A snap protest was organised in Martin Place on March 30, a day after the New South Wales government rushed through laws to make disrupting roads and transport and industrial facilities punishable by two years’ jail or a $22,000 fine.
Rally chair Anastasia Shevchuk said the action was “part of an ongoing campaign to protest repression against activists by the NSW Coalition government. The government is [ramming] through harsh laws to effectively ban direct action by protesters around climate and other issues. We must all unite to fight for our democratic rights.”
Socialist Alliance Senate candidate Rachel Evans told the rally: “The federal and NSW state governments are carrying out a systematic drive to attack our civil liberties … We need to stand up to these attacks on the democratic right to protest.”
Other speakers included climate activist Paddy Gibson and Greens MLCs David Shoebridge and Abigail Boyd, who moved a motion to disallow the new anti-protest laws in the NSW Legislative Council.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific general counsel Katrina Bullock said in a media release that the laws could significantly stifle advocacy and protest activity. “These sweeping new laws, rushed through in a knee-jerk response to protest activity, are the latest in a suite of increasingly draconian regulatory measures introduced in Australia to restrict climate activism.
“Climate defenders are routinely receiving disproportionate and excessive penalties and bail conditions which restrict their freedom of association and assembly.
“[NSW police minister Paul] O’Toole’s statement that ‘unauthorised protests have no place in our state’ is tremendously concerning, and arguably anti-democratic. Advocacy and protest are vital to ensuring that the best interests of people, the planet and future generations guide our governments’ responses, not the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry.
“Governments have a positive duty to facilitate peaceful protest under international human rights law, including by ensuring people are not prevented from exercising their protest rights by other groups or private companies. Governments must also ensure that any restrictions on protest action are limited to what is strictly necessary and proportionate in pursuit of a legitimate purpose,” Bullock said.
Earlier this month, two German nationals were arrested and threatened with deportation for suspending themselves from poles in and around the Port Botany shipping terminal in Sydney, blocking traffic for several hours. Another protester was sentenced to four month’s jail and fined $1200 for a similar action at the port.
Despite this, Blockade Australia has declared it will continue with these actions to highlight Australia's failures on tackling climate change.