Following the proposal of a new anti-protest law in Tasmania, a number of legal groups have voiced concerns – calling the bill “unnecessary and undemocratic”.
Tasmanian and national civil society groups are calling on the Rockliff government to halt the introduction of an alarming new anti-protest law, currently before the Tasmanian Parliament.
The Tasmanian lower house is currently considering the Police Offences Amendment (Workplace Protection) Bill 2022, which would substantially increase penalties and create new offences for protest-related activity.
Eloise Carr, Tasmania director at The Australia Institute, said that this would be the Tasmanian government’s fourth attempt to restrict citizens’ right to peaceful advocacy after previous attempts were struck down by the High Court and rejected by the Tasmanian Parliament.
“The Tasmanian government’s new anti-protest bill continues their sustained attack on Tasmanians’ democratic right to peacefully protest,” she said.
“The bill creates disproportionate penalties, more than tripling the existing penalty for public annoyance and penalising trespass with the same penalty as for aggravated assault.”
Similarly, Kieran Pender, senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that the bill doesn’t meet basic democracy needs.
“This draft law is unnecessary and undemocratic,” he said.
“Any law that threatens to chill the fundamental democratic freedom to protest must be necessary, proportionate and subject to sufficient safeguards and oversight. The proposed law does not meet these criteria and should not become law.”
Nala Mansell from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre added that the right to protest has been “critical” for her community.
“Public protest is critical to the advances made by the Aboriginal community in the last half century. Without public protest there would have been no Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and no reforms to Tasmanian law to remove discriminatory provisions,” she said.
“As a community without easy access to public media, public protest is one of our very few avenues for seeking law reform to protect the interest of our community.”
Adrienne Picone, chief executive at the Tasmanian Council of Social Service, added that it continues to be important for marginalised communities to be able to have a voice.
“Protests and demonstrations are important ways for people who are excluded and marginalised to have their voices heard in public debate,” she said.
“We are concerned the bill could discourage people from engaging in peaceful, legitimate protest out of fear or confusion about whether the activity is lawful.”