The Greens have today unveiled plans for legislative changes that will unravel the state's anti-protest regime and protect the important right to protest in NSW. The announcement comes as environment, climate and social activists are being targeted by NSW Police and copping harsh, unfair and excessive penalties. Recent examples include:
- Climate activist Deanna “Violet” Coco sentenced to 15 months prison time for protesting on the Sydney Harbour Bridge,
- Cherish Kuehlmann arrested in the middle of the night by NSW police for protesting rising costs of living, and
- Long time forest protester Susie Russell singled out, charged and placed on restrictive bail conditions for being in a public forest area last month.
Greens MP, environmental lawyer and long time forest activist Sue Higginson has committed to repealing anti-protest laws brought in by the Liberal National Coalition since 2014. Anti-protest laws have created new offences such as aggravated trespass on a business property, dramatically increased police powers and resulted in unprecedented sentencing that is aimed at quashing the democratic right to protest and silencing dissent. The Government in lock step with the Labor opposition brought in the most recent tranche of anti-protest laws last year as climate group Blockade Australia ramped up protest activity in Sydney to raise awareness about the climate crisis. Under those laws non-violent protesters could be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 2 years and or fined $22,000 simply for blocking a road.
The Greens have also vowed to amend sentencing laws to create a defence of genuine protest that means anyone found guilty of an offence while engaging in genuine non-violent protest or civil disobedience will not receive a custodial sentence.
The policy is available here.
Sue Higginson said:
“In the early 1990s I locked on to a bulldozer to stop the destruction of an old growth forest. That forest is now protected under the law. Back then I didn’t face the risk of serving prison time. In fact, I went on to become a lawyer and worked with communities to prevent the destruction of our environment and hold governments and corporations to account under the law. The deliberate erosion of our fundamental democratic right to protest that we have seen over the last decade is frankly alarming. I am here to reverse these laws as an MP.
“Protest is a critical mechanism to drive progress or prevent destructive policies from occuring in our environment and communities. There are so many important reforms throughout history that have only been possible because people have taken to the streets and the forests to draw attention to issues.
“Non-violent direct action and protest has led to the protection of our world heritage forests and national parks, equal rights for women, some rights for First Nations people, minimum pay and conditions and has stopped the destruction of many places from development.
“Protest is crucial to the function of our democracy. Civic participation through protest is an accountability mechanism and a key driver of social and environmental change. The impacts of sustained protest are cumulative - maybe this government won’t listen, but the next may, protest has a vital role to play in our democracy.
“In a mature democracy, protest is recognised as an important and legitimate way of engaging in the democratic process. A person's right to engage in democracy does not end at the ballot box. People should be able to seek to influence political outcomes through all manner of peaceful activity, including civil disobedience. It is time NSW ends the persecution and harsh treatment of peaceful protesters. ” Ms Higginson said.
Greens candidate for Lismore Adam Guise said:
“We have a long and proud history of protesting against unjust laws. We have protested to protect our ancient Gondwana rainforests, to give First Nations people and women the right to vote, uphold workplace rights, and change harsh drug prohibition laws.
“Thousands of us engaged in non-violent civil disobedience in the Bentley Blockade and Gasfield Free campaign to stop the toxic coal seam gas invasion of our beautiful region. We know too well the important part disruption plays when engaging in civil disobedience. That is how social change is created.
“The corrupting influence of political donations on our democracy was starkly apparent, when both Labor and the Liberals-Nationals voted together to impose these anti-democratic protest laws which are aimed to intimidate and silence anyone who threatens the profits of the climate wrecking fossil fuel industries.
“Our politicians are so captured by the fossil fuel industry that they refuse to acknowledge that the world is on fire. They most certainly do not hold the hose to put it out. Our right to engage in civil disobedience is the bedrock of a healthy democracy and a bulwark against a police state.” Mr Guise said.
Photos from the press conference available here following its conclusion.
For media enquiries, please contact Sue Higginson 0428 227 363