Don't licence protests, says rights group

Human rights group Liberty Victoria today expressed great concern about proposed legislation that would require permits to be obtained before people may protest.

Liberty president George Georgiou SC said, “We seriously question the need for such drastic action and urge government to look at alternatives before undertaking such measures.

“Such proposed laws represent an unnecessary infringement of our democratic rights to freedom of speech and freedom to assemble. We also question how they would work in practice and whether too much control would be handed over to councils.”

Mr Georgiou said the conduct of those engaging in violent protest should be condemned. “Perpetrators should be appropriately dealt with through the courts. To introduce laws that curb the rights of those genuinely wishing to protest is, however, simply wrong.”

He said most people attending protests - even those at which there was an outbreak of violence - do so to voice their concerns peacefully.

People have a common law right of peaceful assembly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognises this right and citizens also have an implied right to protest on political matters under the Commonwealth Constitution.

“This fundamental right, together with that of freedom of speech, should not be sacrificed because of the actions of a selfish, violent few.”

Mr Georgiou said Victoria should avoid following Queensland where a public assembly must be authorised by the police and other relevant local authorities.

And it should be kept in mind that the great civil rights protestor, Martin Luther King Jr, was arrested for marching without a permit.

“From Tiananmen Square to the Berlin Wall protests have been crucial steps in improving society.”