Hundreds of Tasmanians, Unions & Activists Stage Protestival

Hundreds of Hobartians will join together this Saturday from 10am to 5pm, to celebrate their right to protest on the lawns of Parliament House, as an act of community objection to the latest iteration of Tasmania’s anti-protest laws.

The ‘Protestival’ has been organised by local collective Grassroots Action Network Tasmania, prominent union heads from around the state including Unions Tasmania and the Health and Community Services Union, and a suite of other environmental and social groups. 

Speakers will feature representatives of this diverse network, including Nala Mansell, Rodney Croome, Jess Munday, Rachel Hay and Arad Nik. There are plans to lead the community in a march through the centre of town to express their belief that protest is a human right, before returning to Parliament Lawns to enjoy local musicians, panel discussions, artmaking, storytelling and stall-holding.

Having passed Tasmania’s Lower House, with Labor’s support, the laws will see individuals charged with their first non-violent offence face up to 18 months in jail or a $12, 975 fine – the same penalty as that for aggravated assault or trespass with a gun.

According to a member of Grassroots Action Network Tasmania, Leila Atkinson, the laws represent a harsh suppression of free speech and democratic rights, enabling a chilling descent into fascism and profit-fuelled destruction. 

“The current anti-protest laws are the most recent development in the government’s systematic attack on our rights. Similar laws have already been passed in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, with disproportionate consequences for non-violent, peaceful protestors. The Protestival will be a celebration of protest and community – a united front of organisations, campaigns and people who will not be scared or silenced.”

The laws exemplify a dangerous and worrying shift away from Tasmania’s and Australia’s long history of protest, with historic cases including the Blockade of the Franklin River Dam, the largest Australian civil disobedience action for gay law reform, and the returning of Aboriginal ancestral remains. 

At 11am on the same day, an open-mic rally is planned for Launceston at Civic Square. Hosted by Local Issues, the event will promote free speech principles, community solidarity and discussions on what a functioning democracy looks like.

The passing of these laws is not just a huge breach of human rights but highlights that the Tasmanian Government cares more about profits than Tasmania’s wild places and its peoples’ democratic rights, and less about the safety of workers than they claim. 

The LNP and ALP assert to be protecting workers’ safety and Tasmania’s economy, but since 2014 no injuries have been reported to WorkSafe as a result of protests, the laws do not protect workers who protest on their own worksites and no unions or union representatives were consulted in the making of these laws. 

With the weakest political donation laws in the country, Tasmanian politicians of the LNP and ALP are known to be beholden to the interests of the Native Logging Industry, the Federal Group and foreign corporations. 

“With the acceleration of the climate emergency, First Nations peoples’ fights for land justice and treaty, and continuous attacks on Australia’s democratic rights such as the Religious Discrimination Bill, the imperative for community strength and collective action is greatest. Protest has been, and will always be, a staple of our democracy worthy of celebration, and necessary for the people.”