New NSW anti-protest laws are excessive and unnecessary

The New South Wales government’s anti-protest laws will unreasonably restrict and disproportionately punish people for standing together and speaking out on issues that they care about, said the Human Rights Law Centre.

Today the New South Wales Parliament passed the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Act 2016 that will create new offences for certain protest activities, with harsh penalties for unlawful entry onto land that interferes with the conduct of a business. It will also give police excessive powers to shut down protest that obstructs traffic.

HRLC's Director of advocacy and research, Emily Howie, said that the laws go too far and would give police excessive powers to shut down peaceful protests that are obstructing traffic. Under international human rights law, governments have a duty to facilitate peaceful assembly. Protests can still be peaceful if they temporarily annoy, hinder, impede or obstruct the activities of third parties. Restrictions on protests must be for a legitimate aim and must be proportionate to that aim.

“Instead of shutting down protest and demonstrations that are inconvenient or annoying to it, the New South Wales Government should be facilitating the democratic space for peaceful assemblies and public discussions on issues that people care about,” said Ms Howie.

 “Protests have secured many of the rights, laws and policies that we now take for granted, from the eight-hour day to Indigenous land rights and women’s rights to vote. The government may disagree with protesters’ views on a particular issue but shutting down peaceful assemblies only serves to diminish a fundamental pillar of our democracy and the movements that made Australia great,” said Ms Howie.

The Bill also increases penalties from $500 to $5,500 for some acts opposing mining activity, including coal seam gas activities. At the same time, the NSW government is planning to reduce the fines for miners who operate illegally from $1.1million down to $5,000 penalty notice.

Tasmania and Western Australia have also recently introduced or proposed anti-protest laws that grant police excessive power to prevent or stop protests. Queensland passed similar laws for the G20 summit.

“We cannot afford to let governments keep chipping away at our rights. The NSW bill follows a worrying a trend of state parliaments passing laws that prioritise government and vested business interests at the expense of our basic democratic right to come together and speak out on issues that we care about,” said Ms Howie.

In February 2016 the HRLC published Safeguarding Democracy, a report the documents the trend of governments chipping away out democratic freedoms, including the right to protest.