The Guardian • Issue #2013


Anti-protest laws affect us all

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2013

Earlier this month, NSW police bungled a raid on Blockade Australia activists in the Colo Valley, in Sydney’s north-west.

Activists at the remote camp noticed two people wearing camouflage in bushland near the back of the camp, claiming that when the men were confronted they only said: “We’ve been compromised.” Seven protesters were then arrested after attempting to prevent the men from leaving in a car that had come to collect them. Since then, an eighth person has been arrested and charged.

However, the lawyer for the protesters, Mark Davis, said he will argue that none of the officers identified themselves as police before the confrontation.

The overreach by NSW police has been widely condemned. Speaking to the exaggerated response, Human Rights Law Centre legal director, Alice Drury stated that “sending in 100 armed police officers to threaten and intimidate people planning a peaceful protest is alarming and disproportionate.”

However, NSW Deputy Premier, Paul Toole, who is also the Police Minister, and the head of a police strike force targeting environmental activists, disagreed with this assessment, stating:

“This isn’t peaceful protesting, these are people pulling stunts that put lives at risk and stop people trying to get [to] work and get their kids to school and police simply won’t tolerate it […]. […] It is incredibly disappointing that they want to cause this inconvenience to good people who are just going about their business, especially given the hard times many have gone through in recent years due to the pandemic.”

Using the pandemic against climate activists attempting to raise awareness against this global existential threat is deplorable, given how poorly both the federal and state Coalition governments acted over this period, only adding to the “hard times” experienced by the working class.

As reported in an earlier editorial (Guardian – the Workers’ Weekly #2002, “NSW Parliament passes new anti-protest laws”), NSW parliament – with the help of the ALP opposition – passed anti-protest legislation in response to earlier actions by Blockade Australia which increased fines and extended punishment to include prison time.

NSW Greens MP motioned in the NSW Parliament calling for protest laws introduced in April to be disallowed. Speaking on the operation, Greens MP Sue Higginson stated:

“The police operation that is underway throughout NSW today in response to peaceful protesters is a clear warning of how far down the road we are towards a police-state […]. […]“Protest is fundamental to a democracy and plays a vital role in giving people a peaceful voice outside of law. Removing the right to peaceful protest is a dangerous and draconian step for NSW to take.”

Supporting the Greens motion and condemning the operation, Paul Keating, Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Sydney Branch stated that: “the NSW trade union movement is united in its condemnation of this legislation from the Perrottet Liberal-National Government. […] Our proud history is built around grassroots action, supporting the health, safety, wages and wellbeing of workers.”

Indeed, the working class has made the gains it has because of the protests and industrial action it has been able to undertake in years past. These anti-protest laws have ramifications beyond climate activism and could well be used against the labour movement in its fight for better conditions and pay. We must fight back against these laws!

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