March 16, 2016

“Australian Lawyers for Human Rights endorses the concerns of the NSW Law Society, Bar Association and other legal organisations” says President Nathan Kennedy “concerning the NSW government’s new restrictions on public protests.”

The Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 passed on 16th March 2016 will substantially limit the freedoms of NSW residents to engage in public demonstrations and protests close to mine sites or even exploration sites.

The Bill creates a new offence of aggravated unlawful entry on inclosed lands with a disproportionate penalty of $5,500.

It also substantially broadens the definition of what is a mine, so as to cover even coal seam gas exploration sites or associated construction, in connection with the existing offence (that carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 7 years) of intentionally or recklessly interfering with a mine.

“I query”, says Mr Kennedy, “whether this legislation is even constitutional. As Law Society President Gary Ullman has pointed out, the legislation may well limit the ability of individuals to engage in legitimate political communication, which is one of the few human rights protected under the Australian constitution.”

The legislation expands police powers without the safeguard of warrants, based on the assessment of an individual police officer that interference is necessary on ‘reasonable grounds’ to deal with a ‘serious risk’ to safety. The ‘watering down’ of s 200 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act which limits police powers in relation to genuine protests and organised assemblies is also a matter of concern.

“ALHR considers this legislation to be inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. These rights are fundamental to a healthy democracy” said Mr Kennedy.