Sydney Morning Herald

Calls to review 'excessive' protest laws in wake of Extinction Rebellion arrests

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 12/10/2019 22:27:00 Caitlin Fitzsimmons

a group of people holding a sign: An Extinction Rebellion protest calling for stronger action to reduce climate change. © AAPAn Extinction Rebellion protest calling for stronger action to reduce climate change. Politicians, civil liberties campaigners and lawyers have called for a review of two decades of "piecemeal" legislation restricting freedom to protest at both state and federal level. 

The call comes after a week of Extinction Rebellion protests urging strong action to prevent climate change. The action included disruptions to traffic, transport and dozens of arrests across Australia.

Civil Liberties Australia chief executive Bill Rowlings said successive federal and state governments had brought in laws that restricted freedoms in a piecemeal fashion.

"One law has been dolloped on top of another law on top of another law," he said. "It's time we had a major review of all those laws . some of them are excessive."

Australia has an implied right of political communication in the constitution and has agreed to uphold rights such as freedom of association and freedom of assembly that could be used for protest.

Mr Rowlings said laws were often brought in under the guise of countering terrorists or bikie gangs and then later used against ordinary citizens. There were also specific anti-protest laws such as police having powers to "move on" protesters or the current "right to farm" bill in NSW aimed at animal rights activists.

a group of people posing for the camera: Lily Campbell being arrested on Monday. © Dean SewellLily Campbell being arrested on Monday. The NSW government has indicated there are no plans to review laws governing protests. Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the government respected the right to protest as long as it was peaceful and lawful.

"If you refuse to obey the directions of police, then you can expect that action will be taken," he said.

The NSW shadow attorney-general, Paul Lynch, said Labor remained committed to review how existing laws affected civil liberties.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge added: "What we've seen over the past decade and a half is a whole series of additional police powers and fresh offences that criminalise activism and protest. We need a review that looks at the cumulative impact of all these laws."

The Institute of Public Affairs, a libertarian think tank, also backed a review. Its spokesman Evan Mulholland said such a review should examine "all laws that infringe on freedom of speech and freedom of association", including laws on protesting outside abortion clinics and section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act.

But Thomas Spohr, a solicitor with LegalAid NSW and former prosecutor, warned against a review. "It would be rare in the current environment that a review would result in an increase in the power to protest or a decrease in the powers of police," he said.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is rushing through laws to further criminalise disruptive protest. Federally, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash have floated the idea of cutting off welfare payments to protesters.

a man standing in front of a tree: Lily Campbell, 22, said she was intimidated and abused in police lock-up. © Louise KennerleyLily Campbell, 22, said she was intimidated and abused in police lock-up. The IPA's Mr Mulholland said he didn't "particularly like" Extinction Rebellion protesters but "the idea of removing welfare from people for simply engaging in completely lawful, democratic protest is an extremely illiberal infringement on freedom of speech". Welfare recipients who broke the law can already have payments cut.

NSW Police has confirmed at least 40 Extinction Rebellion arrests across the state, mostly at the protest on Monday afternoon when activists sat down on the road near Railway Square and refused to move.

Those arrested were generally charged with failing to comply with police directions regarding road closure, an offence that carries a fine. Most protesters signed police bail, agreeing to various conditions including a ban on associating with other Extinction Rebellion members, participating in further protests and going within 2.5 kilometres of Sydney Town Hall.

Mr Spohr said the conditions were clearly "onerous" and "unreasonable" given the purpose of bail was to ensure people attend court and do not commit a serious crime.

"Protesting, even if it results in blocking traffic, might be frustrating to people but it's certainly not a serious offence like armed robbery or drug offences," he said.

Two activists refused to sign the police bail conditions: Lily Campbell, 22, from Ashfield and Tom Colley, 57, from the Blue Mountains. Ms Campbell, who was held for more than 24 hours, claims she was intimidated and called a "f---ing moron" who "wasn't going to save the planet anyway".

The next day, a magistrate ordered the release of Ms Campbell and Mr Colley without any bail conditions. Other activists who have contested the police bail conditions have also had them lifted by the courts, including Scott Ludlam but not before it effectively prevented the former Greens senator speaking at an event at Sydney Town Hall the day after his arrest.

Mr Spohr said the fact the courts lifted the conditions showed it was a case of police "over-exercising" their power rather than a problem with the bail laws.

A NSW Police spokesperson said their first priority was public safety and unlawful behaviour would not be tolerated.

Pictures: Global climate strike

13. lokakuuta 2019 1:27:00 Categories: Liverpool Echo Sydney Morning Herald

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