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Byron Shire
April 17, 2024

Your right to protest – where do your local politicians stand?

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With the public’s right to protest under the spotlight, where do those who represent us at the state level (or aspire to), stand with the current law that sent activist Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco to jail for 15 months?

Coco stopped a lane of traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April to highlight the government’s inaction on climate change.

The laws that sent Coco to jail were amendments to the Road and Crimes Act in The Roads And Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. 

It was rushed through both houses on March 30 and 31 this year by the NSW Liberal-Nationals government, with the support of NSW Labor, just as the north coast was being hammered by catastrophic floods.

A Lismore group who gathered to protest Saturday, along with the NSW Greens, are calling to reverse the draconian anti-protest laws.

Local Ballina MP Tamara Smith told The Echo, ‘In the Legislative Assembly (lower house), which is where I am elected, the MPs against the bill were Alex Greenwich (independent), Jenny Leong, Jamie Parker, and myself (all Greens)’.

In the Legislative Council (upper house), locally-based Nationals MLC and failed local candidate, Ben Franklin, spoke extensively in favour of the bill on March 31.

Echo questions to Franklin around his support for the law are yet to be replied to.

Those few who voted against the bill in the upper house were MPs Emma Hurst (Animal Justice Party), David Shoebridge, Abigail Boyd, and Cate Faehrmann (all Greens).

So far, the local candidates in the 2023 state election are incumbent Greens MP Tamara Smith, Nationals candidate Joshua Booyens and Labor’s Andrew Broadley.

The Echo asked Broadley and Booyens if they support the law (and their party’s position) that sent Coco to jail. ‘And if elected, would you try to ‘repeal the law and support a NSW bill of rights?’  

While Labor’s Broadley is yet to reply, the Nationals hopeful Josh Booyens replied, ‘While I appreciate the question, my focus has been and will continue to be, on what is top of mind and the concerns for the people of the Ballina electorate.

Nats not focused on human rights

‘What I’m hearing on the ground is that people are more interested in our elected local member working to secure land to build affordable housing, fight for investment in hospitals, schools, in our growing region – all things the NSW Nationals do well in our regions. I’m campaigning on the issues that are important to our community – environment, people and economy – local actions and local outcomes – and giving voice to those issues and concerns that have been ignored by our local member for the last eight years’.

In the neighbouring electorate of Lismore, Labor MP Janelle Saffin’s office provided a statement to support those who protested outside her electorate office recently. It reads in part, ‘Peaceful protest and should never be a criminal offence. Jenelle is working across her party to change this’.

Saffin was absent from the March 30 vote, and as such, her vote was recorded along party lines.

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  1. I believe that protest action should not be criminalised… I also believe that targeted action can be effective. The decision makers in the fossil fuel industry, the CEO’s and board members that send armies of lobbyists to twist our elected representatives arms, who order advertising greenwashing campaigns to confuse and minimise the gravity of our collective predicament have one thing in common….. they are protected by their anonymity…. Their decisions that negatively impact every living creature on the planet have zero negative impacts on them… just as in international politics sanctions are imposed on leaders and oligarchs in Russia and Iran… so too do the people of the world need to know who the leaders of the fossil fuel industry are, so that we as individuals can impose sanctions on them … want your toilet fixed me coal mine….. find another plumber, want some healthy organic vegetables…. find another market stall… want to go out whale watching … sorry where booked out…. We need posters, like they have in the old cowboy movies….. faces on wanted posters… wanted a lack of co-operation for those making ecologically damaging decisions…


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