Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 17, 2023


Question Time

Extinction Rebellion

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (14:19): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Attorney-General a question about protests.

Leave granted.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: This morning, a group of Extinction Rebellion protesters staged a dangerous stunt at the intersection of North Terrace and Morphett Street. There were significant traffic disruptions, shutdowns to public transport and delays to thousands of morning commuters: students trying to get to school, workers trying to get to their places of business and others just trying to get home.

To block arterial roads that service our largest emergency hospital puts lives at risk, not to mention the risk to our first responders who had to safely remove the protester hanging from the Morphett Street bridge and restore access to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, as well as general traffic flow. We all have the right to peacefully protest, but there is a substantial economic, social and, let's face it, environmental cost to what these protesters did today. My questions to the Attorney-General are:

1. What will the government do to ensure that legislation holds these protesters accountable for their actions and the substantial cost that is borne by the taxpayer in relation to emergency services call-out fees?

2. What changes will you propose to ensure we have a balance between the safety and wellbeing of our first responders and communities to ensure that stunts such as these do not unnecessarily place lives at risk?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:20): I thank the honourable member for her question and, as the honourable member points out, the ability to voice your opinion in a peaceful way that doesn't disturb society is a cornerstone of our democracy, and I think we all cherish that and seek to defend that. However, certainly I am aware that for protests there are avenues that include seeking permission and applications.

I think in the City of Adelaide the Adelaide City Council has an ability to help regulate and authorise protests, and I know that SAPOL are often involved or aware when there are applications for rallies, demonstrations or protests. I don't and this government doesn't endorse protests that are not done properly and cause damage or disturbance. In my view, I don't think it is particularly helpful to people's causes when they do that.

I know there are substantial penalties for doing things that can impede or restrict things like emergency services. I know that SAPOL do, and have in the past and will continue to do, enforce the laws that we have. I am not sure if there is a specific gap in the law that the honourable member is concerned about, but if there is we would be keen to have a look because there are laws that can apply and can have substantial penalties. If the honourable member thinks there is a particular gap in the law we would be happy to look at it.