Jenny Leong opposes the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill, defends right to protest

Jenny Leong opposes the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 and defends non-violent direct action and the right to protest. Jenny introduces the amendments to the Bill proposed by the Greens.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (20:06): On behalf of The Greens I speak in debate on the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. I recognise that my Greens colleagues in the other place will also put on the record their strongest opposition to the bill. Given what this bill does, it is beyond outrage that it is being rammed through the Chamber. It is certainly remarkable that the NSW Labor Party is backing the attempts of the New South Wales Liberals and The Nationals to introduce these horrific anti‑protest laws. If we were to call a vote based on the members that are in the House tonight, this Government does not have the ability to pass the bill through this Chamber. It is being rammed through with the backing and support of NSW Labor which, as we heard from the Opposition spokesman on this issue, only received word of the bill sometime between late last night and today and it received a copy of the bill only today. The crossbench received a copy of the bill sometime today and here we are at eight o'clock having the debate.

The bill is seeking to criminalise the behaviour of people who are trying to save us and improve our world; who are taking action to address the climate emergency; who are taking to the streets to call for increased nurse‑to‑patient ratios; who are mobilising in their thousands calling for black lives to matter and an end to deaths in custody; and who are saying "Enough is enough" and marching for justice for women and an end to sexual violence and harassment. It is beyond belief. The Government is not acting to urgently criminalise those who are profiting off fossil fuels and the destruction of this planet. It is not moving an urgent bill to end sexual violence, to stop black deaths in custody or to introduce lifesaving nurse-to-patient ratios. Instead the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government, backed by the New South Wales Opposition, is ramming through a bill that will criminalise those who are engaging in peaceful protest and nonviolent direct action to make the Government listen to their cries for help at the growing inequality, the growing climate emergency and the outrageous behaviour of governments in their arrogance and failure to listen to the people.

Where is the legislation in this Chamber for the people in positions of power who knew the climate crisis was happening but failed to act? Where is the legislation that will hold them to account for the untold destruction that climate change will unleash and is unleashing on us? What about the urgent laws to prosecute the police and corrections officers who were responsible for the murders of people as a result of deaths in custody? The Greens will be doing everything that they can in this Chamber, across the Parliament and in the community to prevent the bill from becoming law. To that end I foreshadow I will move a number of amendments to enable workers, climate activists, animal welfare activists and anyone seeking to engage in nonviolent, peaceful protest and direct action to do so, as they do outside this Parliament or any ministerial and electorate office, Federal or State. The amendments have been circulated—I acknowledge that we are doing this on the fly—to the Government and the Opposition as well as the crossbench. I hope that at the very least the Opposition will support them. I know that some of the crossbench members have indicated their support for improvements to this horrific piece of legislation.

Nonviolent protests have always been a cornerstone of our democracy. Along with independent media and free and fair elections, it is in fact one of the characteristics of a functioning democracy. Social change and progress does not happen in parliaments in a vacuum. Social change comes from social movements and civil society demanding change. Without the right to protest there would have been no suffragette movement. Women would still not have the right to vote or own property. Without the right to protest it would still be legal to own slaves and buy and sell human lives, child labour would still be legal, being gay would still be a crime, the Berlin Wall would still be standing, abortion would still be a crime, apartheid would still be with us, India would never have won its independence from the British and there would be no union movement and, indeed, no Australian Labor Party. What a disgrace and disappointment it is that NSW Labor is not standing in solidarity with those who are concerned about the crackdown on peaceful protest but instead is doing the Liberal‑Nationals Government's bidding by coming into the Chamber and helping it ram this bill through.

People do not protest because they find it fun; they do not sit on roads, block traffic or lock themselves to machinery because they have nothing better to do. Most of the time it is pretty uncomfortable, dangerous, dusty, thirsty, exhausting and bloody petrifying when other methods have not worked and we have to engage in nonviolent direct action to be heard. How many online petitions have members in this place received on climate change? How many Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports have we had over the years? How much action has the Government taken to close the polluting coalmines that are causing the climate emergency? Most protest movements have at one time or another stood on the streets and blocked traffic. That is what a protest is.

The community action for rainbow rights, the marriage equality campaign, the women's marches, Black Lives Matter, Invasion Day protests, historic walks over the Harbour Bridge, the huge no‑war protests against the Vietnam and Iraq wars, International Women's Day, May Day parades—all of these historic movements have taken to the streets and disrupted traffic. They have often blocked railway stations or other significant public transport hubs by their sheer scale and size. Asking politely or waiting for handouts from those in power to make our society more sustainable and equal just does not work. People turn to protests because they care about the world, because they believe in collective power and because they want to see change. The Greens stand with them in those actions. We know that communities lead and Parliament follows. But tonight the Parliament does not like that power imbalance so it is seeking to shut down those collective voices. People have been desperately calling for climate action for decades now and, despite the rhetoric from the Government, emissions keep going up, new coalmines keep being approved and we remain one of the biggest exporters of fossil fuels in the world.

Meanwhile, people are losing their homes, their livelihoods and even their lives to the most catastrophic extreme weather events ever recorded. Are people supposed to just sit there and take it in while everything precious around them is destroyed by floods, bushfires, wildfires or sea level rises, hoping that the Government will one day respond to their polite letter? I do not think so. Members in this Chamber should instead be passing motions of thanks to and appreciation for non-violent direct action activists like Extinction Rebellion, Frontline Action on Coal, the Bentley blockade, the Knitting Nannas, the Galilee blockade, Lock the Gate and the School Strike 4 Climate.

Humanity still needs to solve so many problems, and we need to be able to engage in non-violent direct action and protest to be able to do it. People are scared of what the future holds. They are desperate, and they are sick and tired of asking politely and not being heard. We are in a race against time. We need more action, not a bill that is concerned with criminalising the behaviour of the people who are trying to make us realise the growing level of the crises we face in this State and across the globe. [Extension of time]

Not only is the bill an assault on our democracy, it is also poorly thought through and will have profound unintended consequences. I note that the member for Swansea has asked the Attorney General to provide assurances about not stopping climate action or other climate protests, but the Attorney General is not making the decisions on the ground. With the greatest respect to the Attorney General, I would feel much more comfortable about those laws if he was making the decisions. But it is not the Attorney General making the decisions; it will be the New South Wales police, and members know how the police behave when it comes to protest in this State. We know their actions and their behaviours, and we know they are not in the interests of the people who are campaigning on the street or in the interests of community protection.

Schedule 1 makes it an offence with a maximum penalty of $22,000 or two years' imprisonment, or both, if a person enters, remains on, climbs, jumps from or otherwise trespasses on a major road prescribed by the regulations if the conduct seriously disrupts or obstructs vehicles or pedestrians attempting to use the road. There go the street parties and laneway parties where communities have come together and spontaneously connected over the years. I would probably now be in prison—I am sure some members opposite would be pleased about that—for organising a Civil DISCObedience for climate action on King Street as the local member.

Pedestrians are blocked and obstructed all the time because a footpath is suddenly no longer compliant with accessibility standards while they are pushing a pram or a wheelchair. That is much more of a concern to the majority of people in the community than the obstruction or disruption of a footpath or a road because of protest action. Most of the time people standing on the sidewalk or driving by while a protest is happening are cheering or honking their horns in enthusiastic support of the climate action, the "no war" action or the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Not only does schedule 2 propose sending people to jail or fining them for disrupting a major facility like a port or a railway station, but they cannot even remain near the facility if it causes any disruption. People can also be sent to jail for two years or cop a $22,000 fine under schedule 2 for disrupting a railway station or public transport facility. We could refer to that as the "Minister Elliott" clause, because the so-called Minister for Transport is the main person who has been disrupting our public transport system over the past month in this State.

The Greens will move some amendments to the bill in this Chamber. I acknowledge my colleague Ms Abigail Boyd in the other place, who has carriage of this matter and has been moving to disallow the outrageous attempts to insert a whole lot of bridges, tunnels and other facilities into the provisions through regulation over the past few days. If all members are committed to the view that the bill is not about stopping people from engaging in non-violent, peaceful protest and if we recognise, as the Attorney General said, that lawful and legitimate protest is a right then I question the definition because one does need approval to engage in a protest. The rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of protest do not require a police Form 1 or approval by the Attorney General or anyone else. They are the rights of a citizen.

I will talk through the proposed amendments and give members a chance to hear them now. The Greens will be moving four sets of amendments, two amendments to each schedule, which I will speak to in more detail. The first proposed amendment will include climate action as a reasonable excuse under the provisions. The second will create exemptions from the offence for industrial action, which I recognise that the New South Wales Labor Party has included in its amendments to some parts of the bill. Our concern is that the definition of industrial action does not capture all of the details around workers being able to engage in actions at their workplace. We therefore want to slightly broaden that to include workers engaging in actions at premises that are owned by their employer as well as at their workplace. The third set of proposed amendments will recognise the need to be able to engage in peaceful, non-violent direct action at animal facilities. The final proposed amendment will make sure the bill does not apply to any political officers or to the New South Wales Parliament.

Members know that tomorrow the nurses and midwives intend to strike just outside this building. We regularly see actions, strikes and public protests occur just outside the building. Any member who has tried to enter when they are happening will know the footpath and the road are often disrupted. The Greens think it is critical for our democracy that there is a carve-out to allow people to engage outside of our democratic institutions—whether they be a Minister's office, an electorate office or the New South Wales Parliament—to make sure that they are able to express their views to the people who are making laws that impact on them.

Finally, I ask, why are we doing this now? It is happening not just in this State but also around the country: Any day now there will be a Federal election. What is the real politics of this? Why is it so urgent to do this but not to introduce rental reforms for the floods in northern New South Wales? Why is it more urgent than deaths in custody? Maybe it is because Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese are actually on quite a unity ticket, where they would prefer that we do not talk about coalmines or climate change between now and the Federal election. Maybe the Government is running a protection racket for them. The Greens oppose the bill. We will move amendments, and we really hope that we will see the Government do more and not less to protect the right to protest.

Mr JAMIE PARKER (Balmain) (20:22): I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to debate on the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022, because it is important for people who are seeking to peacefully protest and it has implications for them. The first point is that this is an absolutely unsatisfactory way for laws to be created. It is unbelievable that this afternoon we got an email saying, "By the way, here's a bill that we want to introduce. We're going to be bringing it on through Standing Order 188 and Standing Order 189 and take it through all stages, and it won't lay on the table." The Attorney General knows this is not the way we make good laws. Like my colleague the member for Newtown, I am disappointed.

The least Labor could have done is oppose the suspension that brought this on without it going through the proper process. Members could come back next week, the week after or the week after that and debate the bill. Let us give it the time. It is an important law that the police will be enforcing, and we are doing it at 8.00 at night with a couple of hours' notice. That is ridiculous and incredibly disappointing. All of us here take our responsibilities very seriously, and I find this a desperately disappointing situation. Quite frankly, the Attorney General should know better. He should have spoken out against it and said that he would not introduce laws like this with such ridiculously short time frames. But here we are, and it is The Greens' view that the legislation needs to be vigorously examined. Doing so will make it absolutely clear how draconian it is.

I highlight the incredibly broad approach of this legislation. What is a "major facility"? We do not know. According to the bill, the Government will make it up and prescribe it by regulation. The bill gives a vague indication by referring to something that could be a major facility, but we do not know. That is one of the challenges. I offer an example to show why that is so important. Sometimes people do not go to the police for a permit and beg for authority to hold a rally. Some protests are spontaneous because action that day, hour or minute is required. So people do not get that piece of paper; they do not line up at the police station and go through the whole process. The right to assemble and protest peacefully does not require a permit from police. This bill proposes that a person who has authorisation from the police is exempt from its provisions. However, by way of example, today Greens members went across the road from Parliament for a protest against this bill. The rally was called with only a few hours' notice and did not have the authority of the police. But it needed to happen so that we could draw attention to the bill. People were standing on the footpath and protesting.

The police said, "Can you please go around this way for pedestrians?" People were redirected. That protest would be captured by this bill. The bill clearly refers to "damaging or disrupting a major facility". We do not know what a "major facility" is. The Government might say that Parliament House or Martin Place is a major facility. Maybe the Attorney‑General—not the current one, but who knows who we might get—will say that the CBD includes a whole range of major facilities. It could be that the area in front of Parliament House is a major facility. We do not know. That is one of the reasons The Greens are alarmed that Labor's proposed amendment to qualify "major facility" has been dodged by the Government and not agreed to. On our reading of the bill, if we are protesting outside a major facility and we cause persons who are attempting to use that major facility to be redirected, that is an issue. New section 214A (1) (d) of the Crimes Act 1900 states:

214ADamage or disruption to major facility

A person must not enter, remain on or near, climb, jump from or otherwise trespass on or block entry to any part of a major facility if that conduct—


(d)causes persons attempting to use the major facility to be redirected.

That redirection provision is alarming. We have not heard the Minister give a detailed justification of it. At about 2.00 p.m. today we received an email asking if we wanted a briefing. We were sent one page. Where is the justification for the bill? Where is the evidence of the thought that has gone into it? We heard the Minister's second reading speech, but where is his assessment of the bill against Government legislation that protests are currently subject to? It is absolutely ridiculous.

We are so pleased that in so little time almost 30 community organisations came together. The draft bill was amended on the run after a discussion between the Government and the Opposition, which did not include any other members. The amendment related to the issue of industrial action. The organisations that have come forward include ACOSS, Community Legal Centres NSW, Asylum Seekers Centre, Human Rights Law Centre, Aboriginal Legal Service, and Redfern Legal Centre, among others. The list goes on and includes environmental organisations like Greenpeace, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the Australian Centre for International Justice and Friends of the Earth Australia. All those organisations have come together because they realise what we realise, which is that the Parliament should not ram through legislation that can imprison people for up to two years for protesting. That should not happen.

The Government may say that the bill will go to the upper House. But we represent communities in this place, and we have the right to speak on their behalf. But we do not have time to contact them. We hardly have time to speak to members of our own parties, let alone to people in our communities for their feedback. It is incredibly disappointing to be put in the situation of being forced to address this bill because the Government, supported by Labor, would not allow the bill to be laid on the table, as it should be, to enable a thoughtful consideration of these matters. Although industrial action has been excluded—I understand the definition of "industrial action" needs to be worked on—it is important to recognise that union members and unions, in particular, engage in a whole lot of action, such as solidarity action and support action, which, technically, might not be industrial action but is the bread and butter of trade unions. It might not be industrial action to stand up for equal pay, which unions have a proud history of supporting. It might not be industrial action for unions to express solidarity on environmental matters, as the then Builders Labourers Federation did in creating our city by protecting public buildings from destruction. That might not be industrial action, but it is an important part of trade unionism.

Unionism has developed and grown to understand the interconnectedness of struggles around industrial matters. To build community support, we have to support communities and work with them. We have to build communities. Workplaces cannot be islands; we work in our communities. That means solidarity. That means standing up for other communities that might not be our immediate community, recognising that all those struggles are interrelated. We believe the exclusion of industrial action from the bill, although welcome, does not sufficiently recognise the important role that unions have in our community, and it does not provide the protections that they deserve.

I support the points that the member for Newtown raised. There are two distinct issues: One is the way in which the bill has been brought to the House; the second is its content. This bill deserves the type of vigorous analysis that community organisations, and our communities generally, can undertake. The Government is simply saying, "Well, you can't block Port Botany all day; that's what the bill is designed to prevent." But it is designed to do a lot more than that. It captures a lot more activity and a lot more nonviolent direct action. The Greens are great supporters of nonviolent direct action. That is why we are members of this Parliament. If we did not believe in it, we would be taking up arms. That is why we are here: We believe in nonviolent direct action and nonviolent community action. We believe in using all the elements of power, whether it be Parliament, protests or rallies, to bring about positive social change. I endorse the points raised by the member for Newtown and express my disappointment that at 8.30 p.m. in this Chamber we are debating a bill of which we have had only a few short hours' notice. I urge the Government and all members of this House to recognise that elements of this bill are draconian and should not be supported. They go well beyond the Government's stated aim. The bill should not be supported by this House.

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