The Queensland Liberal National Party opposition has introduced a bill to penalise protesters with hefty fines and lengthy prison sentences. It wants to intimidate activists and undermine the right to protest. 

The proposed laws would result in protesters being fined as much as $390,000 and jailed for up to 10 years for demonstrating on private property or holding events that affect “transport infrastructure”. 

The bill targets organised civil disobedience, with the maximum penalty applying not only to protest participants but all members of the organisation(s) involved. 

The LNP member responsible for the bill, Dale Last, described it as necessary to tackle the “growing trend of activism in Queensland”. Significant and growing protests like those against the Adani coal mine, for Indigenous rights and against climate change have put politicians and the mining industry on the back foot. 

This bill is an attempt to intimidate anyone wanting to stand up against the agenda of the LNP and Labor Party.

The LNP has form. The party’s predecessor, the Country-Liberal Party coalition under premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was responsible for massive attacks on civil rights during its 19 years in office from 1968 to 1987. Joh’s government smashed unions, trampled on Indigenous rights and gutted public services. Those attacks were made possible by suppressing freedom of speech and the right to protest.

The Queensland Resources Council, which has been feeling the heat from recent climate change protests, has backed the laws, indicating it “fully supports” the crackdown on “militant activism”. 

The Labor state government has not been far behind. In response to protests against animal cruelty, it changed regulations to allow police to impose on-the-spot fines of $652 for protesters deemed to be a threat to “biosecurity”. 

The LNP bill, currently before a parliamentary committee, should be opposed by all those who value civil liberties. Civil disobedience must continue, even if it means defying anti-protest laws.