Liberal Government Pushes Through Draconian Anti-Protest Laws

The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental human right. Today the NSW Liberal Government pushed through laws granting police extraordinary new anti-protest powers. The Greens will always support the right to protest peacefully. 


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) [5.21 p.m.]: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 20 states that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. The power and intimidation of the police force in New South Wales, whether explicitly granted under legislation or implicitly used has been inflicted on peaceful protester protesters for too long, and is already too great. The expansion of these powers is unacceptable and a clear breach of our basic human rights. It is yet another attack on civil liberties—on groups, organisations and individuals who wish to speak out, act up and demonstrate resistance to this Government's conservative agenda. If the neoliberals and big corporations have one thing in common, it is to come together to lobby governments for less regulation and more government policy that enables them to maximise profits.

Those on the left and those of us who are part of socially progressive movements also share a united common value. That value is our right to be protected to protest peacefully and our right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. It is these rights that are under attack by the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016. This is why the Government has introduced this legislation in an attempt to shut down our movements for change and our attempts to take direct action to prevent the widespread destruction of our land, our water and our communities. We will protest against attacks on our neighbourhoods, whether farmland in rural New South Wales or inner-city neighbourhoods facing the threat of WestConnex. Our right to take direct action, our right to protest, must be protected.

As the member for Newtown I am proud to have provided our local community members with nonviolent direct-action training so that community members have the skills to engage in action to stop the polluting WestConnex tollway that will destroy neighbourhoods. I am proud to be a member of The Greens, a party that stands with the left and progressive movements in support of the right to protest. Whether joining a picket with members of the Maritime Union of Australia at Hutchison, as I did last year, storming James Hardy offices over a decade ago with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union to highlight that asbestos was impacting workers from migrant communities or joining residents at an exploratory drill site in Tempe for WestConnex just last month, I will stand with community members to take direct action.

The Greens strongly oppose the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 and strenuously reject the limitation it seeks to impose on legitimate protest. In debating this bill, those opposite have focused specifically on mines and mining. They have not addressed the fact that the powers in this bill would remove the current limitation on move-on powers under section 200 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act. These provisions prevent police from using move-on powers for an apparently genuine demonstration or protest, a procession or an organised assembly. This change would mean that there would be a broad range of circumstances in which a police officer could direct a person or a group of people to move on. This would include an ability to issue a direction to any person participating in a protest if the officer believes they are obstructing another person or traffic, or if their presence constitutes harassment or intimidation.

I say to those opposite that this bill does not just cover protests on mine sites. This bill will cover protests in the whole of New South Wales, including in inner-city Sydney. That is why I and other members on this side of the Chamber are very concerned about the broad reach of this legislation before us. It is not just The Greens who are raising these concerns. Today a rally outside Parliament House was attended by hundreds of people despite the rain. These people were exercising their right to peaceful protest. They included farmers, traditional owners defending the Leard and Pilliga and members of the Nature Conservation Council, NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association, Stop CSG Sydney, the Council for Civil Liberties, Unions NSW and Groundswell Gloucester. These people strongly oppose this legislation. But it is not just people engaging in peaceful protests who have serious concerns about this legislation. The Law Society of New South Wales has expressed serious concerns that:

… the proposed new laws may interfere with the ability of people in NSW to engage in demonstrations, protest, processions or assemblies. The Law Society considers this right an important aspect of a democratic state.

This Government consistently and continually is attempting to shut down dissenting voices, whether around local council amalgamations and the removal of local representation, speaking out against the destruction of communities through overdevelopment or in relation to mining and the destruction of water supplies. This Government is making every attempt to shut down dissent because those opposite do not understand that voices of dissent are crucial to a strong civil society built on a strong democracy. These voices must be heard and expressed freely without fear of intimidation or overreach by the police. The Law Society also said:

We consider that the NSW Police already have extraordinary powers of search and seizure, and are able to restrain and detain people for their own, or others', safety.

This legislation would extend police powers at a time when it is clear there is no need for the extension of police powers in this State. The NSW Bar Association has also raised serious concerns about the broad reach of this legislation. I urge those opposite to look at this legislation in detail and not focus on the Minister's second reading speech or the briefings they have received about extreme cases of people locking on in protests at mine sites. I urge them to look at the implications for basic civil liberties and the right to peacefully protest. The right to peacefully protest should not mean that people only have the right to protest if the NSW Police Force gives its permission. Actually, people have the right to protest and freedom of assembly without the police giving written permission for a protest. That is a fundamental right—there is no such thing as an illegal protest.

This legislation suggests people need the permission of the police to protest, and that is factually incorrect. People have the right to assemble to express their views no matter what the police believe is true. The police do not decide how we protest in this State. The Lock the Gate Alliance has expressed concern about this legislation that it believes represents a threat to the farming communities and property rights and interests of the people of New South Wales. Even the Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes in New South Wales has expressed concern that only the interests of the mining industry will be served, rather than those of farmers and people concerned about the environment and future food stability.

It is bizarre that the Minister with carriage of this bill is the Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy when this legislation represents yet another overreach by the Minister for Justice and Police and the New South Wales police to shut down our civil liberties and rights. For too long the New South Wales police have had too much power when it comes to attacking civil liberties and demanding the police control how justice is done in this State. The Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy has focused specifically on the impact of this legislation on people locking on when protesting on mine sites. The Government has ignored the fact that this legislation will have an impact on the right to peacefully protest around the State.

It will affect people protesting against WestConnex, forced council amalgamations, lockout laws in Sydney or local development and groups like Knitting Nannas. All these protesters will be affected by these expanded police powers that show that the people in control of this Government's law and order and justice agenda are the New South Wales police. Finally, we need to recognise that so far no evidence has been provided for the need for these laws. These despicable laws provide police with too much power to intimidate peaceful protesters. The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental human right. The Greens strongly oppose this bill.


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