In democracies all over the world, protest action is a routine feature of life. A protestor recently threw Russian flags at US President Donald Trump at the Capitol; British Prime Minister Theresa May was handed a dismissal slip from a protestor while delivering an important speech at her party’s conference.
Yet, while there is a right to freedom of expression that right must be balanced with other rights and interests. And so, protestors who violate laws should be prepared to face action by law enforcement authorities. Protestors who demonstrate using lawful, peaceful means, however, can legitimately expect to be allowed to protest without interference.
But when it comes to the question of regulation of the gambling industry, the issue we should be talking about is not protest action but rather the importance of the twin objectives of regulation and compliance. We should not be debating whether casino workers were wrong to gather outside the private residence of a Government minister or to disrupt the proceedings of the Senate. Instead, we should be having a discussion, based on facts, about the nature of the gambling industry and its impact on the official and unofficial economy of the country.
As it happens, while the casino protestors have sought to raise awareness of their issue, they have failed to show us exactly how the legitimate goals of the State in bringing about tax reform will result in job losses. And even if we make the big assumption that job losses will ensue, they have also failed to demonstrate why, on balance, the proper regulation of a large portion of our economy should be avoided.
In fact, from all appearances, failure to regulate the gambling industry poses more harm to all citizens – including casino workers – in the long-run given the fact that the gambling industry is worth as much as $20 billion. The juggernaut must be tamed.
The casino workers have a right to protest, but in this instance the question is what are they protesting? The rule of law? The protection of citizens from irregular financial activity in a billion-dollar industry? The harassment of a government minister at his home, as occurred when some workers gathered outside the home of Minister of Finance Colm Imbert on the Divali holiday, does little to advance the cause or to even explain what the cause is.
If the workers truly believe taxation reform will result in job losses, they must demonstrate why it is better for them to keep on earning a living from an industry which is vulnerable to underhand practices. And they need to get their employers involved in the conversation too.
As for the disruption of the Senate last Thursday, the Constitution is clear. The Parliament is supreme and is the final arbiter of all matters within the chamber. The courts are and should be loathe to interfere in a matter that is purely up to the discretion of presiding officers.
The workers demand a meeting. Yet, assuming such a meeting is practicable and appropriate (we are yet to see that it is) that is not the only avenue available. Workers may write their MPs. They may write Senators. They may write political parties. They may make submissions to Parliamentary committees as they have in the past when they participated in the meetings on gaming and betting control legislation.
On this issue, the State should communicate more. An industry subject to healthy regulation is more viable in the long-run, meaning casino workers themselves stand to benefit if the legislation is passed as promised.
For now, we urge casino worker representatives to stop playing games and to give us the facts. Equally, while there is no excuse for breaches of law and harassment, the State needs to do a better job of presenting its case. The stakes are too high.