Parliament bans poor protesters

March 2, 2005

Alex Bainbridge, Hobart

Until recently, protest organisers could book the Tasmanian Parliament Lawns for a rally with a phone call to check they were free, and a follow-up confirmation letter.

However, when Kamala Emanuel from the Peace Coalition tried to book for a March 19 anti-war rally, she was told that the coalition, and all groups wanting to use the laws, would have to sign a 17-page licence agreement, including the stipulation that $20 million worth of public liability insurance be secured. It took another three weeks, until February 21, for written confirmation of the change to arrive.

Organisers of a February 25 "Forest Inquisition" found the requirements impossible to fulfill. Not surprising, given that the Greens canvassed eight insurance companies and found that none were able to give even a quote for insurance for a single event. The organisers decided to go ahead anyway.

Emanuel, Forest Inquisition organiser Helen Gee and Greens justice spokesperson Nick McKim held a joint media conference on February 24 to protest the new requirements. Reported by all the major media outlets in Hobart, the issue of whether under-resourced activist groups should be able to protest on the lawns was a hot topic on talkback radio.

The Forest Inquisition was attended by 250 people. It became a symbol of defiance against the new rules. Several speakers pointed out that they were just the latest of many attacks that would help stifle organised dissent against Tasmania's woodchipping regime.

According to its campaign director, Geoff Law, even the relatively well-off Wilderness Society does not have enough insurance to meet the requirements.

Aboriginal Centre representative Heather Skulthorpe told the rally that Aboriginal people would never pay for public liability insurance to hold a meeting on their own land.

Emanuel, who is also a member of the Socialist Alliance, told Green Left Weekly that the March 19 rally would go ahead on the lawns, without public liability insurance. "This is the only way to defeat these undemocratic regulations", she said.

From Green Left Weekly, March 2, 2005.
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