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Delegation had no intention to confront protesters

5 November 2007

Union delegation had no intention to confront protesters

Much has been said based on TV footage of the demonstration outside the Labour Party Conference on Saturday. The union delegation that went to engage with the protesters had no intention of confronting them. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Trade union leader Jill Ovens, who was attending the conference, says she went out to the protest to explain the union position on the Terrorism Suppression Act (which is to repeal the Act) after union organisers were challenged by protesters when they arrived at the conference.

"Although my speech was supportive of the position of the protesters, they just would not let me speak. John Minto was leading chants. When he finally stopped and I had space to speak, the protesters were yelling at me, 'Lies, lies'. The leadership of the protest made no attempt to stop the abuse," Ms Ovens says.

She tried for quite a while to deliver her speech, and finally she put the megaphone down and walked off.

Her partner Len Richards picked it up and an exchange occurred with one of the protesters who had been most vocal in the abuse meted out to Ms Ovens.

In the TV 1 footage it is clear that the protester pushed the megaphone back into Richards' face before Richards swung round with it. The protester put his hands over his head and was not actually hit by the megaphone.

"I do not condone Len's actions. He should have walked away when I did," Ms Ovens says.

However, she says the level of hostility she experienced absolutely shocked her. She cannot understand why the protesters were protesting for free speech and rights of protest, yet would not allow her to speak.

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"Although I am opposed to the Terrorism Suppression Act and its amendments, I will not be supporting any further protests called by GPJA as they seem to be very anti-union."

Ms Ovens says one of the main problems for unions with the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 is that a terrorist is defined as someone who, for political reasons, causes "...serious disruption to an infrastructure facility, if likely to endanger human life..." This broad definition could include strikes that disrupt hospitals or power stations, for example.


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