Anti-Protest Law Must be Stopped: Civil Society

Australia Institute

Leading Tasmanian and national civil society groups have published an open letter in the Hobart Mercury today opposing the Government’s anti-protest law which they say is an attack on democracy and must be stopped.

The proposed law would create new offences for peaceful protest activity, making peaceful protest penalties on-par with trespassing with a firearm, among other outrageous sanctions.

The latest attempt follows several previous failed attempts at passing anti-protest legislation which were found to be unconstitutional and an attack on democratic rights.

The anti-protest law, the Police Offences Amendment (Workplace Protection) Bill 2022, is set to be debated by Tasmania’s Parliament on Tuesday. A wide range of groups are calling for it to be dropped by the Government and blocked by the Parliament.

The Australia Institute Tasmania Director Eloise Carr said:

“Holding a placard is not the same as holding a gun. This law would impose disproportionate penalties on peaceful protesters. It places the same penalty on non-violent, peaceful protestors as those who commit trespass with a gun, or inflict aggravated assault. The Bill should be dumped and all Members of Parliament should reject it.”

Tasmanian Council of Social Service CEO Ms Adrienne Picone said:

“While this draft legislation is meant to protect workplaces, the inclusion of new public space offences could have much wider consequences for Tasmanians. TasCOSS is concerned the proposed changes could criminalise activities unrelated to protests, such as people impacted by the current housing crisis who are sleeping rough. It is more important than ever that Tasmanians experiencing homelessness are given the help they need, rather than criminalised for sleeping on the street.”

Human Rights Law Centre Senior Lawyer Kieran Pender said:

“The draft law is yet another attempt by the Tasmanian government to chill the democratic right to protest, which is a vital part of democratic accountability. The proposed law is not necessary, proportionate nor does it contain the robust safeguards and oversight needed to protect against misuse. The proposed law should be withdrawn immediately.”

Australian Democracy Network Executive Director Saffron Zomer said:

“So many of the rights that we take for granted today were won through peaceful, non-violent protest. Parliaments must take utmost care to avoid limiting freedom of speech and assembly. But this bill does not get the balance right. This bill does nothing to ensure workplace safety while doing everything to criminalise peaceful protest. We urge the Tasmanian parliament to reject it.”

The open letter reads

To the Parliament of Tasmania

Tasmanians have a long and proud history of peaceful protest.

From decriminalising homosexuality, protecting the Franklin River or fighting for better working conditions, peaceful protests have shaped the lutruwita / Tasmania we have today.

But right now the State Government is putting our rights and freedoms at risk.

The State Government’s proposed anti-protest laws are undemocratic and unnecessary. These laws, if passed, will silence communities from having their voices heard.

In fact, the legislation is so broad that people experiencing homelessness could be prosecuted for sleeping rough.

The laws criminalise peaceful protest by targeting protesters with disproportionate and excessive penalties, making non-violent protest equivalent to a serious criminal offence. Under these laws, simply having your say would be treated the same as trespass with a gun.

Without the right to peaceful public protest there would have been no Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and no reforms to our best-practice anti-discrimination laws.

The Tasmanian Government’s claim that it will not ‘put in place anything that will limit lawful protesting’ is simply not true when these anti-democratic anti-protest laws do just that.

We urge the Rockliff Government to withdraw the legislation, and we urge all Members of the Tasmanian Parliament to reject the legislation.

Protect our right to protest – before it’s too late.

Signatories —

Anglicare Tasmania

Bob Brown Foundation

Community Legal Centres Tasmania

Equality Tasmania

Robin Banks, former Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner

TasCOSS

Women’s Health Tasmania

Amnesty International

Australian Democracy Network

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights

Human Rights Law Centre

The Australia Institute Tasmania

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