It’s looking real good for democracy in New South Wales. Late last night, Parliament moved further down the track in pushing through the Coalition government’s anti-protest laws, which are designed to fight back against anti-coal seam gas (CSG) miners in the state’s north.
It passed the Upper House and has moved to committee, which means that we’re on track for some stiff penalties for protesting and drastically increased police powers to search, detain and seize property from protesters.
Basically, the laws increase the fine for entering a coal seam gas site from $550 to $5500 and introduce a maximum penalty for protesters of seven years in jail. That’s, uh, quite a lot. In fact, the maximum penalty for owning an unlicensed firearm is five years.
The police powers are pretty drastic, too. They can destroy private property, and The Sydney Morning Herald reports that if police believe just one protester to be obstructing traffic, they can shut down an entire peaceful assembly. And the laws aren’t particularly hard on mining companies, either. The maximum penalty for illegal mining has dropped from $1.1 million down to to $5000. Which is, y’know, less than the maximum fine for protesting.
Labor and The Greens are understandably pretty peeved about this. Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham, known for his long opposition to expanded CSG mining in NSW, says its a “draconian crackdown” to protect the profits of mining companies and scare the shit out of potential protesters.
The Nationals reckon these are all about ‘safety’ – making sure protesters aren’t chaining themselves to ‘dangerous mining equipment’. Clearly the best way to do that is to throw them in jail for seven years.
It’s definitely a worry – and reminds us a little of the anti-protester laws under Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson in the 1980’s, which were passed to challenge protester dissent and increase the powers of cops.
And NSW isn’t really buying it. 61.4% of NSW oppose the new laws, according to a ReachTEL poll. CSG is a massively divisive issue, and is especially opposed by farmers in the state’s food basin, and it’s pretty clear that the government is on the side of miners in this particular scuffle.
It’s all pretty worrying stuff.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Image: Getty Images / Robb Cox