(This is additional information relating to the Human Rights Law Centre's media release here regarding the High Court case of Bob Brown v Tasmania. May 2017.)
Former Senator and Greens leader Dr Bob Brown and Ms Jessica Hoyt are challenging Tasmanian laws that impose new restrictions on how and where people can express their opinions on environmental, political, social, economic and cultural issues.
On 25 January 2016, Dr Bob Brown was arrested whilst walking with three others near forestry operations in the Lapoinya Forest. Dr Brown was there to promote public awareness of logging of the forest, to support the local Lapoinya community’s resistance to that logging, and to raise public awareness of the environmental harm it would cause.
Dr Brown was being filmed at the time, with a view to publishing images of the forest and logging works and information on the environmental harm which would be caused by the logging of the Lapoinya forest. He was only intending to stay for as long as necessary to observe and film the forest surrounds and the activities of a nearby bulldozer.
The Workplace (Freedom from Protesters) Act 2014 (Tas) (the Act) prohibits “protesters” from doing an act on “business premises”, or on a “business access area” that would “prevent, hinder or obstruct the carrying out of a business activity on the premises”. Police have the power to direct protesters who are contravening this prohibition to leave the area, and failure to comply with a direction is grounds for arrest.
On 25 January 2016, Dr Brown was arrested and later charged under the Act for failing to comply with a police direction to leave a business access area. He subsequently brought this challenge in the High Court as to the constitutional validity of the Act. A video of Dr Brown’s arrest is available here.
Separately, on 20 January 2016, Jessica Hoyt, a founder of the Forests of Lapoinya Action Group, was arrested in Lapoinya forest, for failing to comply with a police direction not to return to the forest issued the previous day. She was subsequently charged under the Act.
In June 2016, charges against both Dr Brown and Ms Hoyt were dismissed.
The High Court is being asked to decide whether the Act is invalid because it impermissibly burdens the implied freedom of political communication that is protected in the Australian Constitution.
The Act expressly limits the rights of “protesters” that it defines as people who are promoting awareness or support for, or furthering, a political, environmental, social, cultural or economic opinion or belief.
All states and the Commonwealth, except WA, have intervened in support of Tasmania. The Human Rights Law Centre has filed submissions in support of the plaintiffs, Bob Brown and Jessica Hoyt.