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.