Labor Protests To Governor Over NSW Anti-Protest Laws

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New South Wales Premier Mike Baird may have pushed his widely condemned anti-protest Bill through the Upper House but the protests keep ironically coming, with the Labor party this morning registering a “formal protest” with the state’s Governor.

The party used a “colonial mechanism” to register its outrage, but it’s unlikely to have a material affect.

“There is no expectation that the Governor would do anything other than to sign the Bill into law,” Adam Searle, Labor’s leader in the Legislative Council, told New Matilda.

“It’s an avenue that is used sparingly, but we felt so concerned about the undemocratic nature of these laws that we just felt we should take that step,” Searle said. “This provision, properly understood, is a device for registering our continued concerns about the legislation and our opposition to it.”

The prominent Labor figure said that, as far as he is aware, the remarkable step of protesting to the Governor hadn’t been taken since 2011, when Labor expressed concern over Liberal-National industrial relations reforms.

IMAGE: Thom Mitchell. A woman protests Mike Baird's anti-protest laws, 2016.
IMAGE: Thom Mitchell. A woman protests Mike Baird’s anti-protest laws, 2016.

All Labor Members of the Legislative Council signed the letter to the Governor, His Excellency General, The Honourable David Hurley. In it, they argue that Baird’s anti-protest laws represent a “serious erosion of rights” and has the capacity to “diminish the freedoms enjoyed by the community and adversely impact the quality of our democracy”.

The legislation will expose coal seam gas protestors to a maximum 7-year jail term; increase fines for trespassing on miners’ land from $550 to $5,500; give police extraordinary new powers to search and seize people without warrants based on a mere suspicion they intend to ‘lock-on’; and, in some circumstances, allow police to issue move-on orders to whole assemblies of protestors.

“These changes would expose farmers, legitimate protest groups like The Knitting Nanna’s, and citizens from the wider community who are acting to protect their land, water, and food integrity, to up to seven years’ imprisonment,” Searle said.

Labor and The Greens have savaged the Bill over the last few days in Parliament, and it’s been sharply criticised by Unions New South Wales, the Law Society, the Bar Association, the Council for Civil Liberties, and a range of other community groups.

Despite this controversy, it was pushed through the Upper House, with the support of the Shooters and Fishers Party and Reverend Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats, in just eight days. Demands from Labor and the Greens that the Bill at least be taken to the Law and Justice Committee were dismissed by the government.

IMAGE: Thom Mitchell. A protest against Mike Baird's anti-protest laws in March 2016.
IMAGE: Thom Mitchell. A protest against Mike Baird’s anti-protest laws in March 2016.

The Baird Government has argued the legislation is necessary to ensure safety on mine sites – which are increasingly hampered by ‘lock-on’ style protests – and to protect the profits of coal and coal seam gas companies, but Searle said the legislation is an unnecessary overreach.

“There’s already an offence of obstructing the title holder of a mine – you’ve got trespass, criminal damage laws, and a range of obstruction laws – so the law already caters for that quite considerably,” Searle said.

In their letter to the Governor, Labor’s Upper House members said the government’s reform “elevates the rights of commercial and business interests, including those of coal seam gas and other unconventional gas and other mining companies, above the interests of land owners, farmers and the general community”.

New Matilda asked Searle if Labor would commit to repealing the law in full when they next form government, but he said “that would obviously be a matter for the Labor government after the next election”.

When pressed, Searle said he would come back to us with a clearer answer.

*Update* 

Adam Searle has confirmed that the Labor Party “would repeal” Mike Baird’s anti-protest legislation. Asked if he could indicate how soon after winning an election the reform would be wound back, Searle suggested that “how urgent that task would be would depend on what damage it was doing”.

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Thom Mitchell

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.

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