Extinction Rebellion activists and a Green MP have accused police of being politically motivated in their “brutal” handling of climate protests.
NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge on Wednesday said the courts had rejected strict bail conditions police tried to impose on protesters who were detained on Monday.
Mr Shoebridge was joined inside NSW parliament by three arrested activists, including a student who was held in custody for almost 30 hours, and a grandfather sporting a large bruise on his side which he attributed to being “dragged” from the road by officers.
“It’s time the police stopped acting brutally against protesters,” the Greens MP said.
“It’s time they stopped using deliberate pain management techniques to cause harm and deliberate harm on protesters. It’s time they stopped the aggressive use of bail conditions to try and break up peaceful protests.”
Roads have been blocked and traffic disrupted across Australia’s capital cities this week as part of global action by protesters trying to force governments to declare a “climate emergency”.
By Tuesday afternoon, dozens of protesters had been arrested in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
Former Greens senator Scott Ludlam – who was among those arrested in Sydney on Monday – said it was “wild” he was banned from taking part in further Extinction Rebellion events and cannot be within a 2.5-kilometre radius of Sydney Town Hall.
According to The Guardian, other arrested protesters have been told they cannot go near or contact Extinction Rebellion members, or enter the Sydney CBD. NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Pauline Wright said such bail conditions were usually reserved for members of bikie gangs – not social or political groups.
Police top brass have previously said officers acted professionally in dealing with the climate change protests.
On Tuesday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews questioned Extinction Rebellion’s methods as demonstrators blocked traffic and trams in Melbourne’s CBD for the second day in a row.
“I just don’t think you win many friends by making their day more difficult than it need be,” he said.
— Steve Williams (@sjwilliams1901) October 9, 2019
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has also condemned the protests, saying activists are putting themselves and others at risk, and soaking up valuable police and emergency services resources.
The Queensland government is fast-tracking laws that could jail protesters for up to two years if they use “dangerous devices” such as drums with concrete and locks. Police will also get increased powers to search people for such devices.
On Wednesday, a climate change protester chained himself to a busy rail line in Brisbane – an action slammed as “absolutely ridiculous” by MsPalaszczuk.
“It’s getting beyond a joke now,” she said of the demonstrations that have disrupted Brisbane on-and-off for months.
On Tuesday, dozens of Extinction Rebellion protesters – including Paul Jukes, who suspended himself in a hammock from Brisbane’s Story Bridge – were arrested and charged after blocking roads, chaining themselves to fences and attaching themselves to devices such as drums filled with cement.
About 30 appeared in court in Brisbane on Wednesday – most being released without further punishment.
Mr Jukes was bailed until November 20. Police prosecutor Josh Kelly did not oppose bail but did seek to have Mr Jukes barred from climbing any structures or approaching six Brisbane bridges.
Magistrate Elizabeth Hall rejected that application, saying Mr Jukes had no criminal history and the conditions would be onerous given he has to return to court.
The Human Rights Law Centre said Queensland’s proposed legislation goes too far.
“[Ms] Palaszczuk has reportedly refused to produce evidence to support her claims that in recent protests, people have deliberately created lock-on devices that could harm police and emergency services attempting to remove them,” lawyer Alice Drury said.
“This proposed law could impose harsh prison sentences for their use in very broad circumstances, even if it’s just blocking a footpath.
“We are seeing a clear and worrying wave of laws from governments across Australia that restrict people’s ability to stand together and speak out on issues they care deeply about.”
However, state Police Minister Mark Ryan said there was plenty of anecdotal evidence that protesters were “booby-trapping” devices with wire, metal and glass.
“We’ve received advice from police that they have found evidence of materials in these devices that could cause harm,” he told ABC radio.
“What we’re seeing is an escalation in some activities and of course the laws have to be nimble to respond to these escalating tactics.”