The Tasmanian Liberal government has passed a new anti-protest law in the upper house, a move that will weaken Tasmania’s democracy and erode the right to protest, and sends a chilling effect through civil society of the island..
The Police Offences Amendment (Workplace Protection) Bill 2022 significantly increases some penalties and creates new offences for peaceful and non-violent protest-related activity.
National civil society organisations, Unions, environmental advocates, Indigenous groups, LGTBQI and free speech advocates have criticised the passing of the bill. The groups labeled it as an overreach that is disproportionate and anti-democratic and called for it to be repealed at the earliest opportunity.
Under the new laws:
A community member who obstructs access to a workplace as part of a protest could face 12 months in prison;
A community member protesting the destruction of native forests on a forestry site could face a penalty of over $13,000 or two years in prison;
An organisation supporting members of the community to protest could be fined over $45,000.
A number of amendments were made before the bill was passed by the Tasmanian Legislative Council,, including the removal of proposed increases to penalties for street obstruction.
Amendments were made to protect Tasmanians protesting their workplace rights and conditions at their worksite. However the same protections were not afforded to Tasmanians protesting on the range of other issues including the environmental protection and land rights, critically important to the community and protecting the values that make Tasmania so special.
Tasmania’s democracy is weaker for the passing of this bill. The legislation as it stands still sees a peaceful protestor holding a placard fined $8,650 or given one year in prison — more than a person who trespasses with a gun.
These new laws passing through the Tasmanian parliament raise grave concerns at the ability for community members to speak freely and stand up to protect their towns, waterways, fisheries and forests. The severity of these laws are created to discourage individuals and groups from engaging in lawful, peaceful protest.
The bill could become law as early as the week of August 29, when it returns to the Tasmanian lower house for approval.
The bill will have a chilling effect on protest and the reforms that flow from it.