The Australian Constitution has an implied right to protest as part of political communication, the High Court has ruled, striking down three-year old anti-protest legislation by the Tasmanian government.
The Liberal government of Premier Will Hodgman introduced the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill in November 2014 as part of the ongoing battle over the state’s forestry industry, also ending the peace deal between conservationists and sector and a range of powers that criminalised protest and were widely criticised as a breach of international law.
The “anti-protest” laws also gave police the power to break up protests before they began if people had gathered on a business property or access area.
Australian Greens founder and former leader Bob Brown and nurse Jessica Hoyt challenged the laws in the High Court after he was arrested on a public road earlier this year while filming loggers in the Lapoinya Forest and charged under the Protestors Act. The charges did not proceed and were ultimately dismissed.
The High Court decision could also have wide-ranging impacts for other states where controversial projects, such as coal seam gas exploration and Adani’s Carmichael coal mine, face strong opposition and community protest, with the Queensland, Victorian, South Australian and New South Wales governments joining Tasmania against the challenge.
In a 192-page judgment by the three-member full bench, the court found 12 sections in the Tasmanian legislation violated the Constitution and “freedom was burdened” under the Act because “protesters will be deterred from voicing their protests with respect to forest operations”.
The court said: “The measures adopted by the Protesters Act to deter protesters effect a significant burden on the freedom of political communication. That burden has not been justified.”
Brown, who is currently travelling overseas, issued a statement saying the High Court’s decision “puts a brake on corporations wanting communities sidelined so they can plunder Tasmania’s unique and job-rich environment”.
He also took aim at Queensland politicians such as former minister Matt Canavan and backbencher George Christensen, saying “those calling for harsh penalties against peaceful citizens protesting Adani mine have been put back in their place by the High Court”.
Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman told the state parliament today that his government stood by the laws.
The Tasmanian government was ordered to pay costs for both sides.
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