A coalition of environment groups protested outside the Victorian Parliament against the Labor government’s draconian anti-protest bill on June 21.
The coalition, including the Victorian Forest Alliance and Extinction Rebellion, called on MPs to withdraw the Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022.
They held up banners reading “Logging is criminal in a climate emergency” and “logging fuel climate catastrophe”. The Red Rebels and Blinky the giant koala, as well as the Melbourne Climate Choir, also made an appearance.
One protester told Green Left they opposed “undemocratic laws” that would criminalise forest blockades and other forms of peaceful protest aimed at defending the environment.
As the Environmental Defenders Office pointed out, New South Wales and Tasmania have recently enacted new anti-protest laws.
Anthony Kelly from the Melbourne Activist Legal center (MALS) told Green Left The bill is similar to those laws which “target interventionist forest blockading”.
“The bill increases the penalty for simply being in the forest area, in a forest coupe,” he said. “It also criminalises those with lock-on devices and things used in forest blockading.”
It also allows authorized officers “very intrusive search powers,” he said, including being able to search vehicles and people “simply for being in a forest”.
“There is a lot of concern… due to [the bill’s] draconian nature and how it really shrinks the space which people have to protest forest destruction.”
The bill will also criminalise Traditional Owners from protecting Country under threat from logging. It includes penalties of $21,000 in fines or 12 month’s jail.
“Its targeted legislation that is aimed at criminalizing disruptive forms of protest, like blockades,” Kelly said. “All forms of protests get in the way; they are all disruptive. Human rights courts recognise that, but governments and industry are targeting protests that are stopping injustices.” It is “critical” to resist these laws, he said.
Victorian Forest Alliance spokesperson Nic Fox said: “The freedom to protest sits at the heart of our democracy.”
Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Miriam Robinson said: “VicForests is currently facing nine different legal cases for unlawful actions in our forests. We must stop this destruction while there is still time. The forests do not belong to the government. They certainly don’t belong to VicForests. They belong to everyone, now and into the future. We have the right to protect them.”