Crushing dissent: Greens MP says NSW Labor has abandoned its base

Tim and Max, activists with Blockade Australia, were released from jail on July 12. Photo: Blockade Australia/Facebook

The New South Wales Greens are fighting infamous anti-protest laws that threaten penalties of up to 2 years jail and a $22,000 fine.

Greens MP Abigail Boyd was one of several speakers at a snap rally in March, before debate on the bill. There were already rumours the government intended to add more state control clauses to the bill that the Human Rights Law Centre branded “draconian”.

“The day before that snap rally … we had moved to disallow the increased powers the government already wanted under these (anti-protest) laws,” Boyd said. “We went to the rally and while we were there we got news that the NSW Attorney General was about to rush through a new bill that was even more draconian than what we thought we were fighting.”

Despite the Greens' filibuster — supported by the Animal Justice Party, which caused an extra sitting day — the government, supported by Labor, voted up the laws.

“You would be guilty of an offence … even if you were doing something on a road or major facility that caused somebody to be re-directed around you. Simply standing and having a police officer, or someone else, having to say to a pedestrian, ‘You will have to walk around’, that would be enough to be liable for prosecution under the Act. This is how draconian it is.”

A key concern is the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 enshrines the use of the words “road” and “major facility”, but the definitions remain murky. “‘Road’ means any road across the state. Not just the Harbour Bridge or major traffic thoroughfares, but any road, like the road outside my house. If you were to gather there and someone had to go around you, then you could be caught [by the Act].

“It captures pretty much every major meeting place in Sydney. Town Hall, Martin Place … If you want to organise a protest or rally at Town Hall, you need to get police approval and follow a whole bunch of conditions they seem to make up as they go along.”

This drastically reduces the ability to get any message out that is not sanctioned by the state or Rupert Murdoch. "The message Murdoch is putting out is that demonstrators are somehow violent, or unprincipled or paid,” Boyd said.

The Greens hope their “call for papers” will compel the government to hand over relevant documents. “We are expecting a bunch of different documents, such as text messages between MPs complaining about being stuck in traffic. It appears there was no legal advice taken on these laws, that they were drafted in an awful hurry. We believe they will not stand up to constitutional scrutiny if they go to the High Court.”

When parliament returns in August, Boyd will try again to “at least carve out some exemptions so major Sydney meeting places, such as Town Hall, are not included”.

Boyd said she does not see the regulations as inevitable, that such exemptions are only a temporary mitigation. “We absolutely have to get rid of them entirely. We won’t rest until we do. The impact on broader society in relation to the right to protest has been quite chilling.”

Boyd said the law empowers the government and police to act in ever more repressive ways. “For example, a strike force has been established to get to protestors before they even protest.”

She said there is a “real disconnect” between “militarised style of policing and enforcement” and “the very peaceful ways” people are protesting. “Politicians using words like ‘terrorist’ … is overreach in quashing dissent … [and] is quite terrifying and something we should all be fighting against.”

Despite the federal election’s emphatic rebuke of climate denialism, the NSW government seems determined to remain locked into a climate denial war it cannot win. “The only hope is the fact that voters have woken up to the real issues, unlike the major parties,” Boyd said.

Boyd said Chris Minns’ Labor opposition voted with the government on these laws “because Ray Hadley told him to”. “It’s extraordinary the degree to which they have abandoned Labor ideals, including the recent vote against lifting the wage caps.”

Boyd has a campaign website that provides materials for people to contact their local MP to urge them to reverse those laws. She is urging people to talk to their neighbours about “the right-wing nonsense and lies about what climate activists are really doing”, the overreach of these laws and how fundamental the right to protest is.