Thousands rally for right to protest

 Paramedics as much as anyone know the risks the Napthine Government’s proposed restrictions to the right of political protest pose for Victorians, United Voice member Morgyn McCarthy told a rally of thousands of protestors outside Parliament House today.

“We don’t have that many options for industrial action but one of the things we do have is the right to peaceful protest and rally,” Morgyn told the protest.

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“It is ridiculous to think with the possible change in legislation that a group of paramedics could be moved on for simply gathering in protest about the inaction by this government over the ever-worsening ambulance crisis.”

Changes to the Summary Offences Act sought by the state government would empower police to break up protests and order protestors to move on if they restrict access to property.

 Other speakers opposing the laws included Father Bob Maguire, who spoke about the importance of workers having their own voice, and Anna Brown, a director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

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The changes would enable police to seek “exclusion orders” under which individuals could be excluded from public places for up to 12 months. Breaching such an order carried a penalty of up to two years jail, Anna Brown told the protest. Refusing to follow an order to move on carried a fine of $720.

“The penalties are really draconian,” Anna said. In line with Queensland’s G20 legislation, the changes were another example of governments eroding the right to free speech. “There is no question that this Summary Offences & Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013 is a direct attack on free speech. A direct attack on freedom of assembly,” she said.

The Labor Opposition has said it would repeal the anti-protest laws if it wins office in November.

United Voice members from numerous service industries such as cleaning and early childhood educators insist on the right to speak out in support of their campaigns to be valued and respected for their essential work. In her speech Morgyn McCarthy said the point of the protest was to show the government that workers will not stand by and allow their right to protest to be endangered.

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“To have the threat of potentially being banned from public places or even being arrested for bringing important issues to the public eye shows how worried they are about our ability to influence change,” Morgyn said.

As for that election in November, Morgyn spoke for a substantial Code Red paramedic contingent when she had one simple message for the government: “Bring it on!”

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