Calls mount for repeal of protest laws after climate protestor sentenced to 3 months in prison

Calls mount for repeal of protest laws after climate protestor sentenced to 3 months in prison
Image: Blockade Australia protestors blocking the Port of Newcastle. Image: Instagram, blockade.australia

by ASPEN ABNER

Following the sentencing of a climate change protester, civil liberties groups are calling for an urgent repeal of protest laws in New South Wales.

Laura Davy, 21, appeared before the Newcastle local court on Monday, where she guilty to entering a major facility causing serious disruption. She had tied herself to a piece of machinery during a climate change protest at a Newcastle coal terminal, and sentenced to three months in jail.

She also faced a $1,100 fine for entering inclosed non-agricultural lands. She had travelled from Tasmania to join the protests.

The charges come from legislation passed by NSW Parliament in April 2022, which prevents “illegal protesting” on major roads, bridges, tunnels, public transport, and infrastructure facilities. Those who break this law could face a maximum penalty of $22,000, two years in prison or both. 

This legislation was initially prompted by a series of climate change demonstrations by members of Blockade Australia at Sydney’s Port Botany in 2022. 

In a statement, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL), said that section 144G of the Roads Act 1993 (NSW) and section 214A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) “significantly hinders people’s rights to freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of political communication.” 

“These laws must be immediately repealed”

Lydia Shelly, President of  NSWCCL, called for the laws to be immediately repealed, adding that they have no place in “an open and democratic society.”

“In Australia, protest movements have historically been instrumental in holding governments to account and affecting real change,” she continued.

“This has included disruptive protests that are considered ‘inconvenient’.”

Blockade Australia is in the third week of its daily climate demonstrations to disrupt trains and block coal transportation to the Newcastle Port coal terminal. 

More than 30 people have been arrested since the protest began on June 25, incurring fines $750 and $1,500. Davy is the first to be sentenced to prison.

Lydia Shelly says anti-protest laws criminalise protests and cultivate an environment of fear. It affects participation in peaceful movements that want to bring about positive social change.

“The anti-protest laws must be viewed in the context of the scandalous use of police bail and police resources to monitor peaceful protestors, the demonisation by peaceful protestors by members of both state and federal governments, as well as the police and segments of the media,” she said.

“The right to protest is integral to democratic system of government”

Blockade Australia spokesman Brad Homewood says the laws had acted as a deterrent for some, but not for all.

“For other people it has just hardened their resolve and made them more determined because this is what we expected the state to do,” he said. 

Homewood added that Blockade Australia is “drawing focus on the political and economic system of this continent … we believe that is the core of the problem.”

“We are deliberately targeting the economic pinch points of the political and economic system of this country and engaging in non-violent direct action,” he continued.

“We believe firmly that that is the most effective thing a person can do right now in a climate and ecological crisis.”

As part of the ongoing protests, one activist suspended themselves above a railway line in the Hunter Region.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation confirmed 500 passenger trains have been cancelled since protests began, and condemned the actions as “illegal and dangerous”.

Police minister Yasmin Catley said these actions were “reckless” and have no place in NSW. 

“This dangerous behaviour is putting not only the lives of workers and the public at risk,” she said.

Shelly from NSWCCL, however, asserted that “the right to protest is integral to democratic system of government and way of life.”

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