- The Guardian
- Issue #2002
Last month, climate activists associated with the group Blockade Australia performed a series of stunts that caused mass disruption at Port Botany.
In response, the Perrottet Government has rushed through new anti-protest legislation. The Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 could see protesters who cause disruption to major roads, ports, and train stations fined up to $20,000 and jailed for two years.
Speaking on the bill, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet stated that:
“This type of behaviour needs to stop, people have the right to protest, people have the right to free speech, we promote that […]
“But don’t do it at the expense of people trying to get to and from work, trying to get their kids to school, stopping people earning a living and a wage – that’s what these protests are doing.
“We’ve passed the laws, we’ll throw the book at these people, because their behaviour is completely unacceptable.”
The government’s bill needed bipartisan support and received it from the NSW Labor – despite some objections from its “Left” faction.
The NSW Greens have objected to the bill, introducing a litany of amendments. Speaking against the bill, NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong stated that:
“The whole point of peaceful and non-violent protest is to disrupt the system and the status quo. The whole point is to break down power dynamics […]
“It is critical that people are allowed to engage in peaceful protest as part of the strength of our society.”
The Greens aren’t the only ones coming out in opposition to the bill, many human rights groups are concerned as well. Speaking to the danger of the vagueness of the bill, Kieran Pender, senior lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre stated that “ […] these laws are so vague and broad they give a huge amount of power to police and prosecutors to enforce these laws in their discretion. […] [T]here are huge concerns about whether these laws are constitutional.”
Indeed, it is not unusual for laws like these to be used in “creative” ways to harass persons of interest to our government. We need only turn to how the Fixated Persons Unit was used in relation to FriendlyJordies producer Kristo Langker.
Leong is right in pointing out that protests serve to “disrupt the system.” Taking away the ability of the public to express their discontent with methods that may cause inconvenience takes away the full breadth of expression at the public’s disposal.
This bill serves only to disenfranchise the public, criminalises our ability to speak out, and ultimately hurts our ability to organise large scale protests.
This bill also hurts unions – especially militant unions – whose members are fighting for better pay and conditions. Union members campaigning for their rights could easily be sentenced to jail or face thousands of dollars in fines.
We must organise and fight back against these draconian laws!