Call to scrap NSW anti-protest laws after High Court decision

Call to scrap NSW anti-protest laws after High Court decision


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The judgment has possible ramifications for three NSW protesters facing charges

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NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman is seeking advice from the Solicitor-General about the effect on controversial NSW anti-protest laws of a High Court decision that found similar laws in Tasmania were unconstitutional.

The decision could have ramifications for three protesters facing up to 14 years in jail after becoming the first people charged under laws introduced by the NSW government last year.

Bev Smiles, Stephanie Luke and Bruce Hughes were charged in April with rendering useless a road belonging to a mine and hindering the working of equipment belonging to a mine following a protest at Wilpinjong Coal Mine in the Hunter Valley.

Each charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years in jail.

Ms Smiles, 63, told Fairfax Media on Wednesday that she hoped the decision would cause the government to "seriously look at the amendments they made to the Crimes Act with the aim of preventing the fundamental right to protest".

Sue Higginson, chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office, which is representing the trio, said it was "early days" but that the judgment looked "quite favourable" for her clients.

The EDO has asked two senior counsel for advice on the judgment to inform its decision whether to launch a High Court challenge to the NSW laws.

But Greens justice spokesman David Shoebridge said Premier Gladys Berejiklian "should do the decent thing" and repeal the NSW laws.

Mr Shoebridge said there was "remarkable similarity" between the NSW and Tasmanian laws.

"Instead of chewing up more public money on lawyers and High Court challenges, the Premier should do the decent thing, admit they were wrong and repeal the anti-protest laws," he said.

Mr Speakman said he had "requested the Department of Justice to obtain advice from the Solicitor-General on the impact of the judgment, if any, on NSW laws".

The court on Wednesday found parts of the 2014 Tasmanian law breached the implied freedom of political communication protected by the Australian constitution.

The finding was a victory for former federal Greens leader Bob Brown, who launched the challenge after being charged, along with others, over protesting the logging of the Lapoinya forest in Tasmania's north-west.

Provisions introduced by Will Hodgman's Tasmanian Liberal government in 2014 made it illegal to for protesters to engage in certain conduct on "business premises" or "business access areas", including forestry land.

A majority of High Court justices held that the relevant provisions "were not reasonably appropriate and adapted, or proportionate" to the legitimate purpose of protecting businesses while also being compatible with "the system of representative and responsible government that the constitution requires".

By telephone from Mexico, Mr Brown told Fairfax Media he was "absolutely delighted" at the decision, which upheld the "long tradition of peaceful protest that has made our democracy what it is".

"It's a great relief because most Australians are opposed to logging in Tasmania's forests, most Australians want wildlife protected, most Australians support peaceful protest," he said.

"The High Court has come down on the side of Australians against weak politicians doing the bidding of greedy and destructive corporations."

The story Call to scrap NSW anti-protest laws after High Court decision first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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