Tasmanian laws ‘a threat to democracy’

August 22, 2014
Right to protest rally, Hobart. Photo: Shaine Stephen

More than 300 concerned citizens took part in a peaceful people’s picket on August 19 at Tasmania’s parliament house to protest against a bill that would ban the right to protest.

The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill, introduced by the state Liberal government, passed Tasmania’s lower house in June. It is due to be debated in the upper house in late October. The bill makes it an offence to hold a protest that prevents business activity. Protesters can be given on-the-spot fines of $2000. Three-month mandatory jail sentences will apply for second offences.

Protesters gathered on parliament lawns to the sounds of the Tasmanian Grassroots Choir before moving onto the steps of parliament house to block the main entrance to prevent politicians from entering. In a show of defiance, the main entrance remained blocked for over an hour-and-a-half.

Representatives from a broad coalition of activist and community organisations, including environmental, union and Aboriginal organisations, were present to voice their concerns that these laws are a direct threat to democracy in Tasmania and are aimed at stifling dissent.

While aimed at forest protesters invading and shutting down logging sites, the laws are so broad and open to interpretation that many organisations in the community fear the right to legitimate protest will be curtailed.

Ben Bartl from the Community Legal Centre Tasmania said: “These laws will have a significant impact on the disadvantaged as they are more likely to protest so they will be likely to go to jail.”

Sara Maynard from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre said: “This supposed bill will not only affect the Aboriginal people, it is going to affect people and communities across Tasmania, this bill prevents freedom of speech and prevents people from having a different view from government.”

Greg Barns from Australian Lawyers Alliance said: “This law is ill thought-through and it will lead to an increase in police violence. This law is the sort of law you would expect to find in an authoritarian state like Queensland.”

Solidarity actions were also held in several mainland cities on August 19. In Sydney, about 20 people rallied in Martin Place. The theme of the rally in Sydney was: "No voice: No democracy: Anti-protest laws affect everybody."

The picket followed a rally held on August 16 at Hobart’s City Hall, where more than 900 people came to oppose the proposed laws. It was organised by the Bob Brown Foundation and supported by 20 organisations.

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