by Phil Evans
Next week Victoria takes another step towards becoming a police state, by rushing new anti-protest laws through parliament. What, you may ask, has this got to do with coal and the fossil fuel industry? The answer is: A LOT.
Quit Coal has been at the forefront of the use of non-violent direct action as a tactic to highlight, delay and protest the expansion of the fossil fuel industry in Victoria. We have used lock-ons, banner drops, office sit ins etc. to bring attention to projects, such as the proposed HRL power plant of a few years ago, that otherwise would have flown under the radar.
‘Move on’ orders were brought in by the former Labor government in 2009, but police cannot currently issue them to people picketing a place of employment or exercising their democratic right to demonstrate or protest about an issue.
If this law gets through parliament in the middle of February, it will enable police to order people in picket lines and blockades to ‘move on’, and arrest those who do not. This adds another layer of government protection of the fossil fuel industry and their profit based interest. And it is a real threat to our rights to protest, demonstrate and take part in political activities, rights that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
In his Statement of Compatibility about the law, Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark admits the “amendments impose a limitation on an individual’s right to move freely within Victoria …and may, in certain circumstances, limit the rights to freedom of expression …and peaceful assembly and freedom of association.” But states such limitations are justified by the need to “protect public safety and order”.
On top of this, the proposed laws include extreme ‘exclusion orders’ which could potentially see individuals and groups barred from public places for up to a year, and jailed for two years if they fail to comply.
The laws are also a big threat to the rights of workers in our state. In 2013, Quit Coal was invited by the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) to a protest camp to stand in solidarity with workers locked out from Energy Australia’s Yallourn Power Station as they campaigned for further rights and protection at their workplace. The proposed laws threaten such camps and the families who maintained it, therefore grossly limiting the ability of workers to push for better conditions.
They also threaten other activists, such as forest campaigners and most visibly the East-West Tunnel picket which has achieved so much success in fighting for community rights.
As human rights activist Asher Wolf notes: “Protesters shouldn’t face the threat years in jail just for making their point heard. Victorians don’t want a police state, and we simply don’t need these laws. They won’t make us a safer society and they will only serve to undermine basic human rights.”
Quit Coal asks that you contact your local member of the Legislative Council (Upper House) as a matter of urgency and let them know your opposition to these draconian new laws. To find out who represents you in your area follow this link: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/members/
There is also a huge rally being at Trades Hall on the 18th of February, being held by the Victorian Trades Hall Council. It will be an exciting congregation of all the effected members of the community: union groups, lawyers, human rights campaigners, community campaigners and environmentalists. Please come along and show your support.