The High Court has determined a special case on Tasmanian forestry protest laws and the implied freedom of political communication, holding that the central anti-protest provisions of the challenged legislation were invalid because they impermissibly burdened the freedom of political communication implied in the Commonwealth Constitution.
The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 (Tas) contains a range of provisions that prohibit persons from engaging in protest activities. Section 4 defines protest activities as activities taking place on a business premises or an ‘access area’ in relation to a business, that is ‘in furtherance of’ or ‘for the purposes of promoting awareness of or support for’ an ‘opinion, or belief’ about a ‘political, environmental, social, cultural or economic issue’. Business premises also include forestry land and land on which forestry operations are being carried out, and ‘access areas’ include the areas around and outside those premises. Section 6 provides that a protester must not enter or do an act on a business premises that prevents, hinders or obstructs the carrying on of a business activity. Section 6(4) makes it an offence to disobey a police officer’s order, made under s 11, to leave the premises, directed at a person that the officer reasonably believes has committed, is committing or is about to commit a contravention of s 6. Section 8(1) makes it an offence to re-enter an area near where that person received a s 11 direction to leave, within four days of receiving that direction. That area is not limited to the area in which the direction was issued: it extends to any area outside ‘forestry land’. Section 11 also contains police powers to direct groups to leave areas, and s 13 contains powers for police to make warrantless arrests for contraventions of the Act for specified purposes.
The plaintiffs were present in the Lapoinya Forest while forestry operations were being carried out there, and engaged in raising public and political awareness about the logging operations and voicing protests against it. They were arrested and charged under the Act for offences against s 8(1) and s 6(4), though the charges were ultimately not proceeded with and dismissed. Before the High Court, they challenged the validity of provisions of the Act noted above (ss 6, 8, 11, 13 and pt 4 of the Act). While the stated Special Case contained a first question on the standing of the plaintiffs to seek relief, the defendants conceded that the plaintiffs had standing and the question no longer needed to be answered (see , and see below for the full order).
The High Court held, by majority (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ, Gageler J, Nettle J) that the impugned provisions did impermissibly burden the implied freedom of political communication and were thus invalid. Gordon J held that only s 8 was invalid, and Edelman J held the Act was valid in its entirety.
The Joint Judgment (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ)
After reviewing the background to the matter, the history of the Act, and the impugned provisions (see –), the joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ) turned to analyse the terms, operation and effect of the Protesters Act. The impugned provisions together had a significant deterrent effect on protestors, Continue reading