Tasmania’s proposed anti-protest laws will breach international human rights law

Anti-protest laws proposed by the Tasmanian Government - even following amendments – will breach international human rights law, the Human Rights Law Centre has today warned.

In a detailed submission, tabled today in a briefing to Tasmania’s Upper House, the HRLC outlined many of the ways the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill breaches international human rights law by criminalizing legitimate protest activity and, in some circumstances,  imposing harsh mandatory penalties which jeopardize individuals' right to a fair trial.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Senior Lawyer, Ruth Barson, said these laws, which severely curtail freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, have no place in a democracy like Australia.

"The Bill violates multiple fundamental rights recognised and protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. All Governments in Australia, including Tasmania’s, have an obligation to respect and uphold the rights that Australia signed up to over 30 years ago,” said Ms Barson.

The submission highlights how the Bill fails to distinguish between peaceful protests and violent or dangerous protests and instead criminalises all types of protest activity on or near certain business premises. It also specifically targets environmental protestors, erroneously prioritising commercial and economic interests over fundamental human rights of individuals.

“Although the right to peaceful protest can be restricted in certain circumstances, the measures under the Bill are disproportionate, unnecessary and therefore unlawful to achieving the Bill’s objectives. Tasmania already has a wide range of laws that adequately cover the types of behaviour the Bill seeks to regulate, like existing trespass laws. The measures in this Bill would not only be unlawful, but also redundant,” said Ms Barson.

The Bill also introduces a mandatory sentencing regime, exposing protestors to a minimum term of imprisonment starting at three months. This means that in some circumstances, a protester will be sent to jail irrespective of the severity of the relevant protest activity or the individual’s culpability.

“Mandatory sentencing creates a real possibility that sentences imposed under the Bill will be grossly disproportionate and inappropriate for the relevant individuals. The mandatory sentencing regime will put some people at risk of being arbitrarily detained, and of not receiving a fair trial,” said Ms Barson.

The submission recommends that the Upper House not pass the Bill. The Tasmanian Upper House is due to debate the Bill tomorrow.

Post Script: The Bill was passed with amendments which removed the worst aspect – mandatory imprisonment – but the new laws will still criminalise legitimate protest in breach of established international human rights protections and impose serious financial penalties.