‘Dark Days for Our Democracy’: What the New Protest Laws in NSW Mean
By Freya Noble
The introduction of new anti-protest legislation rushed through NSW Parliament last week has been described as “a dark day for democracy”.
The Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 could see protesters who cause disruption to major roads, ports and train stations fined up to $20,000 and jailed for two years.
While the timing of the bill could be viewed as a response to climate protests which blocked the Port of Botany last week, it will impact people right across the political spectrum.
Thousands of nurses and midwives on strike in Sydney last mont
“The freedom to protest is a fundamental part of a democratic society,” Kieran Pender, senior lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre told Nine.com.au.
“Protesters come from all sides of the political spectrum… as this law was being debated nurses were marching through Sydney asking for better pay and conditions,” he added.
The legislation does include a safeguard for industrial action, however Greens MP Jenny Leong said deciding who can and cannot protest is “hugely problematic”.
“The whole point of peaceful and non-violent protest is to disrupt the system and the status quo. The whole point is to break down power dynamics,” she told Nine.com.au.
“It is critical that people are allowed to engage in peaceful protest as part of the strength of our society.”
The Greens tried to block the legislation, which was introduced by the Liberal National Coalition, and described Labor’s support of the bill as “shameful”.
“This has really, really taken our democracy down a dark path. These are dark, dark days for our democracy,” Ms Leong said.
NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong tried to stop the anti-protest legislation being rushed through parliament.
Groups such as the Human Rights Law Centre, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), NSW Council for Civil Liberties and the Environmental Defenders Office have all come out in opposition of the bill.
“So much of what makes Australia great has been achieved through protest,” Mr Pender said, citing the women’s right to vote, the eight-hour work day, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights.
“The laws are unnecessary, they are disproportionate, they are vague… and lack sufficiently robust safeguards,” he added.
Mr Pender said there are three elements of the legislation with are most concerning – they are vague, selective, and potentially unconstitutional.
Protesters blocked access to Port Botany last month in a series of stunts.
“The first thing is that because these laws are so vague and broad they give a huge amount of power to police and prosecutors to enforce these laws in their discretion.”
He said the second concern is that if the government is allowed to decide which protests are allowed “that’s a really dangerous path”.
“The third is there are huge concerns about whether these laws are constitutional.”
Mr Pender referred to the 2017 High Court case Brown v Tasmania, which found the Tasmanian governments laws restricting protest were invalid.
For the law to be deemed unconstitutional however, a protester would need to face charges.
“These things take time and probably would require someone be charged under this law and then bring a challenge to the High Court,” Mr Pender said.
Fireproof Australia blocked a road in Botany Bay this morning
‘Throw the book at these people’
Protesters blocked a main road in Sydney this morning and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet gave a fiery response, doubling down on the new bill.
“This type of behaviour needs to stop, people have the right to protest, people have the right to free speech, we promote that,” he said from a school in northern NSW.
“But don’t do it at the expense of people trying to get to and from work, trying to get their kids to school, stopping people earning a living and a wage – that’s what these protests are doing.
“We’ve passed the laws, we’ll throw the book at these people, because their behaviour is completely unacceptable.
“And if you really want to lose support in the community for your cause, keep acting like that.
Dominic Perrottet in Northern NSW.
“Because that behaviour has no place in our state and to see those scenes in Sydney again today is completely unacceptable.
“And that’s why we passed those laws, we’ll throw the book at people who continue to act like that.”
When asked about the speed at which the bill was enacted, Mr Perrottet said: “When the laws are passed, they get ascended to by the governor very quickly.”
Fireproof Australia, the group behind today’s action, said four were arrested and taken to a local police station.