The Queensland Labor government pushed through new laws aimed at environmental protests in late October. Protesters caught using complex lock-on devices will face massive fines or even jail—up to $6500 or two years in prison for people who block transport infrastructure.
To justify these new laws Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk made unfounded claims that devices were being used as booby traps and were “designed to harm”. She claims the new laws are not an attack on “peaceful protest” but on “extremists”.
The Premier enjoyed the support of the Queensland Resources Council, the LNP, and shamefully, every Labor MP in the state parliament. Greens MP Michael Berkman was the only MP to vote against the laws.
But there is widespread opposition outside parliament—including within the ALP and the union movement. The state ALP conference voted unanimously to back the right to protest and to encourage “freedom of speech and assembly”. The Woolloongabba and Annerley branches also opposed the laws. The Annerley branch warned that, “as union members, we should be extremely concerned”, as the laws could be used on picketers.
The Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) supported a rally opposing the laws. CFMEU members on some inner city construction sites stopped work to attend and numerous other unions were also represented at the rally.
Michael Clifford, the QCU acting General Secretary told the rally unions were there to support “not only our own rights” but also “the rights and civil liberties of all protesters”. The union movement believes we, “have a right to push back and to protect and defend our rights and create a better country” and that, “today the benefits we have in our workplaces, the things we enjoy as a society have come through protest, through action that disrupts”.
Legal academic and activist Aiden Ricketts also spoke at the rally. He said, “it was one thing to stand up here and fight against Joh (former National Party Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen) and be arrested but it is another thing to come here with the shame of a Labor government, passing anti-democratic protest laws”.
“Every time Labor capitulates to the right” he warned it, “simply allows the right to become more right wing”. And to prove him right, Scott Morrison has since flagged the idea of laws to crack down on environmental boycott campaigns.
By Mark Gillespie