NSW Governor David Hurley has become involved in the Baird government’s anti-protest law controversy after the state opposition yesterday used a rare, colonial-era legal avenue to protest the legislation pushed through parliament this week.
The unusual step taken in the state upper house registers a formal protest with the governor over the Liberal-National coalition’s passage of what Labor says are ‘unfair laws to restrict peaceful and lawful protests’.
NSW Labor leader in the Legislative Council and shadow energy minister, Adam Searle, and other Labor MLCs, used the rare legal mechanism in the formal protest to the governor.
It was in the form of a letter to the Clerk of the NSW Legislative Council, Mr David Blunt, using Standing Order Number 161 – Protest against the passing of a Bill.)
The clerk, Labor says, will convey the protest to the governor.
On Wednesday, the government (with the help of the Shooters and Fishers Party and the Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats) passed the Enclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016, which introduced a maximum seven-year jail sentence to protesters charged with some offences, as well as sharply increasing fines.
Labor, and the Greens, say the new laws are aimed at preventing legitimate, peaceful protest by law-abiding members of the community.
Yesterday, Mr Searle said he also took the unusual step of opposing the third reading vote of the bill and dividing the Upper House on that vote.
He said Labor also sought to refer the bill to the Law and Justice Committee, ‘given how quickly the government has rushed the legislation through the Parliament, without adequate scrutiny or community debate’.
‘I recognise that this is a rare and unusual move, but it is important to convey to the community that the Baird government is taking away a fundamental right of all citizens: the right to protest the decisions of a government without fear of being arrested,’ Mr Searle said.
‘This legislation will criminalise activities that today are completely legal and see upstanding members of the community jailed for up to seven years.
‘These changes are particularly directed to community protests against coal seam and other unconventional gas projects, especially on the North Coast of NSW.
‘If our society is to remain free and allow peaceful social change then we must not restrict the right to assemble and protest.
‘There are already a number of existing laws that deal with offences, ranging from obstruction and trespass to criminal damage.
‘This legislation is both flawed and unnecessary.
‘This law elevates the rights of CSG and other mining companies over the rights of land owners, it advantages business interests over those of other property rights and the general community, and significantly reduces the right to peacefully protest.
’These changes would expose farmers, legitimate protest groups like The Knitting Nanna’s, and citizens from the wider community who are acting to protect their land, water, and food integrity, to up to seven years’ imprisonment by expanding the definition of a “mine” to include coal seam and other unconventional gas operations.
‘The changes will also allow police to be able to crack down on and disperse peaceful protests, and have new powers to stop and search persons and vehicles without a search warrant and to seize property without due process or supervision by the courts.
Labor, the Greens and anti-CSG campaigners on say the new laws are aimed at preventing legitimate, peaceful protest by law-abiding members of the community.