News

It could soon be illegal to protest on major roads in NSW

The NSW government passed a bill late, last night which restricts protests and enforces severe, new penalties.

In grim news for fans and aficionados of street protests, the bill seeks to “create offences for certain behaviour that causes damage or disruption to major roads or major facilities.” It introduces fines of up to $22,000 and prison sentences of up to two years for anyone who “enters, remains on, climbs, jumps from, or otherwise traspasses on a major road” and “seriously disrupts or obstructs vehicles or pedestrians”. Yikes.

The bill is a response to climate protests which recently blocked roads around Sydney and disrupted Port Botany.

Concerns have arisen surrounding the broadness of the bill which could impact almost every single moderately-sized street demonstration that occurs in New South Wales. A coalition of unions, environmental groups, human rights groups, and student organisations have condemned the bill. University of Sydney SRC President Lauren Lancaster, for example, told the USyd student newspaper Honi Soit that “the SRC condemns this bill in the interests of fair, public debate and political contestation… These punitive measures will unjustly fall at the feet of people of colour, Indigenous activists, and students who are often the ones protesting the loudest.”

Ask yourself: have you ever attended a legit protest where you haven’t, at some point, taken to the road or sat down in the middle of an intersection? Getting noticed is kind of the whole idea behind protesting isn’t it?

Even peaceful, nonviolent occupations are in the crosshairs. The amendment also applies the penalties to protests occurring in “major facilities”, which includes train stations, other public transport facilities, and ports. This could have dire implications for picket lines and occupations.

The bill passed with Labor and Liberal support with Greens and independents MPs Alex Greenwich and Greg Piper offering the only resistance. On Twitter, Greens MP Jenny Leong condemned the government’s action as “shameful stuff”.  Online Leong implied that the Liberals were attempting to sneak the bill through with “no briefing, zero consultation, and complete disregard for due process.”

The bill follows two long years of police clamping down on protests and increasing surveillance of young activists under the guise of public safety.