In October 2019 the Queensland Labor government passed controversial anti-protest laws. The immediate aim of the new laws is to curtail climate protests, but they will likely be used more widely in the coming years.
The laws give police the power to search anyone at, or near, a protest if they suspect the person is carrying a “lock-on device”. This can include things as mundane as bike locks or glue.
Protesters gathered outside parliament in Brisbane on the day of the vote, calling on MPs to oppose the crackdown on democratic rights. Also voicing concerns were trade unions, who described the laws as a slippery slope.
Even United Nations special rapporteurs on human rights referred to the new laws as inherently disproportionate.
The Labor state government has tried to justify these laws by saying that lock-on devices are being rigged to harm police and emergency service workers. But no incidents of harm have taken place during any recent protests in Queensland.
The opposition Liberal National Party (LNP) welcomed the laws and used the opportunity to push for an amendment to the bill creating a new unlawful assembly offence. This would have made gatherings of three or more people who are “suspected of intending to cause traffic congestion” illegal.
While the LNP amendment did not pass, the debate highlighted the true intentions of both the major parties. The anti-protest laws are designed to intimidate people, and to discourage peaceful protest and civil disobedience in the face of a climate emergency.
Its clear that both the major parties expect increasing opposition to their big business policies, including more protests demanding urgent action on climate change. As we have seen elsewhere in the world, protests and strikes are the most effective ways to achieve change.
Socialists oppose all attempts to curtail our democratic right to protest. We call on all those who have the potential to be impacted by these laws to campaign for their abolition, and to support those who choose to defy them.
By Ben McIntyre