Tasmanian Police have discontinued their prosecution of former Greens leader Bob Brown, who was arrested earlier this year under controversial anti-protest laws which he went on to challenged in the High Court.
In a statement, Commissioner Darren Hine said Police decided to drop the charge after advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions. Brown had been arrested in January this year for standing in the way of bulldozers primed to clear forest at Lapoinya, in north west Tasmania.
He was among the first to be charged under the Workplaces (Protection from Protestors) Act 2014. The law is part of a controversial push back – labelled “shocking” by the United Nations – which is geared at deterring protests which interrupt businesses’ activities.
The decision to drop the charges appears to come down to a technicality. Commissioner Hine said Brown had been charged with remaining in a “business access area,” but Police had since received advice that he should have been charged with remaining on a “business premises”.
No further charges are being considered against Brown, but others who have been arrested at Lapoinya face a less certain fate. Police have issued six infringement notices and made five arrests in relation to the protests. Four of the charges are now being reviewed, with Police expecting that process to be concluded in two weeks time.
— Bob Brown (@BobBrownFndn) January 25, 2016
Brown said he had “no idea why [the] charges were singled out for early reconsideration,” but that others arrested under the anti-protest laws “should not be left waiting”.
“I am very concerned for two other parties here,” he said.
“The first is the other citizens, including Lapoinyans, who were arrested or issued infringement notices while peacefully protesting the impending destruction of the forest and its wildlife from unnecessary clearfell logging [that will]benefit Malaysian logging corporation Ta Ann.
“The second is the Tasmania Police who have to administer this awful piece of legislation.”
Commissioner Hine said that “Tasmania Police will provide appropriate guidance to officers in relation to the application of these particular sections of the Act”.
But if Brown gets his way, there will be no further charges under the legislation at all. In March, the former Senator launched a High Court bid to have the laws struck down as unconstitutional. “Having dropped the charges the Hodgman government should now drop its draconian and shoddy anti-protest laws altogether,” he said.
“My challenge to Premier Hodgman’s unnecessary and intimidating laws is on track to proceed in the High Court.”
Introduced by the Liberal Government, the laws prohibit protests on that hinder access to business premises or disrupt business operations. They gift police extraordinary powers to pre-emptively move protestors on, and impose hefty fines and, in some cases, jail terms.
You can read Bob Brown’s account of his arrest here. A directions hearing of the High Court is set down for 25 May.