Multiple Groups Oppose Anti-Protest Laws


Transcript of media conference with Adrienne Picone, CEO of TasCOSS; Eloise Carr, Director of The Australian Institute Tasmania; and Ray Yoshida, Australian Democracy Network, Parliament Lawns, Hobart, 24 May 2022.

Adrienne Picone

Adrienne Picone.

Adrienne Picone, CEO TasCOSS. Tasmania has a long and proud history of peaceful protests and demonstrations. One of the reasons that we have our best practice anti-discrimination laws is because of the peaceful protests of thousands of Tasmanians over many years. It’s an opportunity for us to exercise our democratic right. And for all Tasmanians to have a say in the public debate and in political and social reform.

We’re concerned about some of the amendments in the Police Offenses Act; the amendments are broad and they may prevent people from protesting and conducting demonstrations because they’re confused about what’s legal and what’s not.

Journalist – Elliott

When we think of protesters we may think of people like the Bob Brown Foundation in the forests. But what other forms of protest could this affect?

Adrienne Picone

The concern about some of these amendments is that they criminalize behavior in public places. And this means that people who are living tough and living on the streets could be at risk of having criminal behavior.

Research shows us that legislation that impacts on public places disproportionately affects people who are living tough and marginalized. And these particularly are people who are living on the streets. In this current crisis, this housing crisis, we should be doing everything we can to support Tasmanians living on the streets and not criminalize their behavior

Eloise Carr

Eloise Carr.

Eloise Carr, Director of The Australian Institute Tasmania. These laws that are being proposed disproportionately criminalize peaceful, non-violent protest.

Laws already exist for trespass and public annoyance and nuisance. So these disproportionate penalties that are being created are unnecessary. And unclear about what exactly they’re trying to achieve. Holding a placard is not the same as holding a gun

Journalist – Elliott

Has the Australian Institute done any research into this, (inaudible)?

Eloise Carr

We’ve made a significant submission to the public consultation phase of this draft legislation, which covers all the key points that we’re making today.

Journalist – John Hunt

Do you think there’ll be any, are there any groups that will be collateral damage, unfairly targeted by this?

Eloise Carr

This could unintentionally capture workers who could be legitimately protesting about workers’ rights. As well as a broad range of peaceful protest activity.

Journalist – Elliott

So there’s a perception (inaudible)?

Eloise Carr

The government claiming this is about protecting business activities. But why should business activities trump the right to peaceful protest?

Journalist – John Hunt

And you’re already saying that they’re already, if they really wanted to charge people or get people on criminal things the laws are already there to do that?

Eloise Carr

That’s correct, yes. Why are they creating these disproportionate penalties that would criminalize the same, to the same extent the same legal penalties for whether you’re holding a placard when you trespass or whether you’re holding a gun? And it’s the same as aggravated assault.

Tasmanian Times

We’re not quite there yet, but how do you see the lie of the land in the Upper House where a similarly-intentioned bill was defeated last time?

Eloise Carr

Well, this is the fourth attempt by the government to pass similar legislation. The first time the High Court of Australia found it was inconsistent with the constitution. The second time that Upper House voted it down. The third time the government abandoned it, and this is their fourth attempt. The groups that have published this open letter today recommend that the government abandon this legislation and that all parliamentarians vote against it.

Journalist – Elliott

Has the Australian Institute always spoken out against anti-protest laws, or is it (inaudible)?

Eloise Carr

The Australia Institute has a long history of democracy and accountability work and we work across a range of issues across transparency and accountability in governance.

Ray Yoshida

Ray Yoshida.

Ray Yoshida, Australian Democracy Network. Peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. It’s responsible for so many of the things that we take for granted today. And we need to protect our democratic right to protest.

Parliaments must take great care whenever they pass laws that could impact on our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or our right to protest. But this bill does not get the balance right. And it will have a chilling effect on peaceful protests throughout Tasmania.

Journalist – Elliott

Can you give us give us examples of two different kinds of protests, one that would not be okay and one that would?

Ray Yoshida

So for example, if communities wanted to protest, to boycott Russian product, in protest against actions taken in Ukraine, then communities could be prevented from doing that. This will also have a chilling effect on other forms of protest that may not be directly impacted by these laws. But nonetheless, people will refrain from protesting out of fear of falling afoul of these new laws.

These laws are very broad, affecting protests on the streets, whether they are blocking pedestrians or blocking traffic, and people could choose not to protest and take legitimate protest out of fear of falling afoul of these laws.

Journalist – Elliott

Why should we protect the right to protest?

Ray Yoshida

Protesting is responsible for peaceful protesting is responsible for so many of the things that we take for granted today, whether that’s the eight hour working day, our right to vote for people across our society, or LGBTQI plus rights, marriage equality, peaceful protest is what is secured many of these fundamental things. And this has been put at risk by these new laws.

Journalist – Elliott

Do you think having laws like this will actually deter people from protesting or will it inspire them to push harder.

Ray Yoshida

These laws will have a chilling effect on peaceful protests throughout Tasmania. We do not expect that they will stop all forms of protest; citizens in Tasmania will continue to express their democratic rights. And they’ll continue to seek changes to laws that are unjust or unfair.

Tasmanian Times

Adrienne suggested before that these laws could be used in ways which had not been foreseen or there’d been other examples around Australia where laws, you know, perhaps with privacy or street offenses, have been taken by police further than intended?

Ray Yoshida

One of the challenges with any laws is that the police have to enforce them on a day to day basis. And these laws are very broad, and they are open to interpretation. And we could see police exercising powers beyond what they are allowed to do, which would limit the freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Tasmania.

Journalist – Elliott

One of the penalties proposed I think, is $ 100,000 for organizations Does your organization fall into that category? Could you be up for $ 100,000?

Ray Yoshida

The Australian Democracy Network does not organize protest activities, but there are other organizations that could be impacted. It’s not clear why there needs to be separate laws for organizations that may be trespassing. It’s not even clear that organizations can commit an act of trespass.


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