Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on this bill.
In 2013, a forestry worker named John Creighton was killed on the North Coast, struck by a falling tree branch.
The coroner’s report stated his death related “directly and solely to the presence of unlawful protesters” on private property.
These protesters were executing a guerrilla tactic called “black wallaby” – placing themselves near trees being cut down and endangering their lives.
Mr Creighton was brought to the site as a look out – to ensure the safety of workers and protesters – and this is where he was killed.
As the Member for Coffs Harbour said at the time: “Mr Creighton should not have been there. He did not need to be there. A family has lost their father because of the actions of green protestors.”
In 2016, this Government introduced legislation aimed at protecting public safety, following numerous dangerous incidents from protestors at mining and logging sites
Things like tampering with detonators, suspending themselves from cranes, scaling coal loaders, chaining themselves to gates and locking onto bulldozer blades.
The purpose of that bill was to deter unlawful activities that threaten safety – but still ensuring people were able to communicate their opinions through peaceful protest.
In other words, that bill criminalised dangerous action – not opinion.
But here are some of the things Labor and Greens members said about that bill during its debate:
Labor MLC Walt Secord
“This bill erodes a fundamental right in Australia – the right to lawfully protest.”
Labor MLC Sophie Cotsis
“Peaceful protest and the right to peaceful assembly. That is how we get things done. That is how we get change.”
Greens MLC David Shoebridge
“Protest has changed our world. Protest has democratised our world. Protest has civilised our world.”
The Member for Keira
“The legislature should always stand up for the right of people to oppose, to protest in a peaceful manner and to stand up for what they believe in.”
The Member for Summer Hill
“Locking yourself to a gate is not extremist— it is courageous.. It is an act by people who have been made to feel powerless and voiceless, and who are peacefully taking a stand.”
The Member for Newtown
“The power and intimidation of the police force in New South Wales has been inflicted on peaceful protesters for too long, and is already too great. We ..value… our right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.”
The Member for Cessnock
“I wonder what I will say to my children in the future when they say, “Daddy, why do we not have freedom of speech? Why do we not have the right to voice an opinion? Why do we not have the right to protest? ”
And lastly Labor MLC Penny Sharpe – the co-author of today’s bill – said this:
“We live in a free society where the right to peaceful protest is part of our democratic contract and what it is to be a citizen. It is part of our right to object, to stand up for the things we believe in and have a different view. It is fundamental to who we are and who we should be.”
Speaker, I came here today as a Liberal, prepared to argue the case for free speech and the right to political expression.
But it is clear I do not need to.
Our opponents understand all too well the fundamental importance of the right to free speech.
They just do not want to extend it to those they disagree with.
12 months ago, Labor and Greens members stood in this place to defend the right of people to undertake dangerous actions – for a cause they support.
Today, they line up to vote for a bill that criminalises speech – for a cause they oppose.
This makes their words hollow and their principles worthless.
The Left at its heart is a protest movement.
Left wing students routinely occupy university offices.
Climate change protesters vandalise the Opera House
Anti-whaling protesters board boats
WestConnex protesters block construction.
And Union protesters form picket lines outside factories and block people from going to work and doing their job
At all this – the Left are silent
This bill today exposes the rank hypocrisy of a movement that thrives on protest
The Left demand the right to protest wherever they want, whenever they want, however they want
No matter the inconvenience, the cost – and yes the harm – to anyone else.
That’s the right they demand for themselves.
The reality is that anything the Left don’t agree with is immediately labelled as harassment or hate speech – because it easier to label someone than to debate their ideas.
There is no intellectual or philosophical substance here.
This bill has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with the abuse of power.
Let’s make no mistake – It is those who preach endlessly about inclusion that today are creating zones of exclusion.
I know there are those here today who are voting for this bill with the genuine intention of protecting women from harassment.
That is a noble aim and we all share it.
But every single day in this country, hundreds of peaceful protesters gather outside abortion clinics as they have for decades.
If there was a daily pattern of violence, intimidation and harassment going on as those opposite claim, these offences would be addressed by police under current laws.
But this is not happening.
And there are already laws which protect people from harassment and intimidation.
We have a criminal code that prevents and punishes violence.
And no one has shown in this debate they are insufficient.
While greater legal minds than mine can deal with the technicalities of the law, I am here today to talk about the principle.
These protesters are not chaining themselves to doors.
They are not on private land, but public land.
They are not tampering with explosives.
They are not endangering their lives, the lives of others or the lives of police
Yet they are guilty of having the one thing the political left cannot tolerate – a different point of view
That unborn human life deserves protection – an offer of help – and of hope.
And for that – under this bill – they will be thrown into prison.
This bill is not about abortion.
It is about mobilising the machinery of the state to silence those with different views.
That’s why it establishes what it calls “safe access zones”
But let’s call them for what they really are – censorship zones – where police will be asked to arrest people simply for expressing their opinion.
As our opponents have pointed out – and I couldn’t have said it better myself – silencing free speech is wrong.
That’s why I also oppose recent calls by other institutions to establish their own exclusion zones around areas like churches.
These zones are wrong no matter where they are – and I say to them – you do not fight tyranny with tyranny.
This bill is unprincipled in the extreme.
It is the epitome of bad law.
Its prohibitions are so broad I am sure it will be subject to legal challenge
And it may well be unconstitutional.
It is fundamentally a crude attempt to sanitise our public places
To silence those who refuse to turn a blind eye to the value of both mother and child.
And to remove from our public spaces any trace of the witness that is a daily reminder of the dignity of every human life.
Speaker, it is no surprise the collectivists opposite have a binding party position on this issue.
Their ideology is rooted in the very idea of trampling freedom, denying agency and erasing individual rights in favour of the state.
What a damning indictment it is that a party which cannot even offer its own members internal freedom is now in the business of denying the freedoms to others.
In contrast, the Liberal Party recognises we are a free people
That respect for humanity starts with respect for human life.
That our rights of life, liberty and property are the bedrock of freedom.
And that we have sent our fathers and sons and daughters to the far corners of the world to fight for this freedom – and to die for it.
And yet here today, we stand in this place debating a bill that is about taking freedom away.
To enact legislation that has emanated from the extreme left of the Labor Party – supported by a National Party that should know better.
What is the point of liberals and conservatives being in office, if they are not in power to oppose bills like this?
Our party is in the business of increasing liberty, not restricting it.
This bill is bad law, bad precedent and bad politics – and anyone who is a friend of freedom should reject it.
I would encourage those who vote for this bill to consider this:
It’s very easy to take away someone else’s freedom
But next time – it may just be your freedom – that is taken away
And therefore I oppose this bill