The Guardian February 23, 2000


Govt legislates to crush environmental protests

by Peter Mac

Last Wednesday the Federal Government voted in the new Petroleum 
Legislation Amendment Bill. This new draconian legislation has the 
potential to jail environmental protesters individually or en masse for 
protest actions relating to environmental issues.

Many Federal Parliamentarians opposed the Bill. Democrats Law and Justice 
spokesperson Senator Brian Greig indicated that the legislation could be 
used to facilitate oil companies inflicting savage damage by exploration or 
exploitation of our most priceless areas of natural heritage.

He said that, for example, "... people protesting from a wharf about an oil 
rig near the Great Barrier Reef, who may delay or prevent equipment being 
supplied to that rig or ship at sea, could face up to ten years 
imprisonment."

The current law already provides heavy penalties for those taking protest 
action.

Senator Greig noted that: "the possible wider application of this 
legislation, combined with the additional penalty of imprisonment, is 
excessive and goes well beyond what is necessary to protect the safe 
operation of an offshore structure and its employees."

The environmental organisation Greenpeace has undertaken most of the direct 
action against environmental pollution and is the most obvious target for 
the new law, which has been nicknamed the "anti-Greenpeace Bill".

However, Benedict Southworth, campaigns manager for Greenpeace, says that 
the organisation intends to fight on even if the Bill is passed.

He commented: "Greenpeace will not be scared off by these new penalties. We 
maintain the right to use peaceful protest to expose environmental 
injustices.

"The fact that the petroleum industry has been singled out for this special 
protection is an indication of just how much support it needs to survive.

"The burning of oil, coal and gas creates dangerous greenhouse pollution 
which is threatening our climate. Climate change has been acknowledged as 
the single most important environmental issue for the planet.

"Greenpeace will continue to challenge oil companies to be responsible 
energy suppliers, not global polluters. The Government should be working on 
a clean, green future for Australia, not corporate interests."

Greens Senator Bob Brown also voted against the Bill. If all the opposition 
parliamentarians had voted against the Bill, it would not have become law.

Unfortunately, the sympathies of the Australian Labor Party lay with the 
Government on this issue, and their vote in favour of the Bill ensured that 
it was passed.

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