Free speech fears as anti-protest laws re-enter Tasmanian Parliament
21 March 2019 at 8:22 am
Sector leaders fear the rewriting of tough Tasmanian anti-protest laws could still threaten free speech and public protests, as the bill is tabled in a newly resumed state parliament this week.
Anti-protest laws designed to crimp protest and protect companies were struck down in the high court in 2017 after being proved unconstitutional, but the government has drafted new legislation they believe addresses the high court concerns.
The original laws, enacted in 2014, included jail time for illegal protesting. This resulted in former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown being jailed while trying to stop logging in a forest in Tasmania.
The new laws will mean anything that is a hindrance to business activity, is illegal. The ABC reported that because the legislation was so broadly defined, legal experts have said it would outlaw most marches and protests.
Kym Goodes, Tasmanian Council of Social Service CEO, told Pro Bono News the anti-protest laws were unnecessary because workplaces were already protected by other laws.
“This includes laws around damage to property for example, so our position is very much that people should have the right to protest,” Goodes said.
She said that protest was necessary in a community and should not be stamped out.
“If we prevent people from having a voice in a range of different ways and through this sort of legislation we won’t ever be able to have healthy debate in our community in Tasmania about what is important to the community,” she said.
Phillip Cocker, strategic director of Environment Tasmania, told Pro Bono News the legislation, teamed with changes to planning law, was part of a broader plan by the government to cut collective community protest.
“This will mean cuts to protest around development, and at the same time we’re also seeing changes to planning law [which] will stop people having any say on developments in Tasmania’s wild areas and reserve areas,” Cocker said.
“It’s a really aggressive push to cut community out of decisions around their communities, in the places that they love.”
Goodes said Tasmania had a strong history of public protest that has led to laws being changed, which was threatened by the possibility of the new laws.
“When we look back now at points in time, it was those protests that have actually enabled us to change the law and to change the way that the general public might see a particular issue,” she said.
“Under the legislation that’s before the Parliament in Tasmania today, organisations like ours would not have been able to do that, so I think we’ve got to be really careful not to shut down free speech and the right to protest.”