Legal Perspectives from EDO Tasmania
27 June 2014: Lack of Parliamentary scrutiny for Protest Bill of great concern
The Tasmanian House of Assembly passed the Workplace (Protection from Protestors) Bill 2014 at around 11pm on the evening of 26 June 2014.
The Bill is summarised in our Fact Sheet – Protesting laws.
EDO Tasmania assist’s environmental groups and individuals with environmental issues across Tasmania, especially those who cannot afford to pay private lawyers. From time to time those groups or individuals hold protest events in relation to their environmental concerns. For that reason – EDO Tasmania has taken an interest in this Bill.
It is of great concern that a law, which impose mandatory gaol sentences, was not subject to the usual Parliamentary processes of clause by clause scrutiny.
Most proposed laws put before Parliament go through what is called the “committee” stage. This is where each section of the law is read out and considered separately. Parliamentarians are given the opportunity to ask questions of the Minister. The Minister will have staff from the relevant department on hand to assist in answering those questions. By this process the detail of the law can be examined and problems with it revealed and then subject to amendment.
This process did not take place in this case.
There was the usual second reading debate (which went for many hours in this case) and then the Government stopped the debate with a motion often referred to as the “guillotine” or “gag”. A very brief discussion of the name of the Bill and the meaning of the word “bystander” took place.
Aside from that, there was no committee stage. There was no opportunity for the question and answer process to take place with the Minister. This is of great concern given this law contains vague, ambiguous elements that could lead to large fines and imprisonment for people outside of the Bill’s stated purpose.