State opposition leader Luke Foley is the latest in a line of opposition and government leaders to visit the north coast this week.
At a meeting with the Knitting Nannas, Lock the Gate and Gasfield Free Northern Rivers in Lismore this morning, Mr Foley announced that a Labor state government would abolish the Coalition’s controversial anti-protest laws within the first 100 days of taking office.
‘While Mike Baird moves to arrest peaceful protestors he has reduced the penalties that mining companies can face,’ Mr Foley told the meeting.
Before the legislative changes, companies faced fines of up to $1.1 million, now those offences can be dealt with by way of a penalty infringement notice and a $5,000 fine.
‘This is a government that sides with corporate interests and not the community,’ Mr Foley said.
‘I will repeal the Baird government’s undemocratic anti-protest laws within 100 days of the election of a NSW Labor government,’ he added.
But while a federal election is just months away, the next NSW election isn’t due until March 2019.
A cynical onlooker might be prone to think his main motivation was to boost the chances of Labor’s Page candidate (and former MP for the swinging seat) Janelle Saffin.
But Mr Foley’s spokesperson told Echonetdaily it was ‘logical’ for him to come to Lismore to make the announcement ‘as it’s been such a major issue up there’.
And that was backed up by a chorus of federal and local Labor luminaries including Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell, Richmond MP Justine Elliot and Page contender Ms Saffin herself.
Ms Saffin accused the Liberal-National government of creating the laws specifically ‘to break up community protests like the Bentley protest and groups like the Knitting Nannas.’
Mayor Dowell said community members had ‘successfully and peacefully protested against CSG on the north coast and will continue to do so if necessary.’
‘They deserve to exercise that right without fear of arrest or a whopping fine,’ Cr Dowell said.
Ms Elliot said the legislation ‘criminalises activities that were once completely legal and could 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,’ she said.
Shadow resources minister Adam Searle said the right of citizens to peacefully protest was ‘a corner-stone of our democracy.
‘These new laws are aimed at preventing legitimate, peaceful protests.
‘This legislation 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,’ Mr Searle said.