The NSW Government successfully passed a bill last night that would increase penalties for protestors taking action on major roads and facilities.
Under the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill (2022), protesters can face a maximum penalty of $22,000 or two years imprisonment if “a person enters, remains on, climbs, jumps from or otherwise trespasses on a major road”, or both.
The bill also creates a new offence of “damaging or disrupting a major facility with a maximum penalty of $22,000 or 2 years imprisonment, or both”.
It was passed with support from both the Coalition government and Labor after minimal amendments from the opposition.
In the first print version of the bill, a major facility is defined as “the ports of Botany Bay, Newcastle and Port Kembla”, as well as “a railway station, public transport facility, port or infrastructure facility”.
Such definitions are likely a response to recent action from climate activist group Blockade Australia, which involved a series of protests around Port Botany targeting ports, freight lines and roads.
In a statement to Honi, student activist and NUS Education Officer Luc Velez said: “The NUS unreservedly condemns the new anti-protest laws in NSW. The student movement is built on activism and struggle, and we cannot let the government continue to erode our democratic rights to protest.
“Let’s call a spade a spade, this bill is a further attempt to protect the interests of climate criminals and big business, while intimidating and muzzling activists.”
Although the bill contains some protections for conduct that is part of industrial action, the NSW Branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has condemned the bill as an “attack on the right to protest”.
“This proposed legislation potentially criminalises and prohibits any protest that occurs without police approval on any major road in NSW,” NTEU NSW Secretary Dr Damien Cahill said.
“Despite amendments passed by Labor, the Bill also potentially criminalises many activities that union members take as part of protected industrial action,” Cahill said.
This bill comes in the wake of increasing industrial action from a number of unions across NSW in recent years.
This includes ongoing action from the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) in negotiating the conditions of union’s enterprise agreement, the NSW Teachers Federation rallying for better pay for teachers, and the Nurses and Midwives Association who are demanding better nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.
The bill is still awaiting approval from the NSW Legislative Council.