Law Society objects to tougher protest laws

Coal, CSG protest laws under pressure from Law Society


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Civil liberties threatened by legislation to enter parliament today, Law Society says.

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UPDATED 12.10pm A STERN warning has been issued to NSW government on the day it intends to enact tough new laws to control mining and gas protesters with expanded police powers and a broader list of offences under a new Act.

President of the Law Society of NSW, which represents the states legal profession, Gary Ulman said he is “most concerned about the ongoing incremental incursion into the common law and human rights of people in NSW”.

The Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Amendment Bill looks likely to be introduced to parliament today and is expected to pass with support from crossbenchers in the Shooters and Fishers Party.

Protesters gathered today outside parliament house.

The Bill, brought by Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts, would significantly increase fines for protesters on private property from $550 to $5500 under the new offence of aggravated unlawful entry on private property.

New laws would grant police broader powers to disperse demonstrators on public lands as well as translate the offence of interfering with a mine site from the Crimes Act to come under the new laws – which carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

The Bill appears to expand police powers without the safeguard of judicial oversight, and interfere with the right against arbitrary deprivation of property. Current laws already offer sufficient powers to restrain or detain people protesters, he said.

Mr Ulman questioned the new powers for police to move on protesters from public land, if they determine there is a serious risk to safety, especially because failure to comply with Police orders would be a criminal offence.

“There is little guidance for police officers as to what constitutes a ‘serious risk’,” he said.

The new laws would extend police powers to search and seize “things” from people without a warrant, if they have reasonable suspicion a person is carrying equipment to ‘lock on’ to mining or coal seam gas equipment.

“Of added concern is that judges are specifically excluded from ordering that people can reclaim these things,” Mr Ulman said.

Citing campaigns such as the Franklin River Dam, Mr Ulman said protests, processions and demonstrations without police interference are an “essential right”.

“This right may be particularly important in natural conservation matters, where destructive actions are likely to be difficult to reverse.”

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