Free Speech In Tasmania: A Fairy Story

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Once upon a time there used to be a political party called the Liberal party which believed in free speech, democracy and individual freedom.

Then on March 15, 2014 along came the Tasmanian Liberal Party, elected to office, led by Will Hodgman (son of Michael Hodgman) with the ardent support of the Leader of the Liberal Government in the Senate, the Hon. Eric Abetz, a man who has just taken the cleaners to the cleaners.

The incoming Tasmanian Liberal government has moved to silence all protest. About anything. Anywhere that can be described as a workplace. Or roads near a workplace. Or a public place. This is just about anywhere except a private house.

A fortnight ago, the Hodgman Liberal government passed the Workplaces (Protection From Protesters) Bill so fast they gagged debate.

Luckily Tasmania has an Upper House, the Legislative Council, so it has not completed its passage through Parliament yet. But it might. The Legislative Council is conservative, has several Liberal, one Labor and several independent members.

The problem: a protest activity is, according to the Bill, an activity that takes place on business premises, a business access area in relation to business premises, a road, a footpath or a public place; and is in furtherance of; or for the purposes of promoting awareness of or support for – an “opinion, or belief, in respect of a political, environmental, social, cultural or economic issue”.

Dear oh dear. Fancy promoting opinions or ideas? How awful. Should be punished.

For the purposes of this Act, a person is engaging in a protest activity if the person participates, other than as a bystander, in a demonstration, a parade, an event, or a collective activity.

Look out Father Christmas and his pageant, and the elves. And those reindeers better not be promoting any ideas. Rudolph could be for headed for the paddy wagon.

The legislation was supposed to stop anyone protesting about forestry, being nice to trees, or nasty to miners.

However, the anti-protest laws could be about anything, say the lawyers and unions. They are right.

Furthermore, anyone who protests and is convicted a couple of times will get a mandatory three month jail sentence.

Quakers like those arrested during the protests about gay law reform in the 1980s in Tasmania, could be jailed for three months or more.

Magistrates will have no option but to jail people for the most trivial offences.

Tasmanian jails could soon be home to Quakers, pacifists, farmers a few mayors and a bishop.

There will also be an awful lot of elderly people in jail if we look at the grey heads pictured at Tasmanian protests.

I hope the prison has a good supply of wheelchairs and walking frames.

Senator Abetz was reported in Andrew Bolt’s blog on Australia Day 2014 to have said to young Liberals “Can I also encourage you, in your discussions with family, friends and colleagues, to respectfully remind people that the future well-being of our nation is not wrapped up in the economic management of our nation, but ultimately in maintaining the social and cultural values and traditions that have in fact given us the unparalleled personal freedoms and wealth which makes us the envy of the world.”

And before anyone comments on it, German born Eric Abetz is definitely not a Nazi, and his Nazi great uncle died before he was born.

I am not sure how envious the world will be of Tasmania’s “personal freedom” and its new potential anti-protest laws.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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