By ASHNA BHARKHADA
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge pleaded Not Guilty at Manly Local Court on Thurs 16 Jan for failing to obey police orders at a climate change protest outside Kirribbili House last December.
Shoebridge, along with ten other activists, was arrested on 19 Dec at a peaceful demonstration involving school-aged children who opposed Scott Morrison’s decision to take a vacation in Hawaii during Australia’s bushfire crises.
It was “gross police overreach,” Shoebridge told reporters outside the court on Thursday morning.
“[The school kids] weren’t blocking traffic, they weren’t creating a public safety issue, they were exercising their right to demand to the Prime Minister to get back to work and address the climate crises.”
Several people surrounded the courthouse to show their support, with many holding up signs defending the right to protest.
“You will not arrest your way out of this climate crises,” Shoebridge said. “My plan is to prove it’s not illegal to protest in this country.”
Izzy Raj-Seppings, the 13-year-old girl whose video went viral in December when she was threatened by police while protesting at the same demonstration, said, “I felt humiliated, I felt like I had done something wrong, I felt like a criminal.
“You can’t keep arresting people for protesting, it’s not going to work, we’re going to come back louder and stronger,” she said.
Angela Michaelis and Ellen Roberts, two activists arrested at the protest, pleaded guilty to the charges and were given a 9-month good behaviour bond without conviction.
The others had their case adjourned, with most seeking legal advice on how to proceed.
Shoebridge’s case was adjourned to Jan 31 at the Downing Centre Local Court.
Cracking Down on Protesting
Australia has seen many cases of protesters being threatened with penalties and imprisonment over the past year, especially those in climate demonstrations and vegan protests on agricultural properties.
Freedom of expression rights in Australia came under “unprecedented pressure” in 2019, according to Human Rights Watch.
The Right to Farm bill, passed through NSW Parliament last October, received backlash from many animal rights’ activists who believed it would limit their right to protest.
The controversial legislation allows farmers to continue their legal businesses without being subject to fear of harassment and trespassing on their property, charging disobeyers with a fine of up to $13,000 and 12 months in jail.
When Extinction Rebellion made waves through the country last year, many states adjusted their laws to penalize protesting behaviors. Police were granted new anti-protest powers that allowed them to “move on” protestors. Queensland police were given the right to search suspected climate change protestors.
Hereafter protestors are likely to face arrest for a number of offenses while in the act of demonstrating, including resisting police, obstructing traffic, offensive conduct and unlawful assembly.
“What we’ve seen over the past decade and a half is a whole series of additional police powers and fresh offences that criminalise activism and protest. We need a review that looks at the cumulative impact of all these laws,” Shoebridge told the Sydney Morning Herald.