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Wednesday, 8 February 2023
Page: 216

Senator ANTIC (South Australia) (16:10): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator ANTIC: I table the explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Criminal Code Amendment (Inciting Illegal Disruptive Activities) Bill 2023 will amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 to protect not just everyday Australians and businesses who are simply going about their day, but also major economic and national interests.

In recent times Australian capital cities have seen disruptive and illegal activities in, explicitly designed to cause maximum chaos, disruption an ultimately economic harm, under the guise of being a "protest".

The right to protest is one of the most fundamental rights of people living in a healthy liberal democracy, as it is a vital means by which the state can be held accountable, and the concerns of citizens expressed.

However, recent years have seen an increase in activities which, though described by organisers and participants as protests, are no more than acts of trespass, vandalism, and major economic disruption for the sake of highlighting a cause. These are not responsible or respectful acts but actions intended to cause as much disruption as possible and interfere with others' rights to property and safety—actions such as gluing oneself to a road and deliberately disrupting the flow of traffic.

The sight of entire major thoroughfares being completely closed and chaos within the central business districts of major cities has become all too common. While this behaviour is accepted and even encouraged by activist mainstream media outlets, the everyday Australian has had enough.

These acts are becoming more and more brazen, disruptive, and dangerous. It is only a matter of time until someone is seriously injured or even killed as a result of this sort of activity getting completely out of hand. Everyday Australians and businesses deserve and require protection from this infantile disruption to their lives, and our economic prosperity and in turn the national interest also requires protection.

The organising of the sort of activity targeted by this Bill has the potential to cause significant economic loss and disruption to individuals and business, including:

cause a major reduction of general economic productivity;

cause road accidents and deaths;

impede the operation of emergency services;

divert significant emergency services resources from their primary responsibilities; and

cause distress to members of the community.

While those carrying out this activity on our streets often receive little to no punishment, the real threat comes from the organisers who plot these events online, and who often hold views completely at odds with Australian values and mean to do us great harm in the name of their twisted ideologies.

For example, anti-capitalist protestors have sought to impede economic activity and damage businesses as much as possible to make a political statement, going well beyond the legitimate mechanism of political protests, and the organisers of such disruptions, who actively promote these activities, rarely face any meaningful consequences.

Each new disruptive event that is organised and carried out by their proxies on the street emboldens these extremists to organise further crimes and disruptions without fear of criminal penalty for their role.

This Bill would amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence to use a carriage service to transmit materials which incite another person to commit trespass, theft, or unlawful disruption of road users in major business areas.

The Bill introduced three new offences in the Criminal Code. First, using a carriage service to transmit, make available, publish, or otherwise distribute material with the intent to incite another person to trespass on land in a major business area attracts up to 12 months imprisonment.

Second, using a carriage service to incite another person to unlawfully damage or destroy property, or commit theft of property, in a major business attracts up to five years imprisonment, to reflect the more serious nature of the offence.

Third, using a carriage service to incite another person to unlawfully obstruct the path of a road user, as defined in the Australian Road Rules, could face up to 12 months imprisonment.

As was seen with the introduction of the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Act 2019 with respect to incitement of trespass on agricultural land, this Bill will prevent the trespass, property damage or theft, or disruption of traffic in major business areas being planned and organised using the internet.

There are legal means of organising and undertaking protests, the right to which underpins our society and political system, which is why the necessary protections for journalists and whistleblowers are provided for in this Bill.

These offences would not apply to a person who makes a public interest disclosure in accordance with the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013, whistleblower protections under the Corporations Act 2001, or in accordance with other Commonwealth, State, or Territory whistleblower or lawful disclosure regimes.

The offences created by this Bill would not apply to material relating to a news report or current affairs report which is in the public interest and is made by a person working in a professional capacity as a journalist, ensuring that these amendments do not become a weapon to be arbitrarily used against those who expose corruption and other inconvenient truths.

In line with the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Act 2019 the burden of proof rests with the prosecution in establishing that material did not relate to a news or current affairs report, was not in the public interest, and was not made by a person working in a professional capacity as a journalist.

The exceptions and protections built into this Bill reflects the balance between the rights of citizens to protest and other rights intrinsic to Australian democracy such as property rights, the right to individual and public safety, and fair and equal access to public measures, ensuring that protests are undertaken via legitimate legal mechanisms.

This Bill will punish those who incite others to commit disruptive crimes and will ensure everyday Australians and businesses are protected from extremist forms of chaos and disruption.

Senator ANTIC: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.