THE Victorian government will investigate whether tougher legislation is needed to prevent political protests closing down businesses, after a magistrate found in favour of anti-Israeli demonstrators targeting the Max Brenner chocolate shop chain.Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday led a condemnation of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign, as the activists plan to celebrate their court victory with another protest outside the Melbourne shop on Friday.
"The BDS group in my opinion is better titled as bigoted, dangerous and shameful," Mr Baillieu said. "They have sought to close down businesses just because they are associated with the state of Israel."
Magistrate Simon Garnett dismissed trespass charges against 16 BDS protesters on Monday, finding they had a lawful right to be in the public space outside the store, and their demonstration in July last year was also lawful and did not present a threat to public order. Mr Garnett refused to dismiss charges of assaulting, hindering and resisting police against five of the protesters, with guilty verdicts entered against some yesterday.
"I remain very concerned when there's any protest that seeks to close down a business," Mr Baillieu said. "Certainly I believe from what I've seen (is) that (with) this particular protest that was their intention."
Chief commissioner Ken Lay said Victoria Police would also seek advice on whether to appeal against the decision, request legislative change or alter their tactics when dealing with protests, but dismissed the protesters' claims it was a landmark decision.
"I'm not seeing a decision that changes forever the way we police these particular demonstrations," Mr Lay told the ABC. "If we see businesses put at risk, if we see people's safety put at risk, we're obliged to take action."
He said preliminary advice indicated police might have undermined their case by creating a human barrier to stop the protesters entering the shop, a view echoed by the Law Institute of Victoria.
BDS campaigner Vashti Kenway, who was among the group arrested for trespass, said organisers were preparing for a celebratory protest with "a few hundred" demonstrators at the same location. "I think it would be an outrage if they tried to enact some legislative change against our right to express our political opinions in public space," she said. "The magistrate's decision was a good one and one that was a blow in the direction of freedom of speech and civil liberties."