Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

High Court challenge to Tasmania’s controversial anti-protester laws

here are environment ministers Groom and Hunt backing the arrest and punishment of Australians who make a modest stand for threatened species that they, the ministers, should be protecting.

In an age of the accelerating and irreversible destruction of our Earth’s biosphere, the untoward and often unseen influence of its exploiters is eroding Australia’s time-honoured rights to peaceful protest.

It was inevitable that somewhere, some time, some citizens would face the repressive Tasmanian laws. That stand has now been made among the stately ferns of Lapoinya and will move to the High Court of Australia where the consequences are enormous for every environmental, social, cultural and Indigenous issue in Australia’s future

Bob Brown’s arrest in Lapoinya under new anti-protestor laws, The Saturday Paper, BOB BROWN, 19 Mar 16  A Brown,Bob follows their use to arrest conservationists in the Lapoinya forest. “…….The logging at Lapoinya torpedoed any hope Forestry Tasmania had of winning Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, the internationally recognised green accreditation increasingly sought by global markets. FSC depends on respectful relationships with local communities………

Through all of this, the nation’s most powerful potential guardians of Australia’s forests and threatened species, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the federal minister for the environment, Greg Hunt, failed to lift a finger.

The right to protest under threat

In Australia, the option of choice for setting back conservation is the strangling of environmental protest. As the resource-extraction industries come under fire for increasing encroachments on farmland and places of high natural or cultural heritage value, a key strategy is to have governments outlaw effective political protest……..

Victoria’s Cain Labor government introduced targeted penalties against protesters trying to save native forests and wildlife, including the state’s endangered faunal emblem, the Leadbeater’s possum. These days, you can be summarily fined if a Victorian forest officer recognises you in a group photograph taken in a logging zone. The West Australian government has legislated draconian anti-protest laws to assist mining. In New South Wales, the government has adopted harsher anti-protest laws at the same time as it cuts penalties for illegal behaviour by mining and coal seam gas extraction companies.

The private sector has complemented these government moves. In 2005, the biggest logging company in Australia, Gunns Ltd, issued a SLAPP writ – that is, a Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – against 20 opponents of its proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill. Those named included the Wilderness Society and me. Gunns’ action eventually failed, but it tied up the defendants for years…….

Such legal action – often involving suits for defamation – has been brought against environmentalists in every Australian state. Unlike the United States, where most jurisdictions now have anti-SLAPP laws, only the Australian Capital Territory has passed legislation introduced by the Greens to ensure people’s rights to take part in the political discourse without the threat of being entangled in the courts and the huge costs those actions entail.

New anti-protestor laws

But why should the mining or logging sector take action against citizens, including environmentalists, if it can get compliant governments to effectively silence public protests instead?

In Tasmania, Hodgman’s Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act passed with Labor’s support in 2014. It threatens peaceful protesters with initial $10,000 fines and with four years in jail for repeat on-site protests. Had it been enacted in 1982, the World Heritage Franklin River, now a prime attractant for Tasmania’s booming and job-rich tourism industry, would have been dammed because far fewer people would have joined the peaceful blockade. That blockade of the dam works succeeded because its size, colour and motion alerted the nation to the Franklin’s imminent peril. It changed votes and helped elect the anti-dam Hawke government in 1983.

Hodgman’s government assured the electorate that his legislation was aimed at “radical protesters” and not “mums and dads”. Its first test was Lapoinya.

The Lapoinyan community ran a spirited campaign to raise public awareness about the imminent logging of its forest. It letterboxed brochures, held film nights, wrote letters to politicians and newspapers and, when the minister for forests refused to go to Lapoinya, sent a delegation to Hobart to appeal to minister Harriss.

The community felt sure that the compelling case for saving its little patch of native forest, with those rare and endangered wildlife species, would win the day, but Hodgman sent in the chainsaws to keep Ta Ann happy……..

High Court challenge

There is an implied provision in the Commonwealth constitution protecting freedom of communication on government and political matters. Through Hobart solicitor Roland Browne, I have engaged Melbourne counsel Ron Merkel, QC, assisted by Frances Gordon. I have issued a writ challenging the Tasmanian legislation in the High Court because it “impermissibly burdens the implied freedom of communication on government and political matters contrary to the Commonwealth constitution”.

Hodgman’s minister for the environment, Matthew Groom, is confident his legislation will prevail.

This is not Honduras but here are environment ministers Groom and Hunt backing the arrest and punishment of Australians who make a modest stand for threatened species that they, the ministers, should be protecting.

In an age of the accelerating and irreversible destruction of our Earth’s biosphere, the untoward and often unseen influence of its exploiters is eroding Australia’s time-honoured rights to peaceful protest.

It was inevitable that somewhere, some time, some citizens would face the repressive Tasmanian laws. That stand has now been made among the stately ferns of Lapoinya and will move to the High Court of Australia where the consequences are enormous for every environmental, social, cultural and Indigenous issue in Australia’s future. https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/environment/2016/03/19/bob-browns-arrest-lapoinya-under-new-anti-protestor-laws/14583060003021

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March 19, 2016 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, civil liberties, Tasmania

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