Queensland Unions gravely concerned at protest laws

Queensland Unions are gravely concerned about increasing police search powers in response to climate change protests, saying it opens the door to future amendments which would see protest rights or civil liberties further diminished.

Queensland Council of Unions Acting General Secretary Michael Clifford today told a public hearing into proposed changes to the Summary Offences Act that changes should not be rushed through Parliament without proper thought and scrutiny.

Queensland Unions made a submission to Parliament’s Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee saying the QCU has grave concerns as to any potential restriction on Queensland workers exercising their democratic right to protest or to take action to defend or advance their rights.

“Queenslanders have a long history of demonstrating against injustice and promoting the need for change.  Campaigns against conscription, apartheid and oppressive legislation have been a necessary reflection of Queenslanders’ democratic rights,” said Mr Clifford.

“The Labor Government has previously made a virtue of its willingness to consult and should maintain its proud history in that regard,” he said.

“It is our view that the best way to deal with protests is to demonstrate a willingness to deal with the root cause of the problem and to engage in dialogue. Simply dealing with the symptoms won’t make the issue go away.”

The QCU raised particular concerns about expanding the scope of police search powers, which will impact on every Queenslander.

“There are already extensive search powers in Queensland and this Bill extends those further. Any time search powers are extended, it diminishes the civil liberties of Queenslanders,” he said.

Overzealous application of the search laws could see ordinary workers going about their daily business being stopped and searched because their vehicles may carry “pipes and other tools” which police may suspect is a potential ‘dangerous attachment device’.

“These search laws can and will impact Queenslanders in many different places and in many different ways. They are an unwanted and unnecessary intrusion into the lives of all of us.”

“There are existing laws which provide police powers in protest situations. We believe these laws already provide adequate measures and do not need to be extended,” Mr Clifford said.

The QCU’s submission also raised the concerns of unions representing members who work to ensure community health and safety during any protests, such as police officers and firefighters, and for rail workers, where protest action is conducted on railways.  

“Trains can take kilometres to stop and as such, any protest action on railway that a train driver is unaware of can have devastating consequences,” he said.

“All the concerns raised in our submission must be addressed.

“QCU will be a willing participant in any discussions to find solutions to health and safety issues. We are concerned however that rushing this Bill through parliament is the wrong response. “

The QCU Submission can be accessed here: https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/LACSC/2019/SummOff2019/submissions/166.pdf

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