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Police Offences Amendment (Workplace Protection) Bill 2022

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Tags: Legislation, Protest, Anti-Protest Laws

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, in 2014 the Liberal Government came to office and it started its attack on the rights of citizens to represent their community and their views through peaceful protest. It was their first attack on democracy in Tasmania. What is really tragic, is this fourth attempt by the Liberals in government to shut down peaceful protest in Tasmania, and, in this, its fourth attempt, it has Labor supporting it.

That is really very tragic for people who hold a flag to Labor's history of standing up for the right to protest. Many people who are members of or who vote for the Greens once voted Labor. This would have been one of the many core issues that people may have believed was a rock-solid principle that Labor would never back away from.

Their support through special carve outs that they are seeking in this bill for certain types of workers, and certain types of places does so much harm - and even more harm to themselves as a party.

I note Labor has struggled terribly in Tasmania, and the evidence in the election on the weekend speaks for itself. The Greens had a swing in every seat across the state, and that is because what this federal election showed Australians, and Tasmanians, is that the Greens and the teal independents were the only people who were speaking for meaningful climate action. We are the only members of the federal parliament who will demand an ICAC. We are the only members of federal parliament who will make sure that equality is real, and not just a talking point in a federal election media event.

The Greens here today understand what the cultural context for this bill is. People who are watching need to understand the history of this bill. This is the fourth time. In 2014, when the first attempt was made, it was an offence to hinder or obstruct the carrying out of business activity on a business premises or a business access area. That bill was found to be far too great a burden on the right to political communication and the right to free association that our Australian Constitution provides us. It was struck down by the High Court in the case that Bob Brown and Jessica Hoyt took on behalf of not just Tasmanians, but all Australians who want to have the right to protest.

In 2019 the Government had another go. It was more of the same, with some slight variations, and that was rushed through as the very last bill before Christmas in 2019. The then premier, Will Hodgman, made the argument for gagging substantive debate on the bill in the committee stage - his reason being that it was an incredibly urgent bill and it had to be pushed through parliament.

It never got past the upper House. It never got onto the books in the upper House, because the Liberals up there made sure it did not see the light of the day. It had already served its purpose. Its purpose was to do what this bill is seeking to do. It was to signal to members of the community who want to be confident that the Liberals in government are still standing up for relentless clear-felling and burning of our native forests. They want to make sure that this Liberal Government - especially its Braddon members - are still standing up for Chinese-owned MMG in their attempts to expand a toxic tailings dam into the beautiful incredibly world-outstanding temperate rainforest of Tarkine. A place that has masked owls and Huon Pine reserves that have just recently been discovered, and other animals and plants that are critically endangered or threatened.

The people this bill speaks to would love to continue to support this destructive proposed mining operation because they are fed a lie, by the Liberals in government, that it is required - that it is going to generate wealth for Tasmanians, and that this sort of destruction that is being imposed on our natural places can somehow just be fixed up. The word 'remediated' is a euphemism for unalterable damage to natural places. You cannot put back a Huon Pine stand and the other Gondwana relics in those areas that have been there for thousands of years. You cannot just put them back together again.

This Government is happy to sacrifice our natural places, our Gondwanan wilderness areas, for virtue signalling to people in the northern electorates - to people in Tasmania who are comfortable with seeing people who stand up for wild palaces as dangerous, and threatening. Whereas, just look in the Chamber - there are a couple of them left; the others have gone to have a break, and fair enough, because it is getting late in the evening, and they are doing the job every single day of defending our wild places. Most of those people are young - often, young women.

Looking back at the history of some of the people who have stood up and been arrested in Tasmania, they are young people who have put their lives and their hearts on the line to look after places that cannot be replaced - treasures that will never be seen again if they are mowed down, turned into woodchips, put on the back of a trailer, shipped overseas and turned into coal. These priceless treasures cannot be replaced.

Some of the people I want to talk about are those like Miranda Gibson, who helped save the Tyenna forests, which culminated in World Heritage protection for that incredible area. She spent 449 days up the top of a tree, by herself. It was the longest tree sit in Australia. Miranda Gibson was in her early twenties, a woman. She did not grow up protesting in forests. She had not been into a forest until not long before. When she finally did see the old-growth forest she decided it was so important that she was prepared to spend 449 days up the top of a tree. Her choice, Dr Broad, her choice to make about whether she puts her life in that position.

The Weld Angel - young Allanna Beltran, also 22 years old, who successfully blocked access to the Weld area and stood on a five-metre-high tripod. I spent time up there and she created an image of the Weld Angel that went right around the world, and right into people's hearts. It was the beauty of a young woman dressed as an angel in the forest that spoke to people about how special these places are, these carbon-rich irreplaceable forests - moist, wet, forests that we need now more than ever in a rapidly heating climate world.

I also pay my respects to the people who have gone back into forests when they have not been saved. It is not all good news stories. Without the relentless leadership of Jenny Weber, who is sitting here in the Chamber, we would not have had the endless defence of the Tarkine. In May - this time last year - the forests had been defended against the MMG Company by 300 defenders at that point, for 142 days. That camp and the positive, peaceful, respectful energy of people in that camp was under the leadership of people like Jenny Weber and Scott Jordan - great Tarkine defenders, great Tasmanian defenders of wild places.

There have been so many others around the state, and there will continue to be others, because they are building on a history of people in Tasmania, and around Australia, who understand why peaceful protest has to be defended. Those people include anybody who protested against the Vietnam War. We have still in our communities today, and I walked with some of them at the Anzac ceremony earlier this year, who are so damaged from that war. We had protests that were more than intemperate, definitely risky. People put their lives on the line to try to stop that war. They did it then and they will do it again.

If it was not for protests, we would not have the beautiful Franklin wilderness. We would not have saved Wesley Vale from a pulp mill or Ralphs Bay from a marina. We would not have the Westbury Reserve, which ought to go back to being a permanently protected conservation area like it should have been in the first place instead of being the site for a northern prison.

Forest defenders have saved forests in the Styx and the Weld in the Florentine and the takayna. Fisher folk and forest defenders together have protested against about the Liberal attempts to privatise and excise parts of the World Heritage Area like Halls Island in Lake Malbena. They went there and will continue to go there. People who were on the Sea Shepherd, wonderful people who have taken to the seas defending marine environments, wild creatures from illegal whaling and illegal fishing.

We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality only two weeks ago and remembered the protests in Salamanca where gay men protested against the stigmatisation and the attacks and the criminalisation of LGBTI people. They will do it again, just as people have stood up peacefully against the vile divisive campaign of people who seek to demonise trans Tasmanians and trans Australians.

This bill was rejected by the High Court in 2014. It was widely understood to be unconstitutional in the second version in 2019. The third version, which the Liberals brought out in 2021, was also widely considered to have even more broad powers of arrest and harsher penalties. There are no surprises that it is not the bill we are debating here today.

Instead, the Liberals have taken an approach that Mr Fabiano Cangelosi, a member of the Labor Party, has also suggested to carve out special protections for certain sorts of workers, unions in sanctified, comfortable, nice little protests with placards that maybe do not make people feel very uncomfortable. Organisations like the Bob Brown Foundation, or organisation networks like Extinction Rebellion understand what we are up against. They understand the urgency of change that is required. They understand the severity of not acting strongly now.

If we have any opportunity to wind back the accelerating climate heating that is happening, it requires us to get uncomfortable. It requires us to do things that we do not feel comfortable doing and that others do not necessarily want to hear. That means shaking things up a little bit. Shaking things up a little bit is by its very nature, making people feel uncomfortable. That is the price we pay because bills like this are trying to make people go away, we are trying to criminalise people who are making legitimate statements about reality. We have to retain our native forests. We cannot continue to chop them down. There is no discussion about this anymore.

Ms O'Connor - Not for the scientists or young people.

Dr WOODRUFF - Exactly, because the science is abundantly clear. We only have a negative carbon emissions because of the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement. It was written in a lot of detail in a paper by Mackay and Lindenmayer only a couple of weeks ago. We knew it to be the case because we can see the reducing emissions from Tasmania after the forestry agreement was signed. The scientists have the evidence and that is very clear.

Ms O'Connor - After decades of peaceful protests to protect the forests.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. We have no discussion about ending native forest logging if you look at the climate science or biodiversity and the need to retain habitat for critically endangered, threatened, and rare species that cannot live anywhere else. We must have the connectivity of our forests, our woodlands, grasslands. These are places that need to be protected and connected. That is what peaceful protesters in forests are seeking to do.

I want to make some comments about Dr Broad's words earlier. He is perpetuating the lies, false claims and exaggerations that the Liberals have used to justify bringing this bill into the Chamber today. That is the false claims that protesters are causing harm and putting people at risk in the workplace. That is not true. There has never been any evidence presented for that falsehood. Dr Broad should come in here because he has misled the House. He told the story of a protester who locked onto machinery while a peeler was running. He told the mistruth that the machine operator was required to shut down the machinery after the person had locked on, and it caused them a great deal of harm and emotional trauma as a result of that. That is a complete falsehood.

The peeler machine was shut down before the protester locked onto the machinery. Standard practice for all peaceful protesters is that machinery is stationary and shut down before anyone gets on it. People are careful and take mitigated risks. It is a person's right to make a decision about the risks they take every day. We all do that.

Everyone in this Chamber will get in a car and drive home. A person died just yesterday in a car accident. We have one of Australia's worst rates of car accidents at the moment. Every single person in this Chamber gets in a car. Getting in a car is probably the most dangerous thing we will all do in our lives, yet we keep doing it. It is our right to make a decision about how we manage ourselves and the sort of risks that we take.

Dr Broad is repeating the falsehood that there is evidence of harm to workers. Nothing has been presented and there is no evidence of harm because peaceful protestors make a great virtue and are very serious about non-violent protest. It is a core principle of the Bob Brown Foundation and the other organisations that non-violence must be the way that protest is conducted. It is the only way that protest can be conducted because it sends a powerful message that violence can be done by others - by corporations to the planet and you cannot meet that violence that has been done to the planet with violence yourself so peaceful protest is the core principle.

Dr Broad needs to come in here because he has misled the House and he said that protesters are inherently dangerous. Native forest logging is inherently dangerous. Native forest logging is heating the atmosphere by releasing carbon and by the burning of the forests the incineration that occurs after the logging occurs so that is inherently dangerous. They are the sorts of activities that we need to focus our attention on. We need to think about the future for our children and think about the world that we are creating by the policies that we have.

I want to finish with a reminder to the Chamber that this bill that we have before us has not been supported by the most significant peak bodies in Tasmania. They are not a little bit uncomfortable with it and they are not just a little bit unhappy with the details. They utterly reject the bill. They think it sucks. It is an appalling bill. There has never been a more disgusting bill and I cannot remember when I have seen this group of peak bodies put their energy and money and very limited resources into a full-page Mercury ad. It is not what they do, and they do not speak out that way about legislation.

How Labor can pretend to themselves that the carve-out that they are doing is going to satisfy the concerns that these organisations have, I have no idea because the organisations were extremely clear that it is much more than the simple matters that Ms White referred to that they are concerned about. It is the general right to protest which is being curtailed by this bill. TasCOSS in their submission notes that:

The bill seeks to introduce particularly harsh penalties for offences which are poorly defined and could potentially be applied to encompass a wide range of activities and circumstances.

Many stakeholders, including TasCOSS have already raised concerns about the potential chilling effect of this type of legislation which could easily result in confusion and concern about whether legitimate protest activities are lawful.

Let no one in Labor kid themselves. These community organisations do not support the bill and they do not support the clauses which Labor has not flagged having any problems with. In fact, they are quite clear that there ought to be community consultation about the supposed real underlying concerns that this bill seeks to address. It is abundantly clear from the unclear language and the extremely disproportionate penalties that this bill is actually a bill to rein in the Bob Brown Foundation. That is really what it is. It should be called the 'Rein in Bob Bill' instead of the protection for workplace protesters. This is actually about Bob Brown and their foundation and the forest offenders who are utterly effective at holding this Government and its activities to account, and in standing up and looking after our wild places.

Organisations like the Bob Brown Foundation have catalysed young and old people. Catalysed people who are otherwise riven with climate anxiety and solastalgia. It has given those people a focus. Their organisation channels people's anxiety and depression into meaningful and hopeful action.

It is hopeful to have the support of the majority of Australians behind us, in our fight to protect Tasmania's wild places because it is abundantly clear from the federal election, that this Liberal Government, backed by Labor, continued push against peaceful protesters, is on a hiding to nothing.

Australians have spoken. They want meaningful climate action. That means an end to native forest logging. It means protection for bio diverse systems that are special. That exist nowhere else on Earth, and that have natural systems that we have to retain to keep our climate safe, and to keep those animals and plants with us for the next thousands of years, if that is possible.