Forum discusses challenges to our right to protest

November 26, 2023
Climate defenders at the Rising Tide blockade in Muloobinba/Newcastle on November 25. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

As climate defenders are now considered “extremists” by the state, a Green Left and Socialist Alliance forum on November 21 discussed how to protect our protest rights.

“The former Coalition and now the Labor government are enforcing extreme anti-protest laws”, said Sydney Criminal Lawyers’ journalist Paul Gregoire.

“Activists now face two years or more in prison. The imposition of aggressive bail conditions is aimed to suppress the movement. This police technique is known as ‘strategic incapacitation’.

“In Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, harsh anti-protest laws have been applied to anti-logging activists up until now. In Western Australia, environmental activists are being charged with ‘terror; offences," Gregoire said.

Emma Dorge, from Blockade Australia, said the repression is not new in Australian history. “We remember the harsh anti-protest laws under National Party Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The issue is not just the right to protest, but the ability to protest,” Dorge said.” We need to normalise protest that pushes the boundaries of state authority.”

Lydia Shelly, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL), said there is a conflation of protest with criminal conduct.

“The CCL will vigorously defend the right to protest … We, as lawyers, seek close collaboration with protest movements to maintain this precious democratic right.”

Zane Alcorn, an organiser for the Rising Tide coal port blockade in Newcastle, said the state’s rising authoritarianism “goes back to the anti-Iraq war movement and the IMARC blockade in Melbourne.

He said unions are “crucial in building a mass movement strong enough to confront the power of the state”.

The recent resurgence of climate strikes and protests, especially the Rising Tide coal port blockade show “a strengthening of the movement’s assertion of the democratic right to protest today”.

He said the massive marches for Palestine pose a new challenge to those attempting clamp down on the right to protest.

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