move ranges from a $720 fine to arrest and imprisonment. Under the new law, police would also be able to obtain exclusion orders banning protesters from certain public places for a period of 12 months; the violation of which carries a maximum jail sentence of two years.
While supporters of the new law say it will help to prevent anti-abortion protesters from regularly gathering outside of fertility clinics, detractors say the law goes too far and allows the government far too much power, especially in the affairs of labor disputes.
Sue Pennicuik, one of the members of Australia’s Green Party, protested the bill’s passage. “This bill is an absolute assault on the democratic right of Victorians to protest – whether it be on the streets or on public land – about issues of concern to them.”
Victoria, one of Australia’s five states and three territories, is the country’s second-most populous state. Located in the southeast corner of Australia, it plays home to Melbourne, a city with a population of over 4 million.