Tasmanian anti-protest laws unreasonably restrict free speech and protest: HRLC High Court submission

Tasmanian anti-protest laws unreasonably restrict free speech and protest: HRLC High Court submission

Tasmania’s anti-protest laws that limit Australians’ freedom to stand together and speak out on matters that they care about should be struck down, the Human Rights Law Centre has argued in a submission to the High Court this week.

The HRLC applied to provide expert assistance to the High Court in the case lodged by former Senator and Australian Greens Leader, Bob Brown, challenging the validity of Tasmania’s Workplace (Protection from Protesters Act) 2014 (Tas). The HRLC supports Mr Brown’s argument that the Tasmanian law violates the implied freedom of political communication in the Australian Constitution.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said the case is important because it gives the High Court the chance to determine the extent to which Australians’ protest rights are protected under the Australian Constitution.

“It’s absolutely critical to our democracy that we can freely share ideas on political issues. Tasmania’s anti-protest laws go too far in shutting down vital and vibrant debate,” said Ms Howie.

A key reason the HRLC argues that the Tasmanian law is invalid is because it prioritises corporate interests above the basic democratic right of people to discuss their government and political matters. The law is written in terms so broad that it could stop people from expressing political views in a public space, even temporarily, if that would hinder business activity.

“Our democratic rights mustn’t be sold off in order to appease vested business interests. Businesses are a beneficiary of our democratic and stable government, they are not a justification for weakening our democratic rights.

“This law is part of a worrying trend of anti-protest laws proliferating across Australia. The right to protest has played a critical part of Australia’s history. Protests have secured many of the rights, laws and policies we now take for granted. The eight-hour day, women winning the right to vote, ending Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war – these things didn’t just happen by themselves, protests played a vital role.

“We are seeing a clear and worrying wave of state-based laws that restrict the ability of Australians to stand together and speak out on issues that they care deeply about. The government may disagree with protesters' views on a particular issue, but shutting down peaceful assemblies only serves to weaken our democracy,” said Ms Howie.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy and Research: 0421 370 997

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications: 0419 100 519