Party plans to move dozens of amendments to bill that introduces new penalties for protests
The Greens are mounting a last-ditch effort to stop the New South Wales government passing a controversial bill which would see protesters who block major roads, ports or train stations face up to two years in prison, by moving dozens of amendments in a late-night sitting session.
The filibuster attempt comes after the government sought to force the hastily drafted bill through both houses of parliament in less than 48 hours.
The legislation introduces fines of up to $22,000 and up to two years in jail for anyone who “enters, remains on, climbs, jumps from or otherwise trespasses” major roads or other transport assets and “seriously disrupts or obstructs vehicles or pedestrians”.
The bill prompted immediate alarm from a swathe of groups including unions, human rights organisations and environmentalists.
On Thursday, the Rev Tim Costello urged the government to reconsider the bill, saying it “does not get the balance right” between the right to peaceful protest and “reckless behaviour”.
“Many charities are concerned that their capacity to call out governments doing the wrong thing will be impeded if they cannot protest, or if any assembly of people can be prosecuted and incur severe penalties including jail time because they are blocking a road,” Costello said.
“We urge the government to reconsider this legislation to ensure peaceful protests can still take place.”
Kieran Pender, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, also questioned if the bill was constitutional, saying it potentially infringed on the implied right to political communication.
“The high court has recognised that the freedom of political communication, including to protest, is an essential component of Australian democracy,” he said.
“There are serious questions about the lawfulness of these proposed changes. We know that other disproportionate and excessive anti-protest measures have been struck down by the court.”
The Coalition was able to rush the bill through the state’s lower house on Wednesday night with the support of the Labor opposition, after it agreed to add carve-outs which exempted industrial action.
But the Greens said those protections were insufficient, pointing out that other protests – including for climate action – would not be protected.
The Greens MP Abigail Boyd told the Guardian the bill had been drafted to “stifle dissent among the people of NSW”.
“This is a government scared of being called out for its failures, uncomfortable with voices of dissent. The Greens intend to force this government to hear some of these dissenting voices tonight.
“This is a legislative agenda cooked up in the 2GB studios.”
The Guardian understands that, despite both major parties’ support for the bill, the Greens and the Animal Justice party will attempt to move about 60 amendments in a bid to delay the bill’s passage on Thursday night.
The government introduced the legislation in response to a series of climate protests which caused disruptions across Sydney in recent weeks, including blockades of Port Botany and the Spit Bridge in the city’s north.
The government last week announced a crackdown on those protests, including the establishment of a police strikeforce, after criticism from some media.
On Wednesday night, the independent MP for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, called the bill a response to “shock jocks and tabloid newspapers”.
“We are dealing with this bill because political leaders gave quick grabs at press conferences that they are trying to back up,” he said.
“Tonight is NSW parliament at its worst. It is when the Daily Telegraph and 2GB form our policy, policy that we will regret down the track.”