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Tasmanian anti-protest legislation a threat to labour, civil rights

Protesters and picketers could face gaol sentences under new legislation put forward by the Liberal Tasmanian government.

The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill 2014, passed by the House of Assembly late last month, makes it a criminal offence to protest in a manner that disrupts or invades workplaces, or to incite such a protest.

It provides for minimum "on the spot" penalties, via infringement notices, of $2,000, increasing to a minimum of $5,000 if offenders contest the matter in court.

The legislation also increases police powers including the ability to arrest offenders without a warrant.

Protesters who commit a second offence attract mandatory imprisonment of three months.

It doesn’t apply to industrial action that is protected under the Fair Work Act, or lawful industrial action by state public sector employees, and it also excludes protests at charities, schools, universities, hospitals, and government offices.

But that doesn’t mean workers and their unions have nothing to worry about.

While on the face of it the legislation is aimed first and foremost at environmental activists and protests against logging, it clearly represents an attack on labour rights and civil liberties more widely, including freedom of speech and assembly.

Any one advertising a protest action that “disrupts or invades” a workplace would potentially be caught by the legislation.

So presumably would anyone organising or advertising a stop-work meeting outside a period of protected industrial action. The Tasmanian penalties in this case would be much more severe than those available under the Fair Work Act with second time offenders facing mandatory detention.

What next? Does anyone hear the clink of chains?

This legislation, if passed by both houses of the state parliament, will set a dangerous precedent and should be opposed by the whole labour movement.

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