High Court to hear landmark case on Tasmania’s anti-protest laws that unreasonably restrict free speech and protest

The High Court of Australia heard a landmark case seeking to strike down Tasmania’s excessive anti-protest laws that unreasonably limit people’s freedom to stand together and speak out on matters that they care about.

The High Court case centres around the arrest of Dr Bob Brown on a public road while he was trying to film a video about a controversial logging project in Tasmania’s native Lapoinya forest. A second plaintiff, Ms Jessica Hoyt, was separately arrested in the Lapoinya Forest in similar circumstances.

The Human Rights Law Centre was granted permission from the High Court to provide its expertise on human rights law and filed submissions that support Mr Brown’s challenge to the validity of Tasmania’s Workplace (Protection from Protesters Act) 2014 (Tas).

Emily Howie, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the High Court will confirm whether the Tasmanian law violates the implied freedom of political communication in the Australian constitution.

“It’s absolutely critical to our democracy that we can freely share ideas on political issues. This is a bedrock principle – without free political communication how can Australians be expected to make an informed choice on election day? Tasmania’s anti-protest laws go too far in shutting down vital and vibrant debate,” said Ms Howie.

The Human Rights Law Centre argues that the Tasmanian law prioritises business interests well above the basic democratic rights of people and that the law is written in terms so broad it could stop people from expressing political views in a public space, even temporarily, if doing so would hinder business activity in anyway.

“Governments can’t just sell off our democratic rights in order to appease vested business interests. This Tasmanian law is completely unbalanced; it puts business interests way ahead of our rights as individuals to engage in political communication or indeed protest,” said Ms Howie.

The Tasmanian law is part of an alarming trend of anti-protest laws being beefed up across Australia and internationally.

“Unfortunately, Australia is not immune from the global trend of governments limiting protest rights. 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. This case is important because it gives the High Court the chance to determine the extent to which Australians’ speech and protest rights are protected under the Australian Constitution,” said Ms Howie.

Read Ms Howie's opening statement at the press conference here.