Perrottet Government Introduces Tough New Penalties In NSW For Illegal Climate Protests
"The right to assemble and demonstrate in our streets, towns, and cities is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy.”
Advocacy groups are outraged at a “draconian” new law that will make it easier for the state to punish activists over illegal protests in NSW.
The Roads and Crimes Legislation Bill passed the Upper House on Friday with bipartisan support after breezing through the Lower House two days beforehand.
First introduced by Attorney General and Liberal politician Mark Speakman, the bill permits harsher penalties for people who disrupt tunnels, roads, bridges, train stations, or infrastructure while protesting with those charged facing up to $22,000 in fines or two years of imprisonment.
After today, you will not be permitted to protest in NSW unless you are protesting in a state-sanctioned place, on a state-sanctioned topic, and you have the prior permission of the state. This is a terrible day for democracy. #nswpol
— Abigail Boyd (@AbigailBoydMLC) April 1, 2022
A collective of activist organisations, including the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Environmental Defenders Office, and the Human Rights Law Centre, have called the move a breach of civil liberties, which could impinge on the freedom to protest.
“The right to assemble and demonstrate in our streets, towns, and cities is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy,” said Chairperson of the Aboriginal Legal Service for NSW and the ACT, Mark Davies.
“For marginalised communities, public protests enable us to be seen and heard, even — and especially — when those in power would rather suppress our voices,” he said in a statement. “We condemn in the strongest terms this government crackdown on our right to protest.”
Labor was quoted pushing for an exemption for “peaceful protest” but still supported the legislation even after the Coalition rebuffed their proposed amendments, according to The Guardian.
Meanwhile, the Greens were vehemently against the bill, vocally opposing it in Parliament for its widespread implications for minority groups and social justice causes. Party MLC David Shoebridge labelled it an opportunity for the Perrottet Government to “jail their political opponents”, while MP Jenny Leong said she was “fucking outraged” at its passage, because “there’s no such thing as an illegal protest” on Twitter.
The bill comes after climate group Blockade Australia disrupted operations in Port Botany, seeing protesters suspend themselves across a busy intersection, scale a crane, and climb a pole over the last fortnight.
“This draconian new law is part of an alarming national trend towards restricting peaceful protest rights in Australia, and it must be repealed at the earliest opportunity,” said Human Rights Law Centre Senior Lawyer Kieran Pender. “This is a dark day for democracy in NSW.”