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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7854


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (13:03): Today, in the High Court of Australia, the radical and extremist antiprotest laws that were brought in by the Will Hodgman government in Tasmania were ruled, in large part, to be unconstitutional. That is because they unreasonably burdened the implied right to political communication that is enshrined in the Constitution of this country.

The High Court decision today, handed down earlier this morning, is a humiliating defeat for the forces within the Liberal Party, the radicals and the extremists within the Liberal Party, who seek to silence freedom of political expression in this country. Make no mistake, the overriding intent behind this legislation was to stop conservationists being able to express their political opinions in Australia. The legislation contained absolutely draconian provisions, including mandatory imprisonment for people who were engaged in peaceful protest designed to allow themselves to express political opinion.

Of course, what happened was Will Hodgman, after years and years in the political wilderness in Tasmania, was elected to government in 2014 and at his first taste of power failed the true test of leadership. Because he was drunk on power after so long in opposition, and no doubt egged on by Tasmania's most radical, extremist senator, Senator Eric Abetz, he moved forward with the draconian, extremist provisions of the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 that were struck down by the High Court this morning. An inexperienced premier egged on by Senator Eric Abetz, the most radical, extremist senator that currently represents Tasmania, had a rush of blood. He was drunk on power at his very first taste and he put in place laws specifically designed to stop people peacefully protesting and expressing their political convictions in this country.

It is a great day for this country that certain provisions of this legislation have been struck down by the High Court today, and it is a humiliating defeat for Will Hodgman, for Eric Abetz and for everyone else who supported or voted for this obnoxious piece of legislation. It's worth pointing out that the Tasmanian government was warned at length that certain parts of these laws were clearly unconstitutional because they were a burden on the right of the Australian people to express themselves politically and they were clearly and manifestly disproportionate to the aim of the legislation.

I want to quote from Will Hodgman's minister at the time, Mr Harris, in response to observations that I made to him in the Tasmanian parliament. He said, 'We are confident of our legal position.' Well, egg on the face of Will Hodgman's minister there. Confident of his legal position? Not as it turns out. Later on, Mr Harris said to me and to the Tasmanian parliament, 'The bill protects the right to free speech.' No, it doesn't; no, it didn't—and so the High Court have effectively found today.

We have this situation now thanks to a former senator in this place, Dr Bob Brown, who for the umpteenth time in his public life in this country demonstrated that, above any other politician in my experience, he has the courage of his convictions. He got arrested in the Lapoinya forest protesting—

Senator Seselja: You may not have liked him, but he is better than the current one.

Senator McKIM: Senator Seselja again does his Bill the Steam Shovel impression down there. I don't really care what Senator Seselja is saying, because it won't be relevant or make any sense to the discussion we're having here. But, once again, former Senator Brown demonstrated the courage of his convictions. He was arrested in Lapoinya forest while he was trying to shoot a video expressing his views about the logging of that forest. It's a forest that I've been to and I believe, Acting Deputy President Whish-Wilson, that you have too. I'm sure you'd agree with me that it's a beautiful little patch of forest that means so much to the local people there in terms of recreation and their wellbeing. Many local people in that area feel an almost spiritual connection to that forest, much of which has now been destroyed by the loggers in Tasmania.

So former Senator Brown, now Dr Brown, was arrested. I've lost count of the number of times Dr Brown has been arrested. It must be pretty close to double figures now. Every time, he's been arrested on behalf of the Australian people, standing up for what he believes—and I agree—are important issues, like the future of our planetary ecology and like the right that people hold in this country to express their political opinions.

The first humiliating backdown that happened in regard to this matter was when the charges had to be dropped by the Tasmanian government because, once they'd examined the circumstances closely, it turned out that Dr Brown wasn't in a workplace after all. In fact, it's highly likely he was standing in a nature reserve while he was arrested. That's the first point to make: humiliation No. 1 for Will Hodgman and Senator Eric Abetz, those extremists who brought in this law designed to silence political communication in this country, was that they had to drop the charges against the former Senator Brown. But the former Senator Brown, as he has done through his life and his political career, wasn't prepared to let the matter rest and he maintained his challenge against these draconian laws in the High Court.

There are some very big implications of this decision today. Firstly, extremists like Senator Abetz have got egg all over their face. But, secondly, and really importantly, the High Court's decision today can give confidence to the Australian people that they can take action on the ground to stop the proposed Adani coalmine. It is the Australian people who are going to stop this planet- and climate-destroying coalmine, this Great Barrier Reef-destroying coalmine. And they're going to stop it because they've been abandoned by the Coles and Woolworths of Australian politics—the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party—who in zombie lock step, as they so often are, are backing this climate-destroying mine. The Australian people can now have confidence that they can protest against this mine and peacefully blockade against this mine. Make no mistake, that is what is going to happen. As a result of the passion and conviction of the Australian people and not the passion and conviction of any of us in this place, not even such legends as the former Senator Bob Brown, this mine will not go ahead. It will be stopped by ordinary Australians exercising their democratic right to protest and their democratic and constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of political expression. That is the real value of the High Court decision today: to give confidence and impetus to the people's campaign to stop the climate-destroying Adani coalmine. That's what the High Court has done today. I congratulate those judges of the High Court who stood up for our Constitution and stood up for the implied right to political communication enshrined in our constitution.