Tasmanians’ right to protest has been undermined with the Rockliff government’s dangerous new anti-protest law passing the second reading phase in the Legislative Council earlier today, and is all but set to become law in August.
Leading Tasmanian and national civil society organisations slammed the Bill as draconian, anti-democractic, unnecessary and disproportionate, warning that it would have a significant stifling effect on the freedom to protest. A previous version of the law was struck down by the High Court in 2017 for being unconstitutional.
The Police Offences Amendment (Workplace Protection) Bill 2022 significantly increases penalties and creates new offences for a broad range of non-violent protest-related activity. The laws have been criticised for being unnecessary and vague.
Under the proposed law a community member marching on the streets to Parliament House and causing an obstruction could be jailed for three months, while a hospitality worker staying at their workplace to demand they are paid properly could be fined over $8,000.
It is expected the Bill will pass the third reading phase in the Legislative Council, before returning to the House of Assembly and then taking effect when parliament resumes in August after the winter break. The groups are calling for the Bill to be repealed at the earliest opportunity.
Kieran Pender, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said:
“This is a dark day for democracy in Tasmania. The right to protest is a cornerstone of a robust civil society that holds government to account. This law dramatically erodes that right. This Bill should never become law – it is not necessary or proportionate and it lacks appropriate safeguards and oversight. It is a dangerous anti-democratic law that will have a chilling effect on the right to protest in Tasmania.”
Eloise Carr, Director of the Australia Institute Tasmania, said:
“The progress of this law is a shocking wake up call that our civil liberties cannot be taken for granted. It is deeply disappointing that the government has rammed through this anti-democratic crackdown. Tasmanians’ right to peacefully protest has been damaged. Civil society groups will continue to defend our democratic right to peaceful protest and seek to have these laws overturned as soon as possible.”
Adrienne Picone, CEO of TasCOSS, said:
“This is an incredibly disappointing outcome and one which will now make it harder for Tasmanians to have their voices heard. We are extremely concerned about the further criminalisation of our public spaces and how these laws may impact vulnerable members of our community, particularly those impacted by the current housing crisis who are sleeping rough on our streets.”
Ray Yoshida, Campaigner at the Australian Democracy Network, said:
“Democracy is a fragile thing. For it to thrive people need to be able to stand up and raise their voice when they see injustice being done. But the Tasmanian Government is eroding our right to protest, making it the second state government this year to do so, and in the same week that the Victorian parliament is considering similar proposed laws. These laws must be repealed and we must reverse this worrying trend across the country before it’s too late.”
Bob Brown, Environmentalist and Patron of the Bob Brown Foundation, said
“As life on Earth is pulverised by global heating, habitat destruction and species extinctions, the exploiters know they can’t win the debate, so they aim to put environmentalists out of action through vilification, legal sanctions and unprecedented punishment.
“They want worried citizens to wave placards uselessly from the footpath while they drive their log trucks, coal trucks and gas rigs up the highways to more riches and planetary ruin.”