Activists rally against laws

ABOUT 1000 activists gathered in Hobart yesterday to protest against the state government's anti-protest laws currently before Parliament.

The crowd heard from five speakers including former Greens leader Bob Brown, who criticised the bill as undemocratic.

The Workplace (Protection from Protesters) Bill includes penalties such as $2000 on-the-spot fines, $50,000 fines for individuals and mandatory jail terms for protesters intentionally hindering businesses.

The laws were announced by the government before the election as a measure to combat hard green activism hampering Tasmania's forestry industry.

However, Civil Liberties Australia Tasmanian director Richard Griggs, one of the speakers, said the proposed laws now went a lot further.

"What it comes down to for us is the mandatory prison sentences for those people who gather on public land to protest," he said.

"Prison should only be used to make the community safer, not to frighten it into silence."

Under the legislation, protesters are prohibited from invading a business or obstructing an access zone, such as a road immediately leading to the premises.

But Mr Griggs said he was disturbed by the clause that outlawed a person going on to public property and conducting a protest that resulted in a company car, for example, being hindered or obstructed. "It's one thing to talk about impeding access zones and impeding businesses ... but that fact it goes so much broader and covers public open space, that's clearly an overreach," he said.

Resources Minister Paul Harriss defended the policy, saying the government supported the right to free speech but was enacting pro-worker legislation.

"(It) does not remove the right to protest; it protects workplaces from radical protesters," he said.

"We believe that workers have a right to earn a living without the threat of radical protesters shutting them down."

Mr Harriss said people were spreading misinformation about the laws "to justify their own radical agendas".

"For example, claims that people will offend against the new law if they temporarily block access to a business or stop traffic while undertaking a street march are just plain wrong. The bill is very clear that you must have intent to obstruct access to a business to potentially offend against it," he said.

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