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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 933

Mr TUCKEY(8.00) —Mr Speaker, in this House on 5 June 1981 I addressed a question to the then Minister for the Capital Territory, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). The question was:

Does the Minister for the Capital Territory propose action to formalise Canberra's latest caravan park, now located in front of Parliament House, so that the obvious benefits of free camping will be available to all Australians? If so, does he propose that it will still be necessary to display a protest sign . . .

Let me remind honourable members of the date of that inquiry. It was June 1981. On that occasion the Minister gave me some encouragement in his reply and in fact shortly afterwards, through correspondence, we were able to reach agreement that there was absolutely no need to have protest camps and the campers were removed. However, since that time there has been a change of government. To my dismay I, as a great supporter of this institution, again saw a proliferation of tents and other camping equipment appearing on the lawns in front of our Parliament, and, of course, obstructing people's view of what is an excellent vista-our lawns, fountains, and Lake Burley Griffin.

Consequently, as many honourable members present are aware, I addressed a further question to the Minister of the day, the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren). Might I add that in the previous correspondence I had with Mr Hodgman, the then Minister, I threatened that if he was not prepared to take some action I would join the protesters. I directly asked the present Minister what his intentions were and whether he would give me the same permission as other people seemed to have, contrary to the general laws of Australia. The House is well and truly aware of the answer I received. It was an answer all about protesting. The Minister said that this Government stands for freedom of assembly and freedom of protest. I stand for freedom of assembly and freedom of protest. Might I add one word and say the freedom of peaceful protest . Of course, most honourable members opposite at the moment do not remember the disgraceful occasion when certain people found it necessary to kick in the door of this place.

Mr Hollis —I was there. They were my constituents.

Mr TUCKEY —I am terribly sorry for the honourable member. I am glad that the remark is in Hansard because that also was an assault on the democracy of Australia. Democracy is something for which we should be very grateful. We should be very grateful that in any hotel or public place we may criticise the Government of the day and not expect knocks on our doors at midnight. That is what we have and that is what I am protecting. This is why I want to raise some of the issues raised subsequent to my action this week when I chose to park a caravan-carefully on the concrete, I might add, so as not to damage the lawn-and place some protest signs on it to draw Australia's attention to the fact that it is absolutely and completely unnecessary to have a tent in order to protest.

There is a little history attached to this matter. The first ever protest of this nature was the Aboriginal tent embassy. It was significant. In fact the protesters thought they needed a structure because they did not have an embassy. That action suddenly created a pattern for Australia. We have protest by tent. Canvas has gone ahead of people. One does not need to stand in front of the Parliament; all one needs is some canvas and one is a protester. Of course there are some good reasons for that. The principal reason, as I understand it, is contained in the American guidelines to protesting which state that one can protest all one likes provided one holds one's sign aloft and keeps moving. That is a good test of a protester. It tests his dedication and determines whether he is prepared to walk around and suffer some discomfort in the interest of his cause. Our protesters want to erect their tents and hang up some signs. As most honourable members opposite know, on nine reasons out of 10 when we walk out of this Parliament we see no people there at all. There are only tents there. It is protest by tent.

Mr O'Neil —That is not true.

Mr TUCKEY —I am sorry, the honourable member must go out at different times to me. I do not say this as a criticism of the Government. It is a criticism of a set of circumstances. I hope that the Government takes this matter on board. It is quite proper for a person to present himself in front of the Parliament-it is not only proper but also desirable-and display to members of the Parliament his concern, whatever it might be. Of course, in order to protest he needs a sign. He does not need a tent; he does not need to put something on the lawns week after week. I take honourable members back to the circumstances of my original question. When I walked over there the other day a person came to me and said: ' You are up to what Hodgman did to us in 1981'. I reminded him that I was the reason why Mr Hodgman did it to him, and I am quite satisfied that he understood that reason. The point I make is this: How often can he come back here and occupy the lawns of Parliament House?

The other point is that this is a Government of consensus, I am told, and consensus must have some implication of fair play. There is a huge area opposite the Parliament. If it is to be a place for people to camp, what of the rights of the law abiding citizen? Every law abiding citizen clearly knows that his responsibility when he takes off with his tent or caravan is to go to the places designated for camping or caravaning. I understand that that is basically to protect public health. Of course State Governments-and this Government in respect of the Australian Capital Territory-put down legislation or regulations to that effect. I respect that. I also respect the fact that just as we stop for a red light at a traffic intersection, quite legally we go to caravan parks or whatever may be the designated area. That is not a trade restriction; it is because local authorities and others realise the need for it. A protest sign suddenly defeats all those carefully thought out, carefully constructed laws.

That is the way the Government thinks that things should operate. I remind honourable members that the previous Government did not see it that way. It upheld the law above the canvas and consequently it said: 'No, we will not have the tents'. There is absolutely nothing on record that says that we will not have the protesters. We said we will not have the tents. We will not have camping, whether it be in a caravan or otherwise. In this regard, I must be evenhanded and say that I was not all that rapt about the big banana, either. I am not convinced that commercial enterprises should be allowed to use that area in that fashion.

When representatives of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation wished to entertain members of the Australian Parliament and demonstrate what they are doing they went to the rose gardens, put up their tents, turned on their barbecues, ate, packed up and went away. If there are events like that that cannot be held in this place, maybe another place should be found. Mr Speaker, you are involved in arrangements concerning the new Parliament House. What is the future of protest by tent, this protest of canvas? We have a magnificent arrangement that suggests that people will be able to walk over the top of the people's Parliament-a magnificent architectural concept. My question is: Will people be able to wend their way through the tents? It is equally serious to suggest that tent dwellers could put tents all over the top of it. It is time that honourable members opposite, within Caucus, asked themselves whether they can differentiate between the words 'protest' and 'tent' because the rest of the world is able to do so. I submit to honourable members opposite that the previous Government was able to do so. It is a simple decision that this Government seriously should be able to take. I am not trying to criticise this Government; I am just saying that it is confusing the difference. Finally, I ask the Government not to let tents get on top of people.