Emotions have been running high following the passing of laws in NSW which will see political protesters fighting against the coal seam gas industry, even on their own properties, face large fines and up to seven years in jail.
Hundreds of people demonstrated outside NSW Parliament last week against the harshness of the new laws, which were specifically designed to quell protests against the actions of mining and coal seam gas companies.
Critics say the laws achieve little more than restricting free speech.
Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham described the laws as a “jack-boot police crackdown on democratic rights”.
Protestors affected by the legislation go way beyond eco-warriors. Civil libertarians, farmers and unionists are all up in arms.
President of the NSW Law Society Gary Ulman told The New Daily the laws were draconian and interfered with people’s ability to engage in demonstrations vital for a democratic state.
“The Law Society is very concerned with the trend of expanding police powers without corresponding judicial and other safeguards,” he said. “In our view, such a trend represents an erosion of long-standing democratic institutions and individual rights.”
Mr Ulman said the laws affected a broad cross-section of the community and could be used, for example, against people protesting the removal of trees in Centennial Park.
• Click here to read the Law Society’s concerns, plus a summary of the changes
Narrabri landholder Phil Laird, national co-ordinator for the anti-CSG Lock the Gates Alliance, told The New Daily: “The government has deliberately removed access to the courts. Farmers can be arrested on their own properties for hindering the working of CSG equipment driven onto their property by a multinational mining company.
“They can stop you, detain you, put you in jail, fine you, seize whatever you have in your possession. This is anti-democratic.”
President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks told The New Daily: “There are reasons to regard Australia as a police state now. There are so many draconian powers that police have. It is completely oppressive.
“What is particularly concerning is that the NSW laws criminalise intent. If police form a view that you intend to do something, even if you have done no act towards illegal activity, police can charge you and the penalties are draconian.”
Premier Mike Baird told journalists: “Those that decide to protest and put not only their lives at risk or try to interrupt businesses that are going about their day-to-day life, well we’re asking them not to do it and we’re putting measures in to ensure they don’t.”
NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee, a former chief of staff for Mr Baird, issued a statement saying the new laws would be particularly welcomed by mining workers.
“These tougher penalties are a strong deterrent that will mean less people doing dangerous and stupid things that put themselves and others at risk,” he said.
The Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill passed through NSW Parliament last week with the support of the Shooters and Fishers Party and Christian Democrat Fred Nile.
A recent Reachtel poll showed 61.4 per cent of the public opposed the laws.
John Stapleton has worked as a reporter for both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. His book Hunting the Famous, which includes details of encounters with Anthony Burgess, Joseph Heller, Gore Vidal and Dirk Bogarde, will be available mid-2016.