Image for ‘Frightening the community into silence ... ’

*Pic: Premier Will Hodgman with Minister for Resources Paul Harris, proponent of the bill ...

Twenty two organisations have signed a joint statement urging the Upper House to vote against the anti-protest laws this week.

The groups conclude the statement by saying ’we do not believe there are any amendments that could make this Bill acceptable’.

“So long as this proposal contains mandatory three month jail terms for peaceful protesters who gather on public land it will remain fundamentally flawed,”* said Richard Griggs, Tasmanian Director of Civil Liberties Australia.

“A prison sentence should be used to make us safer, not frighten the community into silence.

“Whether it be unions or environmentalists, lawyers or civil libertarians, Tasmanian Aboriginals or gay and lesbian rights campaigners, we all hold major concerns about this proposed law and ask the Upper House to vote it down”, Mr Griggs concluded.

NB. The Workplace (Protection from Protesters) Bill will still apply to protests on public places, even after the Government amendments are moved in the Upper House. This is because the Bill, as amended, will still apply to ‘business access areas’ which are defined in the Bill to include ‘any road, footpath or public place’ outside a business area.

JOINT STATEMENT TO THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL – 21st of OCTOBER 2014

We, the below signatories, express the following concerns about the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill to the Members of the Legislative Council. We note that Government amendments are being drafted but believe the only way our concerns can be addressed is by voting against the Bill in its entirety.

1.    Lack of consultation on a dramatic change to the legal system – the Bill proposes to create mandatory prison sentences, which would overturn established legal precepts. There are no mandatory minimum prison sentences currently on the Tasmanian statute books. This is a dramatic change to the legal system that has been drafted in the absence of any consultation with legal experts or those in the community who have an interest.

2.    Diminishment of separation of powers - mandatory sentencing diminishes the separation of powers. Traditionally courts have been able to tailor a sentence to meet the facts of a particular case. Instead, under mandatory sentencing, Parliament legislates that the courts must impose a specific sentence, regardless of the facts of the particular case. Mandatory sentencing leads to unjust outcomes in individual cases because factors such as age, physical health, mental health, employment situation, dependants and prior record cannot be taken into account.

3.    Harsh response to peaceful protest – free speech is part of the foundations of a healthy and functioning democratic system. Whether they be farmers blocking a fracking company vehicle, fishermen protesting a super trawler, Aboriginal people protesting heritage destruction or forest protestors in a State Forest, peaceful protesters should not receive mandatory on the spot fines of $2,000 (rising to $5,000 if they go to court) or minimum three months in jail for a second offence.

4.    Duplication of existing laws - existing laws punish protestors who trespass on private land or create a nuisance on public land. To create a second legislative regime that covers the same field of activity will lead to confusion as to which law should be applied by the police and by the courts.

5.    State-wide effect – the Bill covers protests that take place on public streets and other public places. This means the Bill applies to the entire State, not just private businesses or their access zones. Although the Tasmanian government has signalled they may modify this provision no proposed amendment is available at the time of writing.

6.    Constitutional concerns - the Bill raises constitutional queries that have not been addressed. There are concerns the Bill may be found to contravene the implied right to political communication.

In short, we believe the Bill proposes a dramatic and dangerous change to the Tasmanian legal system which diminishes the separation of powers, curtails free speech, duplicates existing laws and may contravene the constitution.

In light of these concerns we request that you vote against this Bill as a matter of principle, as we do not believe there are any amendments that could make this Bill acceptable.

Richard Griggs* is Tasmanian Director of Civil Liberties Australia.

*The 22 organisations:

Against Animal Cruelty Tasmania
Australian Lawyers Alliance
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Civil Liberties Australia
Climate Action Hobart
Community Legal Centres Tasmania
Community and Public Sector Union – PSU
Environment Tasmania
Groundswell
Independent Education Union – Victoria/Tasmania
Markets for Change
Sea Shepherd Australia
Socialist Alliance
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre
Tasmanian Conservation Trust
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group
Tasmania University Union
Unions Tasmania
The Bob Brown Foundation
The Tasmanian Greens
The Wilderness Society Tasmania
United Voice