This page considers the evolution of Australian assembly
regimes - gatherings in public and private places, including
street marches, indoor protest meetings, pickets and demonstrations.
In Australia, as in the UK, freedom of assembly - including
an implicit right to demonstrate - is guaranteed through
the absence of formal restrictions.
There are no express rights of assembly and association
in the federal constitution or - with the exeception of
the Queensland Peaceful Assembly Act 1992 - in
state/territory legal codes. The rights are instead residual,
limited to whatever is not proscribed by statute or common
Restrictions on freedom of assembly have reflected the
trajectory of restraints in English law, with
of the English 1817 Riot Act and Seditious
Meetings Act in the various colonial criminal codes
of those codes during large-scale reforms around the
turn of last century (eg abolition in NSW during 1900
of the common law offences of "riot, rout and affray")
emphasis on place- and situation-specific restrictions
rather than broader restrictions
of requirements regarding authorisation of assembies
in public and private spaces
contemporary legislation includes the
Unlawful Assemblies Ordinance 1937 (prohibition
on more than twenty people to meet or be assembled in
the open air for any unlawful purpose within 90 metres
from any part of the federal Parliament House)
Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988 the Public
Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971
Public Meetings & Processions Act 1984
Unlawful Assemblies Ordinance
Peaceful Assembly Act 1992
Summary Offences Act
Unlawful Assemblies and Processions Act 1958
'granularity' of assemblies varies.
The WA Public Meetings & Processions Act 1984
regarding the holding of "public meetings"
and "processions" for example indicates that
a gathering is a "public meeting" where it comprises
3 or more persons, is held for the purpose of communicating
or expressing any view to, or ascertaining any view of,
the public or any section of the public ... or of demonstrating,
as to any matter; and members of the public have been
invited, induced or permitted to attend.
A procession similarly comprises 3 or more persons
assembled with the intent of moving, or move, from the
place of assembly by means of any street as, or substantially
as, a body of persons in orderly succession proceeding
by a common route
Queensland counterpart is twelve people.
In the interim insights are offered by Roger Douglas'
Dealing with Demonstrations: The Law of Public Protest
and Its Enforcement (Annandale: Federation Press
2004), the Unlawful Assemblies and Processions Act
1958 Issues Paper
released in 1999 by the Victorian Parliament Scrutiny
of Acts & Regulations Committee and Batons &
Blockades: Policing Industrial Disputes in Australasia
(Beaconsfield: Circa 2005) by David Baker.
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