Freedom of Association

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in its Concluding Observations in June 2012, reiterated its concerns over police powers to remove children and young people who are assembling peacefully. Police ‘move on’ powers across states and territories have the ability to disproportionately affect the freedom of association and assembly rights of children and young people. The Committee recommended that Australia consider reviewing legislation and undertake measures to address problems related to the gathering of young people without resorting to policing or criminalisation.

  • Article 2: Every child has the right to non-discrimination
  • Article 15: Every child has the rights to freedom of association and freedom of assembly

Areas lacking progress

NATIONAL: Lack of legislative changes

Police ‘move on’ powers in all states and territories remain unchanged since June 2012, allowing for the potential abuse and misuse of powers and placing unwarranted limitations upon children and young people’s right to freedom of assembly. Currently in each of the states and territories, police ‘move on’ powers generally require police officers to believe on reasonable grounds that an offence, breach of peace, endangerment of safety, obstruction of people or vehicles, is occurring, about to occur, or intended to occur before asking the loiterer to move on. [1]

However, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has found that ‘move on’ directions are often being given without the citation of a legitimate reason. [2] In addition to the non-provision of a legitimate reason, there may also be no official record of the direction, which then goes to the heart of accountability. [3] Smart Justice for Young People has also highlighted the vulnerability of young people to the impact of ‘move on’ powers as they are figures frequently and disproportionately in public spaces. [4] A survey in November 2006 by the University of Queensland and the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House also found that 76.5 per cent of the people surveyed who were experiencing homelessness were asked to move on, and then 78 per cent of those people reported that their behaviour was unlikely to reach the behavioural threshold for a lawful ‘move on’ direction. [5]

With the over-representation of juveniles in the sue of police ‘move on’ powers, [6] alternative approaches should be adopted to ensure that children are diverted away from the criminal justice system. Further, these powers are likely to have a greater effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. [7]

  • State and territory governments should review current legislation and police practices so that alternative methods to policing and criminalisation are used to control the problems related to the gathering of young people in public places. States and territories should ensure respect for the rights to freedom of assembly and association.
  1. Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) ss197-198; Crime Prevention Powers Act 1998 (ACT) s; Summary Offences Act 2002 (NT) s47A, Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) ss46-48; Police Offences Act 1935 (Tas) s15B; Criminal Investigations Act 2006 (WA) s27, Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) s6, Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) s18.
  2. Cited in Smart Justice for Young People, ‘“Safeguards Against Discriminatory Policing” Response to the Victoria Police Community Consultation “Field Contact Policy & Cross Cultural Training”’ (31 July 2013) 14 <> (accessed 21 January 2014).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Cited in James Farrell, Deakin Speaking Deakin University, ‘Moving Right Along: What Powers do Police have to ‘Move On’ Protestors?’ (website, 8 December 2011) <> (accessed 21 January 2014).
  6. See for example Crime and Misconduct Commission Queensland, Police Move-On Powers: A CMC Review of their use, December 2010, available at (accessed 22 August 2013) 47.
  7. Ibid. p.47: over half the juveniles appearing before a court for a disobey offence between 2004 and 2008 were Aboriginal.
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