Anti-protest bill passes upper house

Daniele Voinot Sledge with granddaughter Matisse Sledge (3 years) and Knitting Nannas Against Gas outside Thomas George’s office, standing in solidarity against the Baird Government bill to increase police powers to arrest peaceful protesters.
Daniele Voinot Sledge with granddaughter Matisse Sledge (3 years) and Knitting Nannas Against Gas outside Thomas George’s office, standing in solidarity against the Baird Government bill to increase police powers to arrest peaceful protesters. Melissa Gulbin

WITH support from The Shooters and Fishers Party and Christian Democrat Fred Nile, a Baird government bill to increases police power to arrest and fine protesters passed its second reading in the Upper House last night.

Named 'Santos Law' by the anti-CSG movement after the mining company currently embattled with protesters in the Pilliga, the bill will see a tenfold increase in penalties for anti-CSG protesters who trespass on gas sites.

The new laws being proposed will increase fines for protesters from $550 to $5,500 and give police power to seize lock-on devices such as bike lock and even farming machinery.

However, multiple amendments that have been put forward on the bill will be voted on today.

While the 500 protesters outside NSW Parliament House yesterday labelled the law as a Mussolini-like gag on civil liberties, Shooters and Fishers MLC Robert Brown maintained that under The Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 the right to peaceful protest is protected by law.

"These laws are about vandalism, trespass and disruption of public and worker safety," he said.

North Coast in spotlight

The Northern Rivers was at the centre of the the lengthy and heated debate last night.

Shadow Minister for The North Coast Walt Secord asserted, "Make no mistake: This bill was drafted with the Bentley blockade, the Knitting Nannas Against Gas, and the Pilliga in mind. It should be feared by North Coast communities and the Pilliga."

"The primary effect of the bill is to jack up fines for legitimate protests tenfold. This bill targets non-violent protests and can even extend to those who attend protests as observers. That is a massive increase and, given that there has been no sudden outbreak of riots or protests in New South Wales, this is clearly a tool to silence protesters and a tool to silence the North Coast.

Before the debate, Greens Jeremy Buckingham also drew a connection with the bill and the success of The Bentley blockade. "These anti-protest laws would have been a jack-boot stomping on those who gathered to protect Bentley and the Northern Rivers from coal seam gas.

"The government and companies were surprised at the strength of people power in the Northern Rivers, and their reaction is to ratchet up the powers of the police to intimidate people.

Local MP Justine Elliot also spoke in Federal Parliament condemning the North Coast Nationals for coals seam gas plans on the North Coast while at the same time pushing laws to stop protests.

"The NSW Government's recently released Draft North Coast Regional Plan' exposes their plans in which it states 'The North Coast also includes areas of the Clarence-Moreton Basin, which has potential coal seam gas resources that may be able to support the development and growth of new industries and provide economic benefits for the region.'

However, the tragic event at Whian Whian State Forest in 2013, was used by Shooters' Robert Brown to shut down Greens Jeremy Buckingham's assertion that no one had ever been harmed by protesters.

"John Creighton was killed at a logging protest in Whian Whian State Forest in 2013 whilst trying to ensure the safety of protesters who were there illegally."

"There is no schedule that states that coal seam gas mining will officially operate with impunity and that those opposed to this form of mining, or to any other form of mining for that matter, will no longer be allowed to protest in any form whatsoever. It has nothing to do with the Knitting Nannas,' Mr Brown said.

Law Society against Bill

Australian Labor Party MLC Adam Searle said The Law Society of New South Wales quoted the society's opposition to the bill.

"It concerned that the proposed new laws may interfere with the ability of people in NSW to engage in demonstrations, protests, processions or assemblies. The Law Society considers this right an important aspect of a democratic state. These amendments appear to again expand police powers, without the safeguard of judicial oversight. They may also interfere with the right against arbitrary deprivation of property.

Topics:  bill csg knitting nannas knitting nannas against gas parliament protest

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