The Campaign Against Nuclear Power and the Right to March

Over the past 50 years the opposition to conservative National and Labor governments in Queensland has been extra-parliamentary.

On 4th September 1967 street marches were banned by Premier Frank Nicklin to stop the anti-vietnam war demonstrations growing. 126 people were arrested in Roma Street Brisbane. Joh Bjelke Petersen became Premier on 8 August 1968. After the march shown in this video it only took Joh only 10 years to ban street marches for a second time. This was an attempt by the Queensland government to stop the anti-uranium movement from mobilising people onto the wharves in Brisbane to block the uranium trains.

The opposition in the second wave of the democratic rights movement lasted from 4th Sept 1977 till July 1979 with 3,000 arrests. Not a single box of yellow cake has left Queensland shores since the street marches of 1977-79. The street marches were so strong and reached all levels of society that no government was able to ban democratic rights for another 40 years. The Fitzgerald Inquiry from 1987 till 1989 played an important but minor role in the democratic rights struggle and the right to organise in unions and as an extraparliamentary opposition.

The Labor government of Anna Bligh privatised Queensland Railways something prior governments over 150 years would never attempt. The Labor government of Annastacia Palaszczuk in 2019 has attempted to wind back the clock by banning protests in the Brisbane CBD to stop climate activists from stopping coal mining in central Queensland.

Here is a piece by Bob Phelps who led the Campaign Against Nuclear Power (C.A.N.P.) in the late 1970s when the government banned the right to march. – Ian Curr, Editor, 2019.


The freedom to peacefully dissent is the basis of a sound democracy. Bjelke­Petersen’s Government imposed the selective street march ban in Queensland on September 4, 1977. The role of the Campaign Against Nuclear Power in precipitating the public declaration of the previously unannounced ban, has been largely overlooked.

Draft C.A.N.P Leaflet

The Campaign had applied to march on various occasions, beginning in August, 1975, but had been refused every time, without reasons being given. The Campaign was never able to lodge an lodge an appeal with a magistrate, as the law then allowed us to do, because the police always responded only one or two days before each planned event.

These delays were not reasonable and in preparation for the rally on October 22, 1977, we applied well in advance of the date, on September 9, 1977. In an interview at the end of August, our legal adviser disclosed our intention to secure an early reply from the police by court action so that we could exercise our right• of appeal.

Our plan was thwarted by Bjelke-Petersen’s legislation which changed the appeal provisions. Under the new law, appeals against the selective ban became a matter for the Police Commissioner. Neither he, nor the District Superintendent of Traffic were compelled to disclose their reasons for rejecting applications. Under political direction, the police could selectively reject permit applications and could not be called to account for their action.

Draft C.A.N.P. Leaflet

The Campaign’s application for a march on October22, 1977, was rejected. Instead, members of the Campaign resolved to walk in small groups around a route in the city.

The walk was halted by police and in the melee which ensued over 30 people were arrested. Later in the day, nearly 400 others were arrested for participation in a mass act of civil disobedience.

Two further applications for permits were lodged during 1978. Both were rejected without reasons experience of the October 22 uranium rally and a variety of other rallies had indicate that the right to march issue would dominate the news media coverage, if a march was attempted. At the April 1st rally (1978), the motion to march without a permit was lost by a substantial majority. Many of those present expressed the view that uranium should be the main issue put forward that day. They also said that money collected on the day would be more productively used if spent on Campaign activities instead of on bail for people arrested while attempting to march.

Following April 1st (1978), the Campaign adopted the same policy as other sympathising organisations and publicly announced that the right to march should be unfettered by a permit system. A notification system like that successfully operating in South Australia was advocated. Tactical considerations arose when the Campaign in Toowoomba received a permit to march on Hiroshima Day, August 6, 1978.

Hiroshima Day 1978

A permit was therefore applied for in Brisbane too. The application was rejected as expected. The police allowed us insufficient time to appeal. Those present on the day again resolved not to attempt a  march. Some people broke the spirit of the rally’s decision and eleven were arrested. Campaigners’ determination to keep the march and uranium issues apart was further indicated by the small a room of money collected in comparison to other rallies. The Mobilisation Committee had decided beforehand that half the collection would go to the bail fund and the rally was not consulted .

Anti-uranium demonstration Hiroshima Day, 6 August 1978, in King George Square carrying the Uranium coffin into the ‘valley of death’.

The May Day Procession, 1978, was a highlight of the year. Over 3000 members and supporters of the Campaign joined our contingent which as the largest. The participants were organised around civil liberties as well as uranium and four floats which linked the two issues were built for the occasion.

Throughout the right to march campaign, the C. A. N. P. has participated in the united front of opposition to the permit system and a large proportion of participants in the rallies have been Campaign members and supporters. At most rallies a stall and display, to sell and distribute materials has been set up at the Square. Both local and country Campaigners have attended the rallies. Usually with banners advancing the uranium issue in the context of civil rights and our printed placards have been distributed in large numbers/free of charge, at most rallies.

Stamp Pad 1970s

Also (?) massed marches, the raising of large amounts of bail and -­ payment of fines may be seen as implicit co-operation with State Government attempts to control the avenues of dissent. Rallies, where no arrests are  made, but hundreds of police are deployed for hours at great expense to the taxpayer, may prove to have won community support for an end to the permit system. In any event, both types of action have a part to play. The Campaign’s efforts on the right to march and related issues have been effective and our activities will continue.

Bob Phelps

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