The passing of the Perrottet government’s new anti-protest law will undermine the ability of everyone in NSW to exercise their freedom to protest, a group of environmental, social justice and human rights organisations has warned.
The organisations slammed the bill, which was passed by the Legislative Council on Friday after being rushed through in less than a week.
The group, comprising the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Human Rights Law Centre, Environmental Defenders Office and Australian Democracy Network, expressed concern about the constitutional validity of the new law and called on the Perrottet government to repeal it.
The new, repressive measures in the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 deliberately target protesters, threatening everyone from school children marching for climate action to anti-war protestors with up to two years in jail and a $22,000 fine.
Where previous legislation covered disruption on major bridges or tunnels, the expanded offence covers roads, train stations, ports and public and private infrastructure. The broad and vague wording of the new offence dramatically expands its coverage and leaves ordinary Australians unsure of their lawful ability to protest.
The law was passed, with Labor's support, despite calls from a coalition of almost 40 civil society organisations to scrap the bill. The coalition's open letter can be found here.
Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited Chairperson Mark Davies said:
“The Aboriginal Legal Service was born out of a protest movement in the 1970s. You would be hard pressed to find any win for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights that wasn’t brought about by public protest.
“The right to assemble and demonstrate in our streets, towns and cities is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy. For marginalised communities, public protests enable us to be seen and heard, even – and especially – when those in power would rather suppress our voices.
“We condemn in the strongest terms this government crackdown on our right to protest.”