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Knitting Nannas launch challenge over NSW anti-protest laws

Two climate-impacted “Knitting Nannas” have launched a constitutional challenge to the new anti-protest laws in NSW, in a move to protect democratic freedoms.

user iconLauren Croft 19 October 2022 Big Law
Knitting Nannas launch challenge over NSW anti-protest laws
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The two women from the flood and fire-impacted NSW Mid North Coast have launched a constitutional challenge to new anti-protest laws to preserve democratic freedoms of speech and assembly in NSW.

Dominique and Helen will argue that to uphold the Australian Constitution, the NSW government must allow communities to peacefully protest against government policy in public spaces.

This comes after the NSW government introduced amendments to the Road Amendment (Major Bridges and Tunnels) Regulation 2022 and introduced the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Act 2022 to Parliament without public consultation, meaning that peaceful protestors can be fined up to $22,000 or face up to two years in jail.


When the laws were first passed in Parliament in April, they were met with extensive criticism from legal bodies — and were called “poorly drafted”, an “outrage”, and a “dark day for democracy”.

Plaintiff, Knitting Nanna, mother and wildlife carer Dominique said that the pair would ask the court to find that “aspects of these new laws are unconstitutional”.

“As mothers, wildlife carers and Knitting Nannas who use our freedom to protest to push for climate action while floods and bushfires destroy our communities around us, this attack on our democratic freedoms is a slap in the face,” she said.

“Australians like us shouldn’t have to risk imprisonment or bankruptcy to participate in our democracy, and the government should not be taking away our democratic rights.”

Plaintiff, Knitting Nanna, mother and wildlife carer Helen said that “as Knitting Nannas, we believe well-behaved women never make history”.

“Women didn’t get the vote by asking nicely; they had to take bold action to demand their rights,” she said.  

“We need to defend our freedom to protest, as once it has been eroded, it is gone forever. There’s a long, proud history of peaceful protests in Australia, and our democratic freedoms are critical in pushing the government to do the right thing and take climate action seriously.”

Both Dominique and Helen have been at the frontline of Australian climate impacts, experiencing the devastation, trauma and loss from drought, fires and floods in the last four years alone.

“In the 2019 drought, the river we live on stopped flowing — I didn’t think we would ever see that; it was devastating. My mother and father-in-law lost their home in the floods and were rescued from their house by the SES,” Dominique said.

“Our communities have felt terrified, angry and stressed. Protest can transform those overwhelming feelings into change and action.”

In 2021, Helen said she helped her daughter buy a house — but it was flooded on the first night she moved in.

“It had supposedly not flooded for 100 years. I also know people who lost family members from the fires ... As a psychologist, I have seen firsthand the trauma of climate impacts on people, year after year. We’ve tried everything from sending letters and signing petitions to meeting politicians, and still, the government continues to dismiss climate science and approve new coal and gas projects,” she said.

“Coal and gas projects that fuel the climate crisis and devastate Australian communities with catastrophic floods and bushfires are the true disruptors of our way of life, not individuals exercising their democratic freedoms and taking part in peaceful protest.”

Environmental Defenders Office CEO David Morris said that protests are “crucial in a robust democracy” and that they help achieve better outcomes for people, nature and the climate.

“Australians shouldn’t have to risk these serious criminal sanctions to participate in our shared democracy, through peaceful protest. Those without access to political power and decision-making must have a voice in our democracy. For people like Dominique and Helen, protest is an essential form of expression to sound the alarm about the impacts of climate change,” he said.

“If successful, this case will aid in the preservation of our democracy. It will see the worst excesses of these new laws struck out. It will provide clarity for all NSW citizens seeking to avail themselves of the democratic freedom to protest.”