NSW Government Effectively Bans Climate Protests, Under Threat of Imprisonment
Despite Matt Keen saying the odd environmentally friendly statement, the NSW Liberal Nationals government is a well-oiled machine designed to facilitate the wants of the fossil fuel industry and shield it from a rising number of constituents who oppose its detrimental effects.
For the past decade, the Coalition hasn’t been able to produce effective policies to limit emissions. However, in little over a week, it was able to ram through draconian anti-protest laws, after a few activists put their liberty on the line to directly impact the profits of the fossil fuel masters,.
So, now, we’re talking about actions that used to trigger fines of $440 or $2,200 carrying penalties of up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a $22,000 fine.
But, not to worry, we can still take legitimate forms of protest “in writing, in the mass media” or in authorised street marches and assemblies.
And what’s become plainly obvious is that even with the flooding, the megafires and the extended drought we’ve experienced, when push comes to shove, as the weather becomes more extreme and demonstrations escalate, the authorities are simply going to legislate stricter anti-protest laws.
“obstructing CBD traffic without authorisation could, under the new laws, [be] fined $22,000, as well as [be] thrown into prison for up to two years.”
The scenario from here is already mapped out in a myriad of dystopian films: climate deteriorates further leading to more determined direct actions to prevent fossil fuel extraction, which eventually leads to shoot-to-kill powers being employed when corporate profits are directly threatened.
The Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 passed through the NSW Legislative Assembly on Friday afternoon. This was not a scheduled sitting day of parliament, rather the Coalition called it late the night prior, as it was so determined to get these laws enacted.
The changes it makes follow an initial amendment made by NSW metropolitan roads minister Natalie Ward to section 144G of the Roads Act 1993 (NSW), so that trespassing on, damaging or obstructing any bridge or tunnel now carries a $22,000 fine and/or up to two years imprisonment.
Passed on 1 April, the bill, which was introduced by NSW attorney general Mark Speakman, extends the section 144G offence, so that it now covers blocking roads.
Up until last week, this offence only applied to obstructing or damaging the Sydney Harbour Bridge and so too, did the extreme penalties.
With the insertion of section 214A into the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), the Speakman bill also created the new offence of damaging or disrupting a major facility, which also carries the same draconian penalties as section 144G: up to two years inside and the $22,000 fine.
This new offence involves a prohibition on trespassing, climbing upon or blocking a major facility so that it either damages it, obstructs entry into it, leads to it having to close down or it causes people attempting to enter the facility to be redirected.
A major facility is classed as a railway station or other transport facility, any ports, and infrastructure facilities, including those that deliver energy. This new section 214A offence does not apply when it comes to workers taking industrial action.
Breaking effective protest
Speakman outlined during his second reading speech on the bill that the laws were needed due to the series of coordinated actions Blockade Australia carried out in relation to Port Botany last week, as well as the recent obstructing of peak hour traffic on Sydney’s Spit Bridge by Fireproof Australia.
“As well as the major inconvenience that incidents like these cause to the community, there are also severe financial impacts,” Speakman stressed, “with the cost of this economic vandalism estimated to run into the millions of dollars through direct economic loss and lost productivity.”
“The bill in no way seeks to impose a general prohibition on protests,” the chief lawmaker further fibs. And he goes on to wax lyrical about the importance that protest holds for a working democracy, and how the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) actually facilitates legal protests.
But this is what it all boils down to, the process of getting a protest authorised via the NSW Police Force takes away the ability of demonstrators to use obstruction and inconvenience to put their message across to the general public.
Climate protesters are obstructing roads unannounced as they want to cause disruption to draw public attention to the dire state of the climate, while they’re also targeting facilities because that directly affects the profit margins of the corporations.
A further chilling
The new laws don’t just have the potential to shut down dissent over climate inaction, as the extension of the section 144G offence to roadways has the potential for authorities to shut down expressions of dissent they would rather not take place in public.
Then NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller attempted to have the June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest banned due to COVID. But this was after the first lockdown had been lifted. And despite an initial ruling prohibiting the event from going ahead legally, 10,000 demonstrators showed up.
A last-minute reprieve saw the ban lifted and the protest go ahead. However, without this counter determination, all of those demonstrators obstructing CBD traffic without authorisation could, under the new laws, have been fined $22,000, as well as been thrown in prison for up to two years.
This was the first BLM protest NSW police attempted to shut down that year, yet it wasn’t the last. And it was well understood this was because the demonstrations were raising the issue of police racism and brutality against First Nations people.
So, these new laws may have proven effective in shutting down this expression of public dissent.
As NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge warned Sydney Criminal Lawyersat the beginning of the week, the Liberal Nationals government did not act in this drastic manner so as to pass laws that enabled the shutdown of the anti-lockdown protests last year, despite the disruptions they posed.
Indeed, it’s well-known that those freedom demonstrations involved participants who are more likely to vote for the right of politics, as well as for more conservative policies, and hence, they didn’t pose any real threat to Coalition leadership.
Climate defenders, however, do pose a major threat. And this is not only for the Coalition. It extends to Labor as well, when it’s in power.
So, that’s why Speakman’s bill was able to traipse its way through both chambers of NSW parliament even though the Greens showed fierce opposition.
“Governments have a responsibility to ensure that freedom of assembly and freedom of protest are not unduly impinged upon,” sniggered Speakman as he ended his speech on the bill. Then he raised its greater duty, which is to ensure any “form of economic vandalism” is put to rest.
“We MUST respect this earth - it is all we have
Claudio Dametto - South Australia
“I will always Vote to Preserve Our World.
Liam McGregor - Western Australia
“A simple message that even a politician can understand
Felicity Crombach - Victoria
“Please show you care about our future generations!!
Phil Harmer - New South Wales
“Save our world , Life & health before profits.
Kerry Lillian - New South Wales
“Close down all coal mines and Do not mine gas . Make these Companies
Daniel Johnson - New South Wales
“We want carbon free energy!
Edan Clarke - New South Wales
“Feels good to be taking a voter action step
Beaver Hudson - New South Wales
“Great Initiative. Let’s Hold elected officials Accountable to their bosses, us!
John Paul Posada - New South Wales
“We need actions not words we need honest democratic govt We need a pm
Bob Pearce - South Australia
“Thank you for this great resource. I was feeling helpless. Even this small step
Silvia Anderson - Victoria
“If political parties continue receiving political donations, we will rarely have politicians working for
Dan Chicos - New South Wales
“I only vote for people who will take urgent action to restore a safe
Susie Burke - Victoria
“Current government is not representing the opinion of the majority of Australian to meet
Neil Price - Tasmania
“We are fighting to rescue our kids' future from those who seek to steal
Vanessa Norimi - Queensland
“No time to waste Now or Never My vote is for NOW
Rosalie White - Victoria
“I am only 9 but I already care
Ava Bell - New South Wales
“From New Lambton Uniting Church - Caring for our world is a moral imperative.
Niall McKay - New South Wales
“Our federal govt is an International climate Embarrassment - its about time they stepped
Oriana Tolo - Victoria
“Vote earth this time!
Sue Cooke - Queensland
“We are in one on the wealthiest countries in the world. we have the
rowan huxtable - New South Wales
“The climate Emergency is the public health opportunity and urgent priority of the 21st
Mike Forrester - Victoria
“If they want my vote they better act now
Barbara McNiff - New South Wales
“We need to act locally now for the earth. Our only home. Vote Earth
Anne Miller - New South Wales
“I often look at the places I've known all my life and see how
Jim Baird - New South Wales
“Strike one For people power!!! Democracy might prevail outside the current cronyism that faces
Lorraine Bridger - New South Wales
“Our federal politicians Are Afraid to make action on climate change a major election
Jennifer Martin - New South Wales
“climate election, let's go!
Fahimah Badrulhisham - New South Wales
“Great to see this website that is a focus on action for climate change
Lynette Sinclair - New South Wales
“Let’s show politicians and the Murdoch media that climate change is by far the
Jane Aitken - Australian Capital Territory
“If you want to stay in power You need to take action to stop
Jane Bulter - New South Wales
“We are all that stands between terminal climate change and the vulnerable. We are
Carol Khan - Queensland
“We need a Government that Believes this is real and not taking money from
Ken Gray - New South Wales
“I'm voting for my childrens future
Anneliese Alexander - New South Wales