Greens will not back down in overturning anti-protest laws

Abigail attempted to disallow the Roads Amendment (Major Roads) Regulation 2022, but was unsuccessful as a result of strong opposition from Labor & the Coalition. 

CRIMES AMENDMENT (MAJOR FACILITIES) REGULATION 2022

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (20:20): I move:

That, under section 41 of the Interpretation Act 1987, this House disallows the Roads Amendment (Major Facilities) Regulation 2022, published on the NSW Legislation website on 5 April 2022

The extraordinary armed police raid on a private property in the Blue Mountains over the weekend to arrest climate campaigners under suspicion of planning a peaceful protest action was an astonishing and brazen overreach of newfound police powers—powers that must be swiftly and decisively rolled back. Labor and conservative crossbench members signed a blank cheque on the Coalition's crackdown on protesters before even seeing the full legislation, and their comments during debate showed that they did not fully understand the repressive nature of these laws. The insidious and outrageous actions by New South Wales police over the weekend have now laid bare how truly draconian these new powers are. That police felt emboldened under this new anti‑protest legislation to take this extraordinary authoritarian action should send a shock wave of alarm throughout our society.

It is exactly the kind of assault on our democratic rights that we warned of when these terrible laws were rushed through just months ago. It is not too late to walk back this mistake. We urge all parties to truly consider the legacy that they will be leaving this State if they once again fail to stand against this degradation of our democratic, social and civil rights and liberties. With echoes ofMinority Report, these laws are being used as a weapon by the recently formed Strike Force Guard to legitimise armed espionage and surveillance activities and a full militarised assault on a camp of peaceful activists. Strike Force Guard was formed in March this year to "prevent, investigate and disrupt unauthorised protests". Its purpose is to enforce a regime that only permits State‑sanctioned protests in State‑sanctioned places on State‑sanctioned topics and terms.

In addition to winding back the repressive legislation that has further empowered its actions, Strike Force Guard must be immediately disbanded. There has been a disconcerting trend in this State and across the nation towards authoritarian oppression of civil society organisations and citizens peacefully struggling for a better world. Democratic rights and liberties are hard won and must be judiciously maintained, because once lost they can be difficult if not impossible to win back. We urge the other political parties to do some soul searching and to stand up for what is right and fair. We have the opportunity today to hopefully walk back this anti‑democratic trend. I hope the other parties in the New South Wales Parliament have been watching recent events carefully and listening to the alarm raised by leading civil society organisations.

I have a number of open letters from leading civil society organisations that members in this Chamber will be well acquainted with condemning the actions of Strike Force Guard and calling for the extraordinary overreach in the roads and crimes regulations in question to be rolled back. One letter is signed by 40 leading civil organisations, including Amnesty International Australia, Human Rights Law Centre, CounterAct, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Australian Democracy Network, Maritime Union of Australia, Legal Observers NSW, Environmental Defenders Office, Knitting Nannas, Redfern Legal Centre, Community Legal Centres NSW and many more. It states in part:

Forty civil society organisations have expressed alarm at reports of police overreach in preemptive policing of protest, with NSW police conducting covert surveillance and a raid on climate activists north of Sydney on Sunday.

The extensive covert surveillance and pre-emptive policing sets a disturbing precedent for protest rights. The raid also continues a troubling trend in the state of disproportionate crack-downs on the right to protest. In March, NSW Parliament passed theRoads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Act 2022, draconian new anti-protest laws which threaten everyone from people marching for gender equality to anti‑war protestors with up to two years in jail and a $22,000 fine.

Where previous legislation in NSW covered disruption on major bridges or tunnels, the expanded offence covers roads, train stations, ports and public and private infrastructure, and has been widely condemned.

These new laws are part of a concerning trend nationwide of bipartisan support for regressive legislation that further criminalises peaceful community activists.

David Morris, CEO of the Environmental Defenders Office, stated: Legislation which unjustly restricts people's freedoms to express dissent ought to be wound back. Heavy penalties and greater restrictions on peaceful protest included in recent reforms are not a proportionate response to non-violent citizen action which draws attention to the climate crisis or other kinds of environmental damage.

Alice Drury, legal director of the Human Rights Law Centre, said: On major issues like this, governments should expect people to continue to come together to voice their concern and demand action. Politicians should resist the knee-jerk response of criminalising protests because it's frustrating or disruptive.

Stephen Blanks of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said: NSWCCL has expressed concerns about increasingly harsh and disproportionate laws and actions taken against political protesters in recent years, and supports victims of such laws and actions. The legal right to peaceful protest is fundamental to our democracy. Protests hold governments to account and make our country better.

Paul Keating, Sydney branch secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, expressed strong concerns. He said: The very reasons communities and the trade union have opposed these anti-protest laws is for the very reasons like what occurred on the weekend with these raids. This isn't just over-reach, this is the anti-democratic nature of the law that creates space for such overreach and infringes on our democratic rights that so many community groups and organisations and the trade union movement in NSW has voiced its outrage about.

All affiliates of Unions NSW in April through a meeting of the Unions NSW executive unanimously endorsed a resolution condemning these anti-protest laws and demanding that they be revoked. We are seeing now the power of a police state that allows for the police without any accountability to reach into the rights of the people to protest against governments. The MUA will not stand by, we will mobilise to defend our communities, to defend the rights of the people to protest.

Another letter, signed by the Human Rights Law Centre, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, members of the union movement and others, stated: Trade Unions, NSW civil society and human rights organisations are calling on the NSW Upper House to seize the opportunity to disallow the short-sighted, draconian regulations in the new NSW Government anti-protest laws through a disallowance motion …

That is this disallowance motion. The position of our leading civil society organisations could not be clearer: These regulations must be immediately repealed as a dangerous attack on our democratic rights. I draw to the attention of members of the Opposition some of the comments they made during debate on the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 at the end of March and on 1 April this year when the bill was rushed through Parliament. The Hon. John Graham indicated the Opposition's expectation that the regulations would provide a targeted approach that would be used judiciously and cautiously. He said: It is quite broad legislation, but the Government has been quite narrow when it has described how it will use it. The Opposition trusts that is the case, given the Government's assurances. We will hold the Government to them.

That trust has been misplaced. Will Labor really trust a government that today announced its intention to impose onerous financial penalties on the union movement for exercising their function as representatives of the working class? Will it trust a government that is seeking to further restrict and criminalise the right to strike? Is that the Government the Opposition is placing its faith in? Is that who the Opposition extends its solidarity to?

The Hon. John Graham also proudly told us that he and other members of the Opposition would be in attendance at the May Day rally this year and that they did not expect the laws to intrude on the operation of that action. I regret to inform him that those exact laws were invoked against the union movement—against senior officials at Unions NSW who were attempting to plan and organise the union contingent at Town Hall. Organisers faced strong police opposition, and the police were able to impose their will on that proud day of union solidarity and dictate the terms and location of where attendees of the rally could congregate. The same power has been deployed against School Strike 4 Climate organisers. Police are growing into their new powers, trying them out and seeing how far they can push them. We need to unwind those laws now, before it is too late.

Opposition members were also at pains to emphasise their support for peaceful protest. Blockade Australia climate defenders have no history of violence, and yet they are finding themselves on the receiving end of a fascist imposition of State violence under the auspices of the anti-protest laws. I quote the powerful definition of fascism offered up in the debate on the laws by the Hon. Anthony D'Adam: … in my view a fascist position is one where those in power cease to think that persuasion is the primary mechanism and that actually the way that you resolve problems, the way that you do seal the deal against dissent, is through coercion.

I also quote the Hon. John Graham, who questioned the need for the additional powers before endorsing their introduction—potentially under some illusions as to their full extent. He said: Until now governments of either stripe have been able to use the significant powers, prestige and authority of the police and the existing laws to deal with what are small but still very disruptive protests. … We ask the Government to answer when those laws will apply …

Answers have not been very forthcoming, but the actions of the police have made it clear: Those laws were not designed to allow police to effectively do what they had previously done, but rather to grant them extraordinary new powers to surveil and disrupt peaceful social and climate justice campaigners and to exercise military‑style aggression upon them under spurious circumstances. I again quote John Graham: While Labor will vote to back the bill, as I said, we will then hold the Government to account. We do not want to see those laws used in a haphazard manner.

What could possibly be more haphazard than what has just occurred—police surveilling a camp of peaceful climate defenders on private property, conducting surveillance without a warrant, failing to identify themselves as police, ramming camp residents with an unmarked police vehicle and then placing lives in danger through their militarised raid of over 100 police in camouflage gear, riot gear, dogs and helicopters? That is wildly disproportionate and far from the expectations of our society. I quote and echo the sentiments of the Hon. Mark Buttigieg, who said: The problem with the legislation is that it is a broadbrush bill that does not achieve the outcomes specified in the objectives. … It should not have any unintended consequences for what should be people's ability to associate freely and make a point about whatever issue they are protesting on.

The Hon. Peter Primrose noted: … there are already legislation and penalties available to deal with people who cause damage to property, harm individuals, are involved in street protests without police permission or breach their visa conditions.

He questioned the necessity for those further laws. Labor and The Greens moved amendments seeking to protect peaceful protest action from the impact of those laws, but they were voted down. The Hon. Adam Searle said it well when he said: The Government has given assurances … that the intention of the legislation is to not infringe on peaceful protest. The Government keeps talking about lawful or legal protests, but there are protests that are at the edge although they are peaceful.

That the Government cannot see a clear way to support the Opposition amendments is a matter of grave concern. It suggests that the Government was not genuine in its intention of how the law will be applied.

Well, he was right. Government members were being cute when they described how it would be used. They are throwing their full weight behind forming a police state in New South Wales, and we cannot just stand idly by. I again quote John Graham: If down the track the New South Wales Government broke the assurance that we have been given, we say that goes beyond the law that we have passed here. It would cease to have the support of the Opposition at that point. If the Government … used the laws outside the scope of which the Attorney General assured the public—these laws would not succeed.

The time for Opposition members to withdraw their support is now. It is time to roll back the regulations, to reaffirm their commitment to the values of democracy, civil society and the struggle for a better world.

It is not for government to determine what is legitimate protest, but the Liberal-Nationals Government has been given free rein and a blank cheque to impose its will through coercive police control on the civil freedoms of people in this State. It is seeking now to introduce legislation to impose onerous penalties on unions for engaging in strike action, and The Greens will stand proudly alongside the Opposition, I hope, in opposing this legislation for the exact same reasons we are articulating in this debate. We must vigorously defend our right to fight for a better world because, as Frederick Douglass so eloquently said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will." I commend the motion to the House.


The Labor Party and the Coalition spoke against the disallowance motion, which you can read in Hansard here.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (20:56): In reply: I thank all members who contributed to debate on this disallowance motion. I will start with the contribution of the Hon. John Graham on behalf of the Opposition, which is a riff on the contribution of Minister Tudehope that this has already been litigated and discussed. These rushed laws were debated over a short period, despite their significant impact on the community. We certainly did do that. During that debate, no-one had seen these regulations or knew what they were going to say. No member in this place, apart from the Government members who were involved, would have thought that the term "major facilities" as used in the bill that was passed would end up extending, under these regulations, to pretty much whatever the Minister thought of at the time.

We warned the House that if such a broad discretion was given to the Minister to define a major facility that one was not allowed to protest near it could end up applying to pretty much all of the State. Lo and behold, that is what happened. Major facilities now cover all of the peaceful protest locations where peaceful rallies would ordinarily occur about the climate and workers' rights issues that the Opposition claims to hold so dear. Major facilities include Central Station, Martin Place, Museum, St James, Town Hall and even some of the more suburban train stations. It is quite extensive and bizarre. Not many people would consider those locations to be major facilities. And then the roads regulation covers every road in the State. It is extraordinarily broad.

I really do not believe—and I would love to be corrected—that I missed the memo from the Government that under those regulations it was going to pretty much extend this draconian legislation to cover everything in the State. I do not believe for one second that is what the Opposition thought was going to happen when it voted for those laws. Opposition members are now telling the House that we have already had those arguments but that is not a compelling reason not to vote to disallow those regulations. It is incredibly disappointing.

Speaking of disappointing, Minister Tudehope's response on behalf of the Government was a really lazy argument. When we were talking about the anti‑abortion protesters, the law was referring to proximity. Anti‑abortion protesters can protest at train stations. No, wait, they cannot, because of the law the Government has passed. But perhaps the police will not be as trigger happy when it comes to stopping anti‑abortion protesters from protesting in the wrong places under these laws. The idea that preventing people from hassling women seeking reproductive health care outside the place in which they will receive that medical service is somehow akin to this motion is quite extraordinary and a very lazy argument.

Thankfully, it is not just The Greens. It is also our friends in the Animal Justice Party—I thank the Hon. Emma Hurst for her continuous support against those draconian protest laws—and it is also the unions in New South Wales. All of them unanimously support the views that I am putting to the House tonight, as does all of civil society. I am in incredibly good company with the arguments I am putting forward, but I have complete faith that when this law is brought to the High Court, that court will fully understand the difference between this absolute blight on our democracy and the ridiculous comparison that Minister Tudehope put to the House tonight. I really do look forward to the High Court striking down those laws.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, particularly given the laws the Parliament passed today on restricting bail rights, we are going to end up with a whole lot of people who are acting peacefully and with the best intentions being thrown into jail in what has now become the police State of New South Wales. I reflect on the contribution from my colleague Ms Sue Higginson, who spoke not just from the perspective of somebody who understands the law but from the perspective of a person who understands protest and the value that protest has had, over the history of this country, in making social progress and meaningful change. She understands the amazing successes of past protesters in protecting places that we now enjoy, and she is absolutely right that they are the people who will be shown to be on the right side of history. For Parliament to try to stifle them and their right to protest is nothing short of disgraceful.

Finally, I turn to the contribution of Mr Justin Field. His absence was noted during the debate on the original bill. It was a great shame that he had COVID during that time, but his comments relating to inconvenience, in particular, were right on point. The idea that only a protester can stop someone from getting to work—apparently there are no other possible reasons for having traffic. I do not know how much anybody else in the Chamber drives, but I am stuck in traffic quite a lot, and it is not through the fault of protesters, on the whole. In fact, I have never been in that situation, but I have been stuck in traffic many times because of the failures of this Government in ensuring that roads are not flooded or that the trains are running on time et cetera. The idea that we cannot have a protest because it is going to stop someone getting to work—or, to go with a more dramatic example, that there might be a fire engine—as though that does not happen for other reasons, is absolutely absurd. If you compare that to the inconvenience of being stuck in the roof cavity because the floodwaters have come up above the level of your house, I know which of those I would find to be most inconvenient.

I thank everybody for having this debate. I flag that, although I am moving the next disallowance motion as well, we will not be relitigating and having the whole debate again. I really hope that some of what has been discussed tonight sinks in and that we see the Opposition, in particular, change its tune before too long.

Abigail's disallowance motion did not get the majority vote, with both the Labor Party and the Coalition adamant on keeping these draconian anti-protest laws in place. 

 

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