Peaceful assembly is under attack

Rather than addressing the increase in carbon di-oxide emissions in Australia, parliaments around the country are attacking people opposed to the companies that causing them.

Anti-coal activists are bearing the brunt of an onslaught from parliaments in the coal rich states of NSW and Qld. In Queensland it was the anti-lock on laws introduced by the Labor government. In New South Wales it is laws prohibiting blocking roads introduced by an LNP government supported by Labor. Already a number of climate activists have been jailed.

This comes after a string of demonstrations by climate activists last month disrupting operations around Sydney’s Port Botany, the largest container hub in NSW and earlier blocking Adani coal exports from the Galilee.

In Sydney, members of Blockade Australia staged protests on bridges, roads, freight rail lines and a crane to call for greater action on climate change.

NSW Attorney General, Mark Speakman, made similar accusations to those used during the Bjelke-Petersen era to bring down draconian laws against peaceful assemblies on roads. Disruption of ordinary motorists going about their business was the catch cry. Unions and aboriginal organisations opposed the new measures seeing them as threats to peaceful protests that made their organisations viable.

“The right to assemble and demonstrate in our streets, towns and cities is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy. For marginalised communities, public protests enable us to be seen and heard, even – and especially – when those in power would rather suppress our voices.

The Roads Amendment (Major Bridges and Tunnels) Regulation 2022 will be made to make it an offence to disrupt any bridge or tunnel across Greater Sydney. The regulation is made under s144G of the Roads Act 1993launch, but currently only applies to disruption on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The NSW Government has introduced legislation to Parliament to expand s144G beyond bridges and tunnels to roads and industrial and transport facilities more generally. Interestingly the NSW parliament passed an exemption which states:

A person does not commit an offence under this section if the conduct forms
part of the following—
(a) industrial action,
(b) an industrial dispute,
(c) an industrial campaign.”

Section 144G carries a maximum penalty of 200 penalty units ($22,000) or imprisonment for two years, or both.

“We condemn in the strongest terms this government crackdown on our right to protest.” – Aboriginal Legal Service chair, Mark Davies told The Guardian. Aboriginal people have recently conducted a number of campaigns against roads that go through sacred aboriginal sites (in Gympie Qld and in Victoria).

Other measures against peaceful assembly have been to revoke the visa of a person who took part in recent protests by blockade Australia.

Arno’s visa cancelled

Yet another was a climate change activist had his right to work with children taken away. Last week he received a letter from the Qld government. He wrote:

Inside the envelope was the news that the state government department is reconsidering whether I am a fit person to be working with children – apparently they are considering cancelling my approval because I “have a history of anti-social, public nuisance and other miscellaneous offending.”

Workers organisations should oppose these laws especially in a society where both sides of parliament attack our democratic rights. Blockade Australia needs to continue its work to put an end to coal and we must make sure alternative energy solutions are adopted.

Tactics

It is important (when faced by such measures) to discuss how best to respond. The Greens were unable to prevent passage of the ROADS AND CRIMES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2022. Confronted by a Greens filibuster the parliament simply passed a motion to extend the sitting day to Friday when the bill was passed. When such broad attacks are made on democratic rights the parliament needs to be shut down.

We need to acknowledge two things:

  1. Parliaments alone can and will not defend democratic rights when the capitalist economy is threatened.
  2. The extra-parliamentary opposition on climate action has been unable to forge links with the labour movement sufficiently to bring on industrial action in solidarity with actions by Blockade Australia and other climate action groups.

It is up to organisations to plan and implement their own tactics to defeat legislation that hampers climate action however this legislation (and bills like it) disrupts our right to organise. So socialists should be looking for allies in this struggle. While the revolutionary struggle is ongoing we need to build socialism .

Ian Curr
3 April 2022

Workers of all Countries Unite!

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