Andrews government winding back police “move-on” powers



Second reading

Mr WELLS (Rowville) — I did not think I would see a day when a Labor member of Parliament idolised the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), but we have just seen a demonstration of that. We will see what happens with the CFMEU over the next four years — whether it will abide by the law or expect a special law for itself, as we have seen in the past with the way it has demonstrated and conducted its business.

I fear for all the building sites across Victoria. I fear for businesses in this state. This legislation today is a backwards step. What has happened is that the Andrews government has missed the point and deliberately decided to argue a point that for some reason the move‑on powers were going to restrict the right to protest or were an attack on freedom of speech. This could not be any further from the truth. We strongly support freedom of speech. We strongly support the right to protest. We have no issues with that. Part of the basic foundation of the Liberal Party is the right to freedom of speech and the right to protest. There has never been any issue.

The second‑reading speech says:

Under the expanded powers, a police officer or PSO could potentially break up any protest, move someone on or arrest someone merely because, for example, they have a reasonable suspicion that a person is causing an unreasonable obstruction, is likely to do so, or is impeding or attempting to impede someone.

The laws have been in place for about a year, and I am struggling to see one example of where Victoria Police has misused that power. The government has been saying that there is the potential for misuse of power and the potential for this and the potential for that, but if the laws have been in place for a year and the government cannot come up with an example, then it is a hollow argument. I say to the government: please carefully think about the introduction of this bill.

The reason the Napthine government introduced these laws almost a year ago is so that police could have clarity around the law. They were introduced by the former Attorney‑General, the member for Box Hill, whom I have great respect for. It was about making sure that when the police went to a protest or a violent situation the law was very clear to them. The reason we brought it in was to protect businesses and to protect workers going into and leaving a business. If you do not have that, it means that you can have a protest out the front of a shop or a manufacturer and stop workers from coming and going, and that is blatantly wrong.

There is a strong difference in the way the coalition and the government see this. We will strongly support workers and businesses being able to operate fairly. Why would we, then, support very strongly the protesters or a group that is preventing people going about their ordinary day of work? To me it simply does not make any sense. As I said, the coalition strongly supports the right to protest and the right of workers and customers to be able to enter or leave a shop or factory. Introducing this law shows that the government is going to snub every single business in the state, because this could happen to any business, anywhere in the state. This issue is going to come up over and over again over the next four years. It is without doubt a grave error of judgement and one that will haunt the government.

You have to ask: why is the government doing this? Is it paying things back to its union masters? That is an obvious question. Look at how much the CFMEU has donated to the Labor Party — $1.33 million. I suspect that if a union is going to give the Labor Party $1.33 million, it comes with strings attached — it would say, ‘We want to be paid back’.

The CFMEU will have a field day with this. As I said, we had trouble with the CFMEU. We saw what it did. If the laws are loosened up, the CFMEU will take advantage. You are going to have the extremists and the thugs able to do whatever they like on protest and picket lines. Look at what has happened over the last few years and why we brought in the laws. You had Grocon and what happened in the CBD with the picket lines. I looked at some of the reports. The CFMEU state secretary, Bill Oliver, said that the dispute was over union apparel being worn by workers at Grocon and safety issues. For goodness sake! They were going to bring the whole CBD to a standstill over some very minor apparel issues, and of course the building unions are very good at being able to devise safety issues.

We say that all building sites must have the highest standard of safety — there is no question about that — but it does not give the CFMEU the right to abuse that particular right. Based on the demonstrations we saw, with the police horses being pushed and those disgraceful efforts, we had to do something, and we did it. As I say, we cannot have one law for the general public of Victoria and another law specially for the unions.

There has already been a lot of talk about the company Max Brenner and the situation where some believe that because it is owned by someone with a Jewish background, it should be targeted. To me it is absolutely foreign that you can pick out a particular factory or a particular shop and say, ‘We’re going to target you because of a situation’. We had Occupy Melbourne. We cannot have these situations. I hope that between now and this bill’s consideration in the upper house the government seriously looks at this. If it is seriously going ahead with this, it is putting every single business in Victoria at risk of being protested or blockaded, and that is wrong.