A proposed law that criminalises peaceful protest tactics would infringe Queenslanders’ right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, human rights lawyers told a parliamentary committee in Queensland.
The Summary Offences and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 would criminalise the use of devices commonly used in peaceful protests, even when the devices are used in a manner that only causes minimal disruption to the public and business. The offence would attract a sentence of up to two years in prison.
Alice Drury, Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said Queensland already has adequate laws to prohibit major disruptions.
“People have a right to come together to express their opinions on issues they care deeply about. This proposed law is fundamentally about stopping people from engaging in forms of peaceful protest.”
The Human Rights Law Centre told the Committee that the Government has not made the case for why the proposed laws are necessary.
“People have peacefully used lock on devices in protests across Australia. Our criminal laws already adequately cover their use when they cause major disruption. This proposed law could impose harsh prison sentences for their use in very broad circumstances, even if it’s just blocking a footpath.”
With Queensland and other states currently experiencing daily protests by environmental groups, Ms Drury said the disruption is a symptom of a deeper cause.
“Protesters are responding to the implications of climate change. So long as we have policy paralysis when it comes to dealing with the climate crisis, governments can expect people will continue to come together to voice their concern and demand action. Politicians should resist the knee-jerk response of criminalising conduct because it’s frustrating, and recommit to facilitating peaceful protest for the health of our democracy.”
The proposed law in Queensland coincides with the NSW’s Government’s broad Right to Farm Bill 2019, which would increase the penalty for “aggravated unlawful entry on inclosed lands” from $5500 to $22,000 and add a three-year prison term for people who merely "hinder" a business while trespassing.
“We are seeing a clear and worrying wave of laws from governments across Australia that restrict people’s ability to stand together and speak out on issues they care deeply about. Politicians may disagree with protesters' views on a particular issue, but shutting down peaceful assemblies only serves to weaken our democracy,” said Ms Drury.
Michelle Bennett, Communications Director: 0419 100 519