Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022
(Debate, 30 & 31 March 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Second Reading Debate:
I speak tonight as the member in this place whose electorate is probably home to the most amount of protests in the State: Sydney. I am proud of that fact. My electorate is accepting of disruption. I am also here as a member who has been targeted by many protests for some of the causes which I back. I understand that when you push for things you need to cop that, but you do not respond by criminalising protests. I think of two really profound protest moments in our history. I think of the No War protest on the Sydney Opera House. Those protesters were right when they did that. We reflect on that now and see that they were right. Under the bill the message we are sending is that the penalties for those people who protested were not strong enough. I also think of another protest. I think of the 78ers march, which is now known as the first Mardi Gras. The message this House is sending tonight with this bill is that the penalties that those brave men and women copped were not strong enough. If it had not been for that march, if it had not been for the fact that brave people stood up, took to the streets and caused disruption, LBGTI rights and my place in this Parliament likely would have been set back a number of years.
We need political protest that makes us in this building uncomfortable. What we are saying tonight is that we do not like that discomfort, we do not like that disruption. Without that disruption, we would not have major reality checks like the No War slogan being painted on the Sydney Opera House—by the way, photos of that protest are now proudly displayed as part of the Powerhouse Museum's collection. Without disruption, we would not have moments like the Mardi Gras, which is now not only a sign of amazing hope to people around the world but contributes so much to our economy. Parliaments did not act like this when those two things happened. They did not say, "We need to make it more difficult for people to protest. We need to increase the penalties." But that is what we are doing today, in this place, in 2022.
Would it have deterred the 78ers if the very conservative Parliament that existed in 1978 immediately sat to say, "We need to lock up those gay men for longer. We need to charge those allies more money for protesting." It certainly would not have. It would have actually increased their resolve. That makes me ask the question: Why are we here tonight? We know that the bill is not going to stop protests against the inaction that we have seen, particularly from the Federal Government on climate change. We know it will probably only increase the resolve of those taking this kind of direct action. We are actually sending them the message that what they are doing is working, that it is having an impact. In 10 or 20 years we will be looking back on tonight with shame because we know that the No War protest was right. We know that the 78ers were doing an amazing job charging forward for LGBTI rights, and we know that those people who are protesting against the inaction on climate change are also right.
Last weekend I was very lucky to have my eight-month-old nephew arrive from Germany. You see the need for real action on climate change when you see babies and you think about the world we are leaving them. You think about the fact that the climate is getting hotter and that natural disasters are occurring more often—we are seeing them right now. Yet for those people who are trying to send a message to us, we are trying to send a message back to them. But members all know that what we are doing is not going to have an impact. Yes, we might put some people in jail for a bit longer. Yes, we might charge people a bit more money in fines. They do not care. The work they are doing is trying to save the planet. For them, that is the greatest cause. The responsible action from the Government and the Opposition would be to engage with those protestors, to see what action could be taken. The urgency motion we should be dealing with now is condemning the Federal Government for its inaction on climate change in the budget last night, actually cutting expenditure. That is what we should be doing.
I know that there are smart, good-willed people in this building, so I wonder why we are here. We know the bill is not going to have the desired impact. So who exactly are we appeasing? We are dealing with this bill because of 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. We are not dealing with this bill because we are trying to have a real impact. For those new members in the Chamber, tonight is New South Wales Parliament at its worst. It is whenThe Daily Telegraph and 2GB form our policy, policy that we will regret down the track.
I thank The Greens for their leadership and for the amendments they are putting forward. Tonight is a really embarrassing night for our Parliament. Tonight we are seeing a total act of cowardice. We are going to pretend we are not listening to these protestors. We are going to fine them and put them in jail for a bit longer. Really? Is that how we are doing policy in this place now? This bill is appalling. The way it has been rushed is appalling. Again, I thank The Greens for their leadership on it. Again, I reflect on those '78ers. This bill would not have stopped them; it would have increased their resolve. Had that Parliament put in a bill like this the day after that protest, which blocked streets and disrupted people, that would have been included in our apology to the '78ers. That is how we would have dealt with it. But now we are creating some new fines and new offences. I am really embarrassed that Parliament is doing this tonight. This is not urgent business; this is offensive business.
Consideration In Detail (amendments):
I support The Greens amendments that seek to insert a definition of reasonable excuse to include conduct taken by a person who has a genuine belief in the urgency of climate action, or to raise awareness or otherwise lobby for prevention of further global warning, or the need to better prepare for the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. I reflect on the remarks made by the Attorney General about the Spit Bridge and the way in which the demonstration that occurred there impacted on people's lives. I believe that most people who live in and around the Spit Bridge would fall into the definition provided here. I think that the people who live in and around the Spit Bridge are gravely disappointed, particularly in the Federal Government, at the lack of inaction on climate change. If they knew that tonight in this Parliament we were trying to increase the penalties and jail time for people who are trying to bring awareness to the failure of the Federal Government to take action on climate change, they would be pretty disappointed.
Their disappointment would soon turn from the Federal Coalition Government to the New South Wales Coalition Government. They will express that at the next Federal election. We will see strong votes for Independents on the North Shore of Sydney. We will see good results for Zali Steggall and good results in North Sydney and that is because we have strong Independents in those areas who take action on climate change seriously, who listen to those people who are trying to drive home the message that there is no more urgent action a person could be taking than on climate change. Yes, disruption is uncomfortable. Yes, direct action can offend some people. But we are burning. We are flooding. Our Pacific neighbours are sinking. The concerns I have about that are more important than disrupting the lives of people who live in and around the Spit Bridge, who would want us to be opposing this bill tonight, who will be expressing their frustration with the Federal Coalition at the next Federal election because of failures that have occurred there. I support the amendments and I thank The Greens for moving them.
Legislative Council Amendments:
Once again, I state my opposition to this bill. I do that as the member whose electorate has the most protests, as a member who has been part of many protests and as a member who has experienced many protests against them.
I found his example of the Knitting Nannas quite a remarkable one to use. The Knitting Nannas have blocked streets and tied themselves to buildings. They have sat outside my office. Under this bill, the Knitting Nannas face two years in prison and a penalty of $22,000 each. I reiterate the point that I made in my contribution to the second reading debate. The bill will not stop people from engaging in climate action; it will simply embolden them further. Today the Parliament has sent a message that what they are doing is working. The remarkable contribution of the Leader of the Opposition will be seen as a success by groups such as Blockade Australia and others. They know they are having an impact and making people in this building feel uncomfortable. To suggest that people who live in and around the Spit Bridge or work in and around Port Botany do not understand the dire nature of climate change is completely incorrect. They understand it and they take it seriously. I know that my very diverse range of constituents appreciate people sounding the alarm.
The bill will not stop the situations and examples that were provided by members in their contributions. It will embolden people to take further action. The only thing that will stop those examples that have been provided is meaningful engagement, particularly by our Federal Government, to take real action on climate change. I acknowledge the Attorney General's remarks about the way in which this Government is taking action on climate change seriously—I support it and I endorse that. But we have a Federal Government that, in its budget, cut expenditure for action on climate change appallingly. We know that voters will probably make their voices heard at the next Federal election about that.
The other point that has been made in this place—and I know it has been aired on 2GB—is the credit I have given that radio station for this legislation. I congratulate 2GB. The Government and the Opposition have met the deadline that was set by 2GB to rush through this poorly drafted legislation, which will have no meaningful impact other than to see fines increased and more people spending more time in jail. We hear a lot about harm‑minimisation approaches and the importance of redirecting people out of the criminal justice system. Yet here we are, wanting to send people who care about our planet to jail or fine them more in some kind of failed attempt to limit the disruption to people who live in and around the Spit Bridge from going about their ordinary lives.