Media Statement: NSW Labor fails key test to support the right to protest

On 16 October 2022, a motion was put to the floor of the Labor Conference by the Australian Services Union which called for the Labor party to ‘scrap the NSW government’s anti-protest laws if they win government next year.

The motion was amended by Deputy Opposition Leader Prue Carr MP and passed in a form which was radically different. It stated:

Conference notes that NSW Labor fought for changes to the protest legislation introduced by the Government that included protecting industrial action and the right to peaceful protest. Conference recognises that destructive and violent protest actions cannot be condoned by government. Conference notes the Supreme Court proceedings currently underway relating to the legislation and respects the separation of powers, judicial process and decisions of the court. Conference further notes that the laws are subject to review.

The laws referred to are the now infamous Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 which passed into law in April 2022. This law made it a crime, punishable by up to 2 years in jail and a $22,000 fine, to even briefly obstruct a road or block the entrance to train stations, ports and public and private infrastructure.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties President, Josh Pallas stated “While the law was introduced by the government they passed with Labor’s support. The ASU’s motion put to the conference gave Labor an opportunity to restore confidence in its support for the right to protest. But they failed in this important test.”

“Instead, Labor hides behind a challenge brought by two courageous activists and climate defenders who are seeking to have their rights vindicated in the courts. It shouldn’t have to come to this. Unjust laws should be dispensed with and not need a court to strike them down. Unionists and Labor members articulately put the case for repeal at Labor Conference. Civil society stands with them all the way.”

Mr Pallas said “the amendments successfully moved by Ms Carr are very telling about the Labor leadership’s level of respect for the right to protest. The amended references to violent protest are nothing more than a dog whistle. Violence was already otherwise prohibited by the law. These laws exist to stymy peaceful disruptive protest. Nothing more.”

“We will continue to work with activists and civil society organisations to call for the repeal of these laws.”

Josh Pallas, President, NSWCCL