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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 4 Hansard (10 April) . . Page.. 916 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

demonstration has always been peaceful; that it has always been conducted within the bounds of the law.

On the advice I had, there was no basis, within the laws of the ACT, on which we as a government, or the ACT police, would have had any concerns about the nature of the protest being maintained by the Falun Gong. The advice I had is that it could not at any stage be said that the protestors were trespassing on private property. It has never been suggested to the government that they were obstructing any public roads or thoroughfares. It has never been suggested that they were impeding any private rights of access.

As far as we are aware, there have never been any threats of violence or property damage. The protestors have not attempted to blockade or otherwise interfere with access to, or egress from, the embassy.

The attitude of this government is and continues to be that as long as such demonstrations and protests are peaceful and non-violent and conducted in accordance with the law there is no scope for the application of police move-on powers.

I have been advised that the action that was taken by the Australian Federal Police to remove the protest banners and audio equipment from outside the Chinese Embassy was authorised by a certificate issued by the Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, under the Commonwealth Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Regulations 1989. As I understand it, the protestors, the Falun Gong, complied with that certificate.

I think we need to acknowledge that the Australian Federal Police, in their actions in relation to this matter, have always acted thoroughly professionally, as they do, and that they at all times sought negotiated outcomes. I commend the Australian Federal Police for their actions in relation to the position they found themselves in. I think they have acted commendably in difficult circumstances. As far as I can tell, the Australian Federal Police, acting as the ACT police, at no stage over the last year, felt any need to interfere with that demonstration. That goes to the heart of this matter.

The Australian Federal Police, our police force, at no stage felt that the Falun Gong protest in any way represented or constituted a breach of the laws or represented a danger to anybody. Yet it was the Australian Federal Police that responded to a certificate issued by the Commonwealth.

To come to the conclusion of an answer on this, Ms Tucker, I have written to the Foreign Minister, Mr Downer. I wrote only a short while ago. My letter simply sought from him the facts. I asked only for him to confirm the reports I had read in the Canberra Times that he had utilised the Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Regulations, and I asked him to explain to me why he did that.

MS TUCKER: I would ask you to take stronger action on this. As you may be aware, the certificate will expire on 15 April, and Alexander Downer may well choose to sign a new certificate. I am asking whether you would write to Alexander Downer on behalf of your government and this Assembly, request that he not reissue such a certificate and express concern that the first certificate was issued.

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