Rushed SA Anti-Protest Laws Threaten Civil Liberties: Democracy Experts

Laws which impose extreme penalties and jail time for peaceful protest have been rushed through the South Australian lower house in what democracy experts have described as an alarming threat to civil liberties.

The new laws impose up to $50,000 in fines or three months jail for intentionally or recklessly obstructing the free passage of a public place.

Democracy experts warn the rushed process and harsh penalties threaten civil liberties and call into question the influence of the gas industry over South Australian democracy.

In a worrying national trend, extreme anti-protest laws have recently been backed by major parties in NSW and Tasmania, while climate activists and journalists investigating the fossil fuel industry have been seemingly targeted by police in WA.

Key Points:

  • Peaceful climate protests have occurred against the conference.
  • SA Government rushed new laws through the SA lower house before noon on Thursday.
  • New laws impose harsh penalties for peaceful protest, including jail time.
  • Proposed fines would be up to $50,000, an increase of 6000% from $750 .
  • Human rights groups and democracy experts have said the attack on civil liberties is alarming
  • Peak gas lobby group APPEA is holding its annual conference in SA this week.
  • SA Minister for Energy and Mining Tom Koutsantonis told a gas lobby conference on Wednesday the SA Government “is at your disposal”.

“Harsh new penalties for peaceful protests, including jail terms, represent an alarming threat to civil liberties and a healthy democracy in South Australia,” said Bill Browne, Director of Democracy & Accountability at the Australia Institute.

“The proposed changes in South Australia are just the latest in a worrying trend towards harsher anti-protest laws, following changes in NSW that saw a climate protester jailed.

“Australia has a proud tradition of peaceful protest, including the campaign to save the Franklin River from being dammed, boycotts against all-white sports teams from apartheid South Africa and union action to stop exploitative ‘ships of shame’. Protests may be inconvenient, but an Australia without protests would be a democratic disaster.

“Particularly worrying is that the legislation was rammed through just days after the oil and gas industry was told that the SA Government is ‘at your disposal’. This rings alarm bells about the outsized influence big polluters have over our democratic processes and the public square.

“It’s concerning this rushed legislation comes just days after SA Minister Tom Koutsantonis told a gas industry conference that the SA Government was “at your disposal”.