Qld activists could be jailed over three-minute protest

Speaker Curtis Pitt called the Queensland parliament protest "horrendous".

Speaker Curtis Pitt called the Queensland parliament protest "horrendous". Photo: AAP

It was over almost before it began, but a demonstration in the public gallery of Queensland’s parliament could see climate activists spend a lot more time than that behind bars.

In November 2022, 14 Extinction Rebellion protesters used a balcony that overlooks the chamber to unfurl banners demanding an end to fossil fuel use, with some gluing themselves to handrails.

Their rowdy chants of “Stop coal! Stop gas!” forced MPs to suspend parliamentary proceedings from 10.22am to 10.25am.

The activists were later charged with disturbing the legislature, which carries a maximum penalty of three years behind bars.

Brisbane Magistrates Court is expected to consider their fate on Monday.

The case is coming to a head amid warnings by a United Nations investigator that Australia’s crackdown on the right to protest could stifle the momentum needed to tackle the climate crisis.

The UN Special Rapporteur on toxic threats and human rights, Marcos Orellana, recently toured Australia and at the end of his official visit raised serious concerns about “troubling” and “draconian” restrictions on the right to protest in several states.

The right to dissent

He did not name those states but said peaceful protests are a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of assembly, enabling citizens to mobilise their concerns and make them visible to public authorities.

He later elaborated, telling AAP: “Where civil society, where individuals find obstacles and high risks to peaceful protest, its ability to articulate democratic pressure for change is undoubtedly greatly diminished.”

Queensland law does enshrine the right to assemble peacefully with others in a public place.

But there are restrictions to protect public safety, maintain public order and protect the rights and freedoms of others, including their right to carry on their business.

The charge of disturbing the legislature says anyone who intentionally disturbs a parliamentary sitting, or whose disorderly conduct tends to interrupt proceedings or impair due respect, is guilty of a criminal offence.

Former Queensland state epidemiologist John Sheridan is among the 14 charged.

He says governments that continue to exploit and export the fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis must be held to account.

‘A final plea for climate sanity’

“Innumerable scientists have spoken and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made a final plea for climate sanity. There is no excuse whatsoever for continued fossil fuel developments,” he said.

Another of the 14, psychologist Di Tucker, said Queensland was planning to replace coal-fired power stations with one hand, while signing off on new coal and gas projects with the other.

“Australia’s emissions continue to rise, we remain the world’s 3rd-largest exporter of fossil fuels, and Queensland continues to expand new and existing coal and gas mines,” she said.

“Our governments are failing us.”

In the immediate aftermath of the protest, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told parliament it was ironic the drama unfolded as she was discussing renewable energy.

“Our democracy should be able to function without any fear for members’ security. People have the right to protest silently in public, and I endorse that, but there are rules in this chamber,” she said.

Speaker Curtis Pitt called the protest “horrendous” as he ordered parliament’s sergeant-at-arms to close the public gallery and confiscate devices used to record the protest.”

The Environmental Defenders Office is defending the group of 14.

—with AAP

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