New restraint orders to limit vexatious litigants

The Napthine Government has proposed a crackdown on “tribunal pests and costly court time-wasters”. Under the existing system, a person can only be declared a “vexatious litigant” by the Supreme Court on the application of the Attorney-General; the bill is a response to a parliamentary committee’s call for a more flexible system. According to the explanatory memorandum, “The Bill enables the Supreme Court, the County Court, the Magistrates’ Court and VCAT to make various types of ‘litigation restraint orders’, which increase in severity in accordance with a person’s litigation history and pattern of vexatious behaviour.” A vexatious litigant is prohibited from launching a legal case without first being granted permission by the court.

Anti-“move on” protesters moved on

Protesters against a controversial anti-protest law were forcibly removed from the Legislative Council’s public gallery last night. Police used parliamentary precinct “move on” powers to remove the group, and video of the incident shows police dragging one man by the neck. The protesters argue that the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill, which gives the police broader “move on” powers throughout the State, will shut down peaceful demonstrations. The bill was passed last night and now awaits royal assent.

Police to gain new powers to shut down protests

The Napthine Government’s controversial Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill is expected to pass in the Legislative Council this week, having been approved by a margin of one vote in the lower house last Thursday. Australian Huuman Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson expressed concern about “the low bar that is being set to give police the powers to move people on” from protests such as the community picket against the East-West Tunnel project. Even protesters who had not yet broken the law could be arrested, Fitzroy Legal Service solicitor Meghan Fitzgerald said: “As soon as the move-on direction is issued, on a reasonable suspicion that your conduct, including future conduct, is likely to cause a breach of the peace, then people can be arrested.” The bill was developed in response to the business lobby’s complaints about picket lines targeting businesses over workplace safety and environmental and social issues. Last month, thousands of people marched to Parliament House to oppose the bill.

Fencing disputes keep mediators busy

According to the Dispute Resolution Centre of Victoria, a free mediation service provided by the Victorian Government, about one third of the disputes they deal with relate to fences and boundaries. The centre’s director, Gina Ralston, said, “Typically, neighbours may disagree over the condition of the fence, the kind of fence needed to replace it, which way the rails should go, when it should be replaced, who should do the work and the overall cost.” In 2013, a parliamentary committee reviewed the Fencing Act 1968 and recommended sweeping changes. A bill to replace it with a new Fencing Act is currently before parliament.

Conservatives more likely to cross the floor

Until the WA senate election is finalised, the Abbott Government will not know the final makeup of the Senate. Peter Hartcher reports that it is expected to need the support of six or seven crossbenchers to pass any bills opposed by Labor and the Greens. And it’s not just the opposition parties that might create difficulties: “In the 54 years from 1950 to 2004, 245 members and senators crossed the floor to vote against their own party, or 24 per cent of the parliamentarians who served, according to the parliamentary library. … The vast majority of these 245—nine out of ten—were conservatives.”