I rise to speak on the INCLOSED LANDS, CRIMES AND LAW ENFORCEMENT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (INTERFERENCE) BILL 2016.
The Bill seeks to expand the definition of “mines” to prohibit protesters from accessing mining sites and tampering with mining equipment.
The legislation increases fines for “aggravated entry” to $5,500, up from $550.
It gives Police powers to deal with protesters “locking on” to mining equipment.
It will impose 7 year prison sentences for protesting at mine sites, the definition of which is now expanded to include mineral, gas or petroleum exploratory sites.
This is flawed legislation that will ensnare peaceful protesters and which does nothing to deal with the real issue here – the community’s sense of alienation and powerlessness in the face of Government collusion with mining interests.
It is a serious challenge to the right of individuals to peacefully assemble and protest, a claim backed up by experts including the Law Council of Australia and NSW Bar Association.
The proposed changes to section 200 remove important checks and balances on police powers and as the NSW Bar Association argues, would likely be subject to challenge on the grounds of constitutionality.
The Bill seeks to unnecessarily expand the powers of Police, providing expansive discretionary powers to break up peaceful protests across the State and to arrest and prosecute protesters if protests are deemed to “obstruct traffic”.
It would empower police officers to seize property without a warrant, including items which by themselves pose no threat to the community – including ropes or padlocks which you’ll find in most trucks and utes across country NSW.
This is a significant challenge to individual property rights.
Not only will Police be able to seize property without a warrant, but owners may lose that property without any protection at law.
Police would also be empowered to stop and search any person or vehicle in possession of these dangerous household items.
As the NSW Bar Association notes, “The Bill sets the threshold too low for the activation of police powers in respect of a procession, assembly or demonstration.”
The Bill also raises significant questions about property rights of landholders, with amendments to Section 201 of the Crimes Act 1900 meaning landholders objecting to rigs entering their property could now face 7 years jail time.
While the Government argues this excessive legislation is necessary to protect the well-being and safety of workers, the community sees through this veil of an excuse.
Let’s be clear – we all have a right to a safe workplace and actions that endanger lives are wrong, but this Bill isn’t designed to protect workers.
Its single purpose is to clamp down on the growing community opposition to mining and is nothing more than a hand-up to the Baird Government’s buddies in the mining industry.
The Government argues this legislation is targeted at violent greenie extremists, people the Minister has dismissed as “eco fascists” – but let’s be clear - the people who will feel its full force are farmers, the knitting nanas and all those moderate, well-meaning people who are worried about the inherent dangers of coal and CSG mining.
These are people who refuse to sacrifice our land and water to the mining industry, who understand the threat CSG poses to our water-table, to our prime agricultural land and to our fragile environment.
From the knitting nanas in the Northern Rivers, to Maules Creek and the Leard State Forest; from sleepy Berrima in the Southern Highlands to the people of the Liverpool Plains threatened by the Shenhua Watermark proposal, people across NSW are standing up and saying no.
They’re locking the gate.
They’re switching off to the rapaciousness and greed.
The Government hopes a heavy hand will discourage people from protesting the rapid expansion of mining throughout NSW, but they fail to see the real issue –
People from all walks of life – and from all over NSW - will continue to protest and fight CSG and coal mining because they understand what’s at risk.
They understand the impacts on our environment, on rural lives, the risk to our precious agricultural land and water supplies.
And they’re fed up with Governments selling off their livelihoods and the future of the State for a few bucks.
Many former members on this side of the House failed to understand the community concerns around mining;
They did so at their own peril.
They were wrong to hand out mining and exploratory licenses to the extent they did and paid the price for failing to listen to the people of NSW.
But despite making lots of noise before the last two elections about mining – admittedly buying back a small number of CSG licenses - the Baird Government is making the same old mistakes, plus new ones.
It continues to be biased towards mining companies, basing assessments on flawed Environment Impact Statements written by consultants for mining companies;
The Government continues to ignore communities, introducing legislation like this, designed to shut down community debate.
But what the groundswell of community opposition to CSG mining teaches us is that when you fail to engage in meaningful debate, when you fail to listen, or to consult; when you fail to be inclusive and operate with transparency and honesty, then you push well-meaning, moderate people to what this Government defines as extremist actions.
But I want to be very clear - locking yourself to a gate is not extremist. Sure, it’s courageous; but it’s not extremist.
Its an act by people who’ve been made to feel powerless and voiceless peacefully taking a stand;
It’s direct action by people who’ve been ignored and excluded from consultation saying they won’t be ignored any longer;
And more than anything, it’s utterly undeserving of this heavy-handed and baseless legislation.
So long as mining companies continue to rip holes in our land and reap billions of dollars in profit –
So long as the Baird and Turnbull Governments cover their ears while they open their pockets - protesters will continue to fight back: –
People like the Knitting Nanas –
People like 92 year-old Bill Ryan, who served on the Kokoda Track during World War II, and who was arrested in 2014 at Maules Creek –
And yes, people from my electorate of Summer Hill, who travel to the bush to stand with farmers and locals in opposing CSG mining.
Given the depth of feeling around this issue, it’s clear this legislation will not deter people from standing up and fighting for their communities.
What it will do is make criminals of good people.
It will threaten peaceful protesters with hefty fines and prison sentences.
It will also weaken our democracy.
I can’t support legislation that too broadly defines Police powers to break up peaceful protests.
The Minister can’t guarantee this legislation won’t threaten protesters who engage in civil disobedience around other issues, in other places around the State.
So, Minister: -
Will we now see these laws used to target other protesters locking on to trees to stop logging, or onto roads to stop Westconnex, or those opposing forced amalgamations of local councils – Perhaps even those outside Parliament today protesting this legislation?
Despite theoretically exempting industrial action from the provisions of the Bill, will we now see Police using these powers to break up industrial actions where others have joined through solidarity?
Just as the Minister has lambasted inner-city residents for going out to stop CSG mining, will these powers be used to break up picket lines where nurses are supporting teachers and vice versa?
This lazy Bill leaves too many questions and the community is right to suspect the Government’s motivations.
We all have an investment in making sure this ridiculous law is not passed;
We all have an investment in protecting our environment and we all have a right to stand up to this arrogant and bullying Government.
With eyes wide open to the dangers of CSG and coal mining, we must do all we can to stop its expansion;
We must also stand with the nanas and farmers – everyday folk – who won’t take be shoved aside when it comes to protecting our land and water any longer.
We must also work to protect the rights of everyday citizens to lawfully and peacefully protest.
We must reject this Bill.