A bill targeting protests in Tasmania’s forests was passed in the Tasmanian lower house on June 26. It is due to be introduced to the upper house when parliament sits again this month.
The Tasmanian Liberal government proposed the Workplaces (Protection from Protestors) Bill, which imposes sweeping restrictions on protest. It includes an on the spot fine of $2000 for any action that hinders a business activity, either on the business premises or the road or footpath, if the action is “promoting awareness of or support for an opinion, or belief, in respect of a political, environmental, social, cultural or economic issue.”
It also includes mandatory minimum prison sentences of at least three months for second offences. Mandatory minimum prison sentences diminish the separation of powers between the court and government and undermine the important checks and balances provided by independent courts. They do not currently exist in Tasmania for any offence.
The forestry peace deal last year sought to bring a negotiated agreement to the conflict in the forestry debate in Tasmania. A further bill making its way through parliament repeals the forestry peace deal.
Instead of peace, the Will Hodgman government has decided to criminalise protest that interferes with business.
Minister for Resources Paul Harriss said: “This Bill is about sending a strong message to disruptive and irresponsible extremist protest groups that protest action of that kind is not acceptable to the broader Tasmanian community”.
Constitutional lawyer George Williams explained on ABC radio that this bill targets protest in particular and defines protest as involving expressing an opinion or a belief in respect of politics, the environment, social or cultural or economic issues.
The High Court protects the implied right of political communication, a freedom in the Australian constitution. The bill targets the very thing that the constitution protects. A state or federal law that targets political communication can be struck down by the High Court if the law is unreasonable, unbalanced or disproportionate.
Jenny Weber from the Bob Brown Foundation said: “This bill is an oppressive agenda by the Tasmanian Liberal Party in their vendetta against environmentalists.
“The Liberal government are seeking a climate free of opposition and criticism to allow them free reign to attack the environment. People will continue to advocate for environmental protection despite the harsh penalties that are proposed in this bill. We have a legitimate public interest in workplace protests where public forests are being processed for a private profit.”
The bill is garnering broad opposition. Unions that have spoken out against the bill include the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, the Australian Services Union and the Community and Public Sector Union.
Richard Griggs of Civil Liberties Australia has lodged a petition with the Tasmanian Parliament against the bill, which people are urged to sign by going to the Tasmanian Parliament website.
The Bob Brown Foundation have organised a public forum on August 16 opposing the bill which is supported by unions, the Greens, the Socialist Alliance, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Civil Liberties Australia and the Tasmanian Gay & Lesbian Rights Group, as well as a range of environmental and legal organisations.
A People’s Picket has been organised for Parliament House on August 19, the day parliament resumes, from 7.30am.
Just like people power prevented the Tony Abbott government from amending the Racial Discrimination Act, we intend that people power will also prevent this anti-democratic bill from passing.