Police in New South Wales have been given increased powers to ban or disperse rallies or public meetings anywhere on crown land – which includes most town squares, roads and community halls.
Under the Liberal government’s updated crown land management regulation, individuals can be fined up to $11,000 or be arrested for “taking part in any gathering, meeting or assembly” once they have been told not to.
In other words, a public gathering can occur only with the permission of police and public officials, and permission can be withdrawn for any reason.
The new regulations did not need to go through parliament. When Greens MP David Shoebridge moved a motion to disallow the changes, the government prevented any debate from taking place.
Government representatives have defended the changes by pointing out that they extend powers already granted by the old regulations – as though the precedent of a bad law justifies its expansion.
They are right about one thing: this is not the first or last instance, but just the latest in an ongoing process of increasing police powers and undermining civil rights being carried out across the country.
The only way to reverse the trend is by employing the very tactic they want to suppress.
Similarly draconian anti-protest laws were introduced under the Bjelke-Petersen government in Queensland in 1977. In response, left wing activists and unionists organised a civil liberties campaign that forced the government to back down after thousands defiantly took to the streets time and time again.
We need to rekindle this sort of defiance. David Shoebridge has called a protest for Wednesday, 15 August, 8:30am outside the NSW parliament, to show the government that we won’t have our rights stripped without a fight.