Tasmanian Times


Keep off democracy’s lawns

Protests `must be insured’
By CHRIS JOHNSON, Friday, 25 February 2005
New rule on dissent
Protests on the lawns of State Parliament have been deemed illegal unless the organisers have secured $20 million public liability insurance.

A joint house committee chaired by Speaker Michael Polley ruled that groups wanting to use the lawns must carry the insurance.

The Government says most groups would already have such coverage, but conservationists insist that the move is an attack on freedom of speech.

The Greens contacted eight insurance companies and brokers and had been informed in all cases that specific public liability coverage was not available.

The Greens, who were not invited to join the parliamentary committee, said the ruling was an “unacceptable cost on democratic participation”.

Greens justice spokesman Nick McKim said Parliament, not the public, had an obligation to provide liability cover for users of its gardens.

etc, etc:
New rule on dissent

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  1. Dave Groves

    February 26, 2005 at 12:18 am

    As a shadow falls over the lawn of Parliament House, I try to remember why I chose to live in Tasmania. My first ever letter in Tasmania cited fresh air, clean water and most of all its people and their culture as its most treasured assets.

    Why are our leaders so focussed on trying to hammer these assets into submission?

    To me, there is an overriding sense of guilt among them, caused by their actions and coupled with an extraordinary appetite for power and wealth that sees them as having no other option than to become bullies.

    It is a shameful and immoral act to erode and belittle people who are motivated by concern, condition and humanity.

    In an Australia in which government and big business are seen as one, the will of the people grows stronger to rectify this injustice.

    Nelson Mandela came from gaol to become President as he stands for all that is good in mankind.

    Similarly was the rise of Bob Brown after he was released from gaol for his stand for our planet.

    We can all share this ‘heaven on earth’; it is not to late for our leaders to admit their errors and let the sun shine on the lawn of Parliament House and all of Tasmania and beyond……….

  2. pat synge

    February 25, 2005 at 4:31 am

    Is this a first for Tasmania? Are we leading the way into the brave new world? Where else in the world do demonstrators have to take out public liability insurance?

    It’s fairly obvious that no insurance company will readily offer $20m cover for something as amorphous and unpredictable as a “political demonstration” which makes this condition effectively a ban on protest, whatever the spin put on it by the politicians involved. The logical next step is that Hobart Council impose the same condition on any group wishing to demonstrate in a public place – effectively making street demonstrations illegal in southern Tasmania. Backyard demonstrations may be fun are hardly effective!

    The right of peaceful assembly is recognised as a fundamental human right under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) but there is no clear right of assembly guaranteed under the Australian Constitution. There is a strange law tucked away in the Crimes Act 1914 that might be relevant but which has never been prosecuted: “Any person who, by violence or by threats or intimidation of any kind, hinders or interferes with the free exercise or performance, by any other person, of any political right or duty, shall be guilty of an offence. Penalty: Imprisonment for 3 years.” However it’s extremely unlikely that demonstration could even be claimed as a political right let alone a duty and it has been argued that this law, which on the face of it appears to protect freedom of expression, could in fact be used against protesters “engaging in peaceful protest who inadvertently cause inconvenience to individuals who are attempting to exercise political rights or duties”.

    What exactly was the Solicitor General’s advice to the Joint Parliamentary Committee? Was it in relation to the use of the space for commercial and/or cultural activities or did it specifically state that protestors assembling on the lawns of Government House should first obtain public liability insurance? Has there ever been a case of the Government having had legal action taken against it as a result of protest on the lawns of Parliament House? If so, has such a case been successful? Will it now be a requirement for picnickers also to have public liability insurance?

    Voltaire supposedly said “Though I disagree with what you say I would defend with my life your right to say it”. The freedom of dissent is one of the cornerstones of our democratic system and this move by the political establishment to curtail this freedom should be resisted by all of us who value freedom of expression – regardless of our political persuasions. The thin end of the wedge.

    A protest on the lawns of Parliament House would seem appropriate.

    Pat Synge

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