It’s been a long time since I posted on my blog. I’ve been writing stories for other sites including the Saturday Paper and City Hub. This post brings you up to date with my work on an issue that concerns me greatly - the right to protest.
I hope to keep you more up to date with my journalism for the rest of 2023.
Tomorrow on March 15, I will cover Violet Coco’s appeal against her sentence.
I’ve being involved in protest movements since 1967. Like many others in my generation, I have marched on roads, blocked intersections, occupied buildings and squatted. I was arrested and charged a few times. Sometimes I was acquitted or the charges dismissed. On a few occasions, this was because the police were exposed for giving false evidence. On other occasions, I was fined or given a bond.
But the sad truth is that many of these protests would risk imprisonment or a very large fine today. This is because draconian anti-protest laws with harsh penalties were rushed through NSW Parliament by the LNP government with NSW Labor backing in April 2022.
The laws, which are part of the NSW Roads and Crimes Act, threaten protesters who peacefully obstruct a road or block the entrance to train stations, roads, ports and public and private infrastructure with up to two years in jail and a $22,000 fine. Under these laws, you don’t have to be given an instruction to move. You simply have to be on a road, bridge etc.
NSW now has the most draconian anti-protest regime in Australia. The laws are opposed by the NSW Greens, the Animal Justice Party and progressive Independent Alex Greenwich and many environmental and human rights organisations.
Police bodgy up statements against anti-Westconnex protest cases.
In 2017, I was arrested during Westconnex protests for peaceful actions near construction sites. These protests would now be covered by the anti-protest laws.
While defending those arrests, I found myself reliving old experiences of NSW police lying in court. In a case in which I and two others were arrested for peacefully standing on land while contractors built a Westconnex drilling cage around us, NSW Police Inspector Dykes later drew up his version of the ‘facts’ and his own statement and ordered junior officers to write their own statements in accordance with his statement. When one or two didn’t line up with his false version, he ordered them to change their statements. This was exposed with the help of my lawyer Peter O’Brien. We were acquitted on legal grounds but the Magistrate made no comment on the dodgy evidence. It was as if it hadn’t happened. The next time, I saw Inspector Dykes he was in the Supreme Court trying to get an order to stop peaceful protesters marching down King Street, Newtown.
In 1997, a Royal Commission into the NSW Police force found that police routinely lied in courts. This did lead to police interviews being videoed which made it hard to fabricate confessions. But defence lawyers have told that it is not unusual for police to lie in court.
So I was not shocked when police admitted in court this week that the allegation that there was an ambulance on the harbour bridge with its lights shining and siren blaring, when climate change protesters blocked traffic was not true. The ambulance did not exist. This purpose of the allegation was used to inflame antagonism towards protesters and prejudice the Magistrate Alison Hawkins.
Last week, I published an article in City Hub about the false allegation, which you can read here. I analyse how the police false hoods were built into the sentencing by Magistrate Hawkins. She even imagined a sick person inside the non-existent ambulance whose life Coco had recklessly put in danger.
This story also includes information on the cases of two other Bridge protesters and another Extinction Rebellion Drumming protester who was charged under other road rules rather than the protest laws and was able to prove his innocence.
Anti protest laws set up regime designed to crush dissent
But there is more to the anti-protest laws than arrests. Behind the scenes, there have been unexpected police visits to potential protesters warning to them not to attend potential protests. In some cases, the police pretend that you can’t legally have a protest without a police permit. This is not correct. Bail conditions are also being improperly used to break up networks of protesters and severely restrict protesters movements in ways that are similar to a form of punishment called home detention.
Here are some of my others stories.
Strike Force Guard violates activists’ human rights
This story for the Saturday Paper focused on how Strike Force Guard, a special police squad set up after the laws were passed, spied on a peaceful protest camp, arrested people, successfully argued in favour of activists being held in custody and then insisted on bail conditions which meant those charged were forced to endure months of partial home detention and restrictions on contact with up to 30 individuals. Some of these cases are yet to be heard but taken collectively, this was a massive human rights violation.
If you cannot access this story, please contact me and I will arrange to send it to you. I also did a 7 am podcast.
“It’s to be the crowd”- Knitting Nannas call for urgent repeal of anti-protest laws
While NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet was calling for the courts to throw the book at Violet Coco, community groups were building a campaign to support repeal.
The Environmental Defenders’ Office is acting for Knitting Nannas who are challenging the validity of the new laws. Marie Flood said: “Now is the time to BE THE CROWD – we can’t afford to fall for attempts to divide the climate movement. We all want to save the climate, and to do that we need to protect democracy.”
I covered the campaign in this story in December 2022.
NSW Police want Coco kept in custody but judge releases her on bail
In December 2022, I covered Violet Coco’s release on bail. This story covers the protest before the hearing, the bail hearing at which Coco appeared on audio-visual link from prison and the judge’s rejection of a strict curfew in granting bail. Note by the way that the NSW Police wanted to keep Coco in prison for months until her appeal on sentencing. I also introduced the campaign that is building against the laws. You can read the story here.
Inner West Labor refuses to support motion repealing protest laws.
I was disappointed when Inner West Labor used their narrow majority of one to defeat a motion calling for repeal of NSW’s draconian anti-protest laws at the Inner West Council. The motion was moved by the Greens Councillor and current candidate for Balmain Kobi Shetty and Greens Councillor Liz Atkins and supported by both progressive independent Councillors John Stamolis and Pauline Lockie. A similar motion moved at the City of Sydney was unanimously supported.
Labor Councillor and Balmain candidate for Labor in the 2023 state election Phillipa Scott voted against repeal. This is consistent with Labor’s stance in favour of the laws. As far as I am aware no Labor candidate has called for repeal.
The police must also be held accountable for their lies.
You can read the story here.