Peaceful Assembly Act

Second Reading Speech

by Dean Wells (Attorney-General)

21 May 1992

Queensland House of Representatives

This meeting at Occupy Cairns 15 October 2011 is protected by the Peaceful Assembly Act

The introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Bill is an historic occasion for Queensland. The outrageous and repressive restrictions on the right to public assembly perpetrated by successive former National and Liberal Party Governments represent a blight on Queensland’s history which will forever remain. The opposition parties, while in Government, inflicted on this State bans on public assemblies which were redolent of the worst excesses of totalitarian dictatorships, rather than the benign democratic inheritance one would expect the parties of tradition to support.

While a Liberal/National Party Government used statutory powers to do away with the ancient common law right to procession, now an Australian Labor Party Government will use its legislative mandate to create a statutory right to peaceful assembly.

So while history will record that an odious Right Wing Government repressed the Queensland peoples’ liberty to peacefully assemble—so history will record that the Goss Labor Government changed all that. The Goss Labor Government has restored democracy to Queensland. History can now record that the sorry chapter characterised by the subjugation, the domination and the violent suppression of the rights and liberties of Queenslanders is now closed.

The Peaceful Assembly Bill will restore the right of Queensland citizens to participate in peaceful assembly thereby increasing their participation in the democratic process. Society is an amalgam of ideas. No one has a mortgage on the truth.

Democracy as a whole benefits from the freedom of expression the Goss Government believes will be enhanced by the introduction of this Bill.

In the past, the Traffic Act 1949 and its regulations had the effect of making the police the final arbiters of whether a public demonstration would be permitted. The result I am sure we all remember well. From September 1977, there was bitter confrontation as a politicised police force used all in its power to crush peaceful Queenslanders. From plumber to politician, from carpenter to clergy, they were all there and they were all arrested for standing up for freedom of assembly.

The right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental right recognised internationally in Article 21 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights to which Australia is proud to be a party.

In February 1991, the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission issued its report on the review of public assembly law. The report recommended —

a right to peaceful assembly in a public place be legislatively recognised;

the legislative enactment be given supremacy over any other inconsistent law;

a non compulsory “notification of intent to hold a peaceful assembly” system be introduced;

authorisation of the notice by the relevant authority—Police Commissioner or local authority—will mean that participants are granted legal immunity from the trafficlaws; and

the court is to be used as an arbiter about whether an assembly is authorised or unauthorised.

The objective of the legislation is to confer several basic rights on the citizens of

this State. They are—

the right of peaceful assembly;

the right to participate in public assemblies; and

to ensure the right to participate in public assemblies is only subject to such restrictions as are necessary and reasonable in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, public order, the protection of the rights and freedoms of other persons.

The Bill also seeks to ensure that the right of people to participate in a peaceful assembly may be exercised without the payment of a fee.

The Bill clearly outlines that a person has the right to peaceful assembly with others in a public place, subject only to such restrictions as are necessary and reasonable in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, public order, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. These are taken to include the rights of members of the public to enjoy the natural environment and the right to carry on a business. Peaceful assemblies may be authorised or unauthorised.

Unauthorised assemblies must conform to traffic laws and relevant by-laws and regulations. An unauthorised peaceful assembly invokes the immunity provisions of the Bill, and participants risk no civil or criminal liability for obstructing a public place. Under this Bill, to be allowed to hold an authorised peaceful assembly, the organiser must give an assembly notice to the Police Commissioner or representative, and the local authority, if relevant.

The notice must give all the particulars of the intended assembly. A notice of permission is given to the organiser. Terms and conditions may only be imposed if they relate to public safety, the maintenance of public order, the protection of rights and freedoms—which includes the rights of persons to enjoy the natural environment or carry on business—the payment of clean-up costs arising out of the assembly, recognition of any inherent environmental or cultural sensitivity and the application of any resource management practice of a delicate nature.

The organisers must agree in writing to those terms and conditions. If conditions cannot be agreed upon, the local authority has to attend a mediation session with all the interested parties in an attempt to resolve the issues.

If the local authority wants to prevent the assembly going ahead, it can apply to the Magistrates Court for an order if it has formed the opinion that, if held, the assembly would jeopardise public safety, occasion serious public disorder or unduly interfere with the rights or freedom of other people. In determining applications made to it, the court must have regard to the objects of the Act, and must determine the application with the greatest expedition so that the decision of the court is not delayed until after the assembly is proposed to be held. The court is not bound by the rules of evidence, and the proceeding is to be conducted with as little formality and technicality as possible.

Costs are to be borne by each party, regardless of the outcome.

This legislation implements the philosophy of the EARC recommendations and continues the Fitzgerald process. The legislation sets right a longstanding wrong—a wrong perpetrated gratuitously against the people of Queensland. I commend the Bill to the House.