Thursday, 2 September 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Cash. My question references independent professional truckies who protested on Monday morning in Queensland. Can the Attorney-General inform the Senate of the legal protections afforded Australians under our Constitution, legislation, common law or international conventions that protect the right of everyday Australians to engage in peaceful protest in a public place?
I thank Senator Roberts for the question. I don't have the actual legal provisions with me, so I will need to revert to you in relation to that. In terms of the right to peacefully protest in this country, it is a right that we hold dearly, certainly as a society and as a government. We've seen protests around Australia, in particular during COVID-19. It is important that people do adhere to the law at all times and certainly respect the rights of others in relation to what they are protesting on.
After the truckies made their excellent point, which Senator Hanson and I support, Senator Hanson did ask the truckies to consider allowing horses on trucks in the blockaded traffic to be freed and allowing everyday Australians to go about their day without hindrance. Attorney-General, do you agree that the Australian people would be looking to parliaments to defend civil liberties exercised in a fair manner, not to trash them?
Again, at all times when people are protesting—and it doesn't matter what issue they are protesting about—they should always protest in accordance with the law. They should respect the laws of the land, and at all times they should respect the rights of others.
I note that previous protests against COVID measures around our nation were deemed illegal and prosecuted, yet the Black Lives Matter protests were approved under COVID restrictions. Both series of protests were in violation of similar COVID restrictions. The only difference between the two protests was the subject matter. Attorney-General, should politicians be allowed to use public order measures to hide from public criticism?
Honourable senators interjecting —
Order! The minister said they couldn't hear the question because of noise during a remote question. I'm going to ask Senator Roberts to ask it again, which I know will waste the time of the chamber, but the minister couldn't hear it. I ask for silence. Senator Roberts, can you repeat your question?
I note that previous protests against COVID measures around our nation were deemed illegal and prosecuted, yet the Black Lives Matter protests were approved under COVID restrictions. Both series of protests were in violation of similar COVID restrictions. The only difference between these two protests was the subject matter. Attorney-General, should politicians be allowed to use public order measures to hide from public criticism?
Again, for Commonwealth, state and territory governments, the one thing we're all united in is keeping Australians safe during COVID-19. The Australian government has at all times sought to take measures that combat the virus, while, as I said previously, at the same time respecting people's rights and their freedoms. You would also know that states and territories themselves have taken measures under their own laws in respect of COVID-19, and, as you have articulated, this is predominantly done under state and territory public health and emergency management legislation. Again, at all times, though, the Commonwealth will work with state and territory governments—through the national cabinet—to ensure that Australia's COVID-19 response is one that is measured and is one that is appropriate.