Governments in two Australian states have been accused of undermining democracy by introducing legislation designed to criminalise environmental protests.
In Victoria, protesters attempting to prevent native forest logging would face 12 months’ jail or more than $21,000 in fines, and bans from protest areas under laws proposed last week by the Andrews Labor government.
In Tasmania, protesters could be fined up to $12,975 or jailed for 18 months for a first offence, and organisations up to $103,800, if they were judged to have obstructed workers or caused “a serious risk”.
The changes introduced by the Rockliff Liberal government passed the state’s lower house with support from the Labor opposition.
In both cases, the governments said new laws were necessary to protect workers’ safety and, in the case of the Tasmanian laws, to protect business interests. Both denied they were attacking the right to protest or free speech, but groups from across civil society described the changes as disproportionate and undemocratic.