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Premier Palaszczuk Seeks to Lock Out Activism

Premier Palaszczuk Seeks to Lock Out Activism

By Austen Hunt 

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The Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszcuk, is facing controversy as she introduces a bill aimed at protesters. The new law aims to limit the extent to which peaceful protests can occur by outlawing the use and possession of locking devices which have historically been central to displays of environmental justice.

Locking devices have long been central to peaceful protests. Protesters have been tying themselves to trees, occupying private spaces and preventing themselves from being quickly ushered along by authorities through the use of ‘lock down’ tactics. 

The bill has caused significant backlash, being labelled ‘draconian’ by political parties and civil groups alike.It aims to limit the ability of protesters to engage in civil disobedience by allowing police authorities to arrest individuals who are in possession of such devices. The Premier has sought to justify these new measures by claiming that protesters are putting their arms inside devices that contain “glass fragments - even butane gas containers - so that anyone trying to cut a protester free will be injured or worse” 

What’s more, Police Minister Mark Ryan has described protesters as “extremists”: a concerning title that seeks to conflate peaceful protesters with a term associated with radicalism and violent behaviour.

The law has been criticised as being irrelevant, as police already have the power to ‘search anybody they suspect to be in possession of something intended to cause harm’. To date, there has been no proof provided, beyond the rhetoric of the Premier, that the locking devices in question have the capacity to cause harm to the public.

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The introduction of the new law comes as the debate around the lack of action on climate change continues to rage. The law has seemingly been introduced in reaction to the series of protests organised by prominent groups such as the Extinction Rebellion. Earlier this month the state oversaw the arrest of over 70 climate protesters in Brisbane’s CBD for exercising their democratic freedoms. A portion of these arrests have been labelled as being ‘premature’ as 15 men and 12 women aged between 19 and 65 were arrested before 8:30am. They were arrested in related to offences such as: contravening direction, obstruction of police, obstructing traffic, and (what may be the most ironic of them all) a breach of peace. 

In contrast to these arrests, The Queensland government has displayed a reluctance to act on the negligence of developers. This can be seen through the government's approval of the Adani coal mines development despite the heinous pollutants they have been responsible for even prior to their commencement. 

The Marine Conservation organisation found that Adani had released “more than 800% the allowable level of coal-laden water into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area” In February of this year. This has not prevented the endorsement from the Queensland government and has been seemingly glossed over in support of economic development. 

The negligence of such developers was quickly forgiven by the Queensland Premier as she established a 24 hour deadline on the 12th of June to approve the controversial GroundWater Management Plan. Despite displaying egregious cases of negligence in regards to environmental damages in the past, the Department of Environment and Science said that Adani had “addressed the departments feedback” and earned the approval of the Queensland Government. 

The new law has displayed a willingness on the part of the Queensland government to crack down on those who would oppose the development of fossil fuel infrastructure. Despite the consistent and growing public concern towards the long term impacts of fossil fuels on the environment, the Queensland government has continued to prioritise extractive practices and sought to suppress its public. 

The new law, while being endorsed by the government, lacks the legitimacy to deter climate protesters as the public continues to show their support for their environment and wellbeing of future generations.

Public resistance finds a way. In direct defiance to the new law and occuring no longer than a day after it was announced in parliament, John Williams, a concerned emu-park based father, has ‘locked’ himself onto a drill at the Adani mine site. 

Frontline Action on Coal spokesperson Kim Croxford has said this kind of protest is “part of a growing, non-violent movement of concerned citizens” who are displaying that the public is “determined to protect our wonderful world from the extreme impacts of climate and ecological breakdown”.  

In attempting to introduce this bill, the Queensland government has displayed a stark contrast between how it treats public dissent compared to private negligence. The government is willing to limit democratic displays by force, while in the same state overlooking illegal breaches from developers are considered commonplace. These breaches can be found if one looks no further than the topical Adani Carmichael coal mines history; having risked contaminating the groundwater in the Galilee Basin, prompting the need for the groundwater management plan, and prematurely beginning construction prior to receiving approvals.

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