THE Victorian Government, with its dictatorial emergency powers rule, now wants to restrict public protests to a permit-only proposition according to the Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh.
Permits he said will be approved, or disapproved, by the Victorian Government – even if the protest was about the government.
“The right to protest, your right to protest, is a cornerstone of democracy,” Mr Walsh protested.
“Australian history has been changed, and changed for the better, by protest,” he said.
“Just think back a couple of years, when the Victorian Government tried a backdoor shuffle to gut Cohuna hospital of its maternity facilities and put the future of what would be left on notice.
“But an immediate public backlash, and a massive crowd gathered near the hospital to protest the proposed cuts, won the day and this week the hospital got a multi-million dollar grant for further improvements – I was proud to be part of that fight and if the people had kept quiet; done as they were told, the hospital may well be closed by now; rather than expanding.”
Mr Walsh said if you look back through time to some of the major protests in our history you don’t have to go very far to see their importance.
He said you could start with the Vietnam moratorium marches in the early 1970s – the largest public demonstrations in Australia’s history at the time.
“To stop people killing, and being killed, in a war without end. And they did,” Mr Walsh added.
“The famous Wave Hill walk-off was a protest that lasted seven years before Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam brought it to an end, going to Wave Hill to return more than 3000 square kilometres of land to the Gurindji people, pouring a symbolic handful of red soil as the deed to the title,” he said.
“Or the environmental stand that was Tasmania’s Franklin Blockade in 1982, to save the Franklin River from disappearing under a massive dam project.
“Thousands descended on the site to protest the development, more than 1200 would be arrested, but they won.
“It sparked our environmentalist movement and was the cradle of the Greens Party.”
On July 24 in 1978 – marching with a permit – thousands packed Sydney’s Oxford St to protest gay and lesbian rights in Australia.
Even though their protest was ‘legal’, bigoted police of the day launched a violent attack on the marchers and arrested 53.
But the protest was dubbed a ‘mardi gras’ and the rest is history.
“We need fewer permits, not more,” Mr Walsh insisted.
“And no government should be allowed to define what is an approved protest; such a system is open to incredible misuse and abuse,” he said.
“People should start protesting about protests now, before they need a permit to even think about it.”