RIGHTS activists fear severe anti-protest laws currently before the Tasmanian parliament could see a repeat of the “extraordinary infringement” of LGBTI Tasmanians’ rights to protest seen in the state’s past.

The protest laws could have wide-ranging application, leaving people participating in marriage equality rallies or even pride marches faced with $2000 on-the-spot fines.

Such fines could be issued to someone who is “invading or hindering a business”, and could be increased to $5000 if the protester is found guilty of breaching the law by a court. Repeat offenders could also face a mandatory three-month jail sentence.

While the laws are expected to target environmental groups opposed to logging in Tasmanian forests, there is widespread concern amongst opposition politicians, unions, and legal and civil rights groups they could be applied much more broadly.

Rodney Croome from the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group called the possibility of repeating the state’s history of infringing the protest rights of LGBTI Tasmanians “concerning”.

“Any protesters who obstruct someone in the course of their business of employment could be slapped with a fine or be gaoled, even if their protest has police permission. This could include an LGBTI protest or even the pride parade,” he told the Star Observer.

“In the past, LGBTI Tasmanians endured extraordinary infringement of our right to assemble, speak our and protest. 130 of us were arrested in 1988 simply defending our right to have a market stall. We will not allow this kind of persecution to happen again under these proposed laws.”

Croome’s concerns were echoed by the Human Rights Law Centre, with executive director Hugh de Kretser saying Tasmania’s LGBTI community has cause to be concerned by the laws.

“They are too broad and transfer too much discretion to police, creating real risks of misuse against legitimate peaceful protest. The penalties are completely over-the-top and the mandatory jail term in particular risks creating real injustices,” he told the Star Observer.

“Given the key role played by protest actions in advancing LGBTI rights, Tasmania’s LGBTI community should be concerned about these laws.”

The laws, which passed Tasmania’s lower house late last month, are expected to face opposition from Labor and the Greens when they go to the upper house next month.

The crackdown on protests follows similar highly controversial moves in Victoria earlier this year, where expanded “move on” powers grant police wide-ranging powers deal with protesters who are blocking access to buildings, or obstructing people or traffic.

The Victorian laws also allow the courts to ban protesters repeatedly told to move on from a particular public space for up to a year, with penalties of up to two years imprisonment for anyone found in breach of such an order.

 

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