A protest by Extinction Revolution which brought Brisbane’s CBD to a standstill saw two
protesters glue themselves to the road in Post Office Square. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will target the “sinister” tactics used by environment protesters, warning they have put people at risk.
Queensland cabinet has approved new laws allowing police to intervene.
After weeks of disruptive protests by anti-Adani and anti-farming protesters, and a green group known as Extinction Rebellion, Ms Palaszczuk today told parliament she was concerned they were putting police, emergency services personnel and bystanders in danger.
Ms Palaszczuk said Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll last week provided evidence that protesters, in seeking to prevent their removal from public thoroughfares, had locked their arms in steel cylinders, and drums filled with concrete, “laced with traps that are dangerous”.
Everyone has the right to conduct a peaceful protest but the activities of some are not. Blocking roads is dangerous, reckless, irresponsible, selfish and stupid. The sinister tactics some protesters are using are dangerous and designed to harm. pic.twitter.com/y7Izir3SuD
— Annastacia Palaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) August 19, 2019
These included glass fragments and butane gas containers to hinder any efforts to remove them.
In response, the new laws will give police the power to search anyone they reasonably suspect to be in possession of such devices, which will constitute an offence. Separate offences relating to trespass will also be upgraded.
“The right to protest comes second to everyone’s right to safety,” Ms Palaszczuk told parliament.
Annastacia Palaszczuk’s rhetoric on tougher anti-protest laws has reminded some of a dark chapter of Queensland’s past.
The Queensland government this week announced an extraordinary set of expanded police search powers, designed to crack down on environmental protesters. The centre of Brisbane has seen a series of demonstrations led by climate change activists Extinction Rebellion in recent months, and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk argued that their “sinister” tactics and disruption of traffic warranted tougher laws.
But the basis for Palaszczuk’s expansion of police power appears questionable. The premier cited advice from police commissioner Katarina Carroll, alleging that protesters were using locking devices, and devices loaded with fragments of glass to stop them being removed. Yet there is no evidence of climate protesters using such devices.
The Palaszczuk government’s crackdown on activists who include dangerous traps in their protests has been likened to the hostile climate for protesters under the Bjelke-Petersen regime.
Police – who have released footage of some of the devices used – say protesters have used booby-trapped cylinders and drums that contain glass fragments and even butane gas containers, so anyone trying to cut a protester free will be injured.
Laws to be introduced this year will give police powers to search people and their cars if they reasonably suspect they are in possession of such devices.
But Greens MP Michael Berkman said the laws were anti-democratic and he claimed they were designed to silence protesters.
“It leaves me asking, are we here in Queensland now living under the Joh Bjelke-Palaszczuk regime?” he asked.
“This is the kind of draconian police state that Joh would be proud of, if they keep producing these sorts of laws.
“I think that safety concerns are effectively being used as a cover for laws that are aimed at silencing dissent, that are looking to shut down protesters who are making quite reasonable demands of government to actually act on climate change in a way that will protect our children’s future.”
In recent months, environmental protesters have blocked coal trains by suspending themselves from trees and tripods above rail tracks, locked themselves inside concrete barrels and stopped Brisbane CBD traffic, including by gluing their bodies to the road.
However, a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion SEQ, which organised protests that shut down the Brisbane CBD on August 6 and led to more than 70 arrests, said the proposed laws were based on unfounded allegations.
“There is no evidence of booby-trapping lock-on devices, and to do so would go against Extinction Rebellion’s principles and strategy of non-violence,” he said.
“The Queensland people know from the Bjelke-Petersen era what it’s like to live under a police state and they are not going to let it happen again.”
Galilee Blockade spokesman Ben Pennings also said Labor was “revisiting the Bjelke-Petersen era”.
“Most of our members are grandparents,” he said.
“Will police start strip-searching them looking for superglue, just because they want to protect their grandkids?”
The proposed laws will make it an offence to possess a banned dangerous device, with a maximum sentence of one year in jail or 20 penalty units (currently $2669).
Using a device would attract a jail sentence of up to two years or 50 penalty units ($6672.50).
Police Minister Mark Ryan hit back at claims the laws would take Queensland back to the days of former premier Mr Bjelke-Petersen.
“We’ve got devices which have been specifically made to cause significant disruption but also examples of where they’ve been booby-trapped,” he said.
“The right to protest is not the right to put someone else’s life at risk.”
Mr Ryan said the state government would open public consultation before deciding which devices would be banned.
But he did not rule out that it could include items such as rope.
“Some of the examples … include tripods, which included a very sophisticated roping device, so obviously getting the definition right, ensuring that definition is able to adapt to any emerging tactics will be part of the process that we will undertake in the lead-up to introducing the legislation,” he said.
Mr Ryan said a small group of “extremists” were putting themselves and others in danger.
“We respect the right to protest and the message to everyone is you can protest so long as you do so lawfully and peacefully,” he said.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she learnt of the “sinister tactics” involved with the booby-trapped devices last week, with the laws signed off during cabinet on Monday.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane welcomed the new police powers.
“There have been too many near-misses from reckless activists who disregard safety by blocking railway lines or roads,” he said.
Earlier this week, Mr Macfarlane warned someone would be killed as environmental activists ramped up their protests.
The LNP has proposed laws that would boost jail sentences to 10 years for activists who co-ordinated “farm invasions” or trespassing on rail infrastructure.
However, the LNP’s bill would not crack down on the actions of Extinction Rebellion activists who blocked public roads.
LNP leader Deb Frecklington said the opposition would consider the government’s proposal, while they were “working through a policy development” on Extinction Rebellion.