Our right to protest has come under threat under the Baird Government’s draconian legislation – known as the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment Act. Under this new law, police powers have been granted to shut down peaceful protests and issue extreme penalties, including fines of $5500 or more, and up to 7 years in gaol, for any citizen deemed to be ‘interfering’ with mining activities as a result of their protesting.
The subsequent Criminal Legislation Amendment introduced further strictures – giving police additional powers to ban people from a public space for up to 72 hours, which will surely impact protestors in the City.
I am pleased to say that the City of Sydney has taken a stand against these laws in this week’s Council meeting. My notice of motion calling on the City to voice its opposition to these new laws has been supported by a majority of my colleagues. This follows last month’s successful motion to affirm the right of local communities to peacefully protest against the Westconnex motorway construction.
Although these new laws are aimed at mining protestors they pose a serious threat to our local community as they protest the destruction of their neighbourhoods by the Westconnex project.
I note the shameful actions last week as Westconnex protestors were fenced in by the construction company and then harassed by police for trespassing on a worksite.
Whilst citizen penalties have increased ten-fold under these laws, fines for mining companies who break the law are likely to be significantly reduced, from fines of $1.1 million a day down to $5000. This means that citizens will be charged more for merely interfering with works than companies will be for significant environmental breaches. This reprehensible proposition captures the government’s skewed priorities – their loyalty for companies, and their utter disdain for community action.
The City of Sydney area has long been home to some of the country’s most transformative and important protests for social justice and reform.
Aboriginal justice protests have been prevalent in Sydney for many years, from the Day of Mourning in 1938, through to the 1988 Aboriginal Survival Day commemoration; the Bridge walk in 2000 drawing a quarter of a million people; and the recent protests last year of the closure of Aboriginal communities, among many others.
The right to protest is at the heart of our civic life and engagement, empowering communities to interact with local, national and international social injustices.
The City of Sydney has long been a drawcard for disadvantaged groups due to the breadth of services available. It is many of these groups and their advocates, including LGBTIQ people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, refugees and others, that use the power of protest to ensure their human rights are not trumped by government legislation. We must act to preserve the space for these voices to be heard through every means possible.
I thank most of my colleagues for their support on this important issue.
You can see the Notice of Motion here.