Gatherings such as the Byron Deserves Better rally against the West Byron Developments will be more easily dispersed by government officials from July 1.
Gatherings such as the Byron Deserves Better rally against the West Byron Developments will be more easily dispersed by government officials from July 1. Christian Morrow

Next week, your right to protest may be gone

IN JUST six days a person's right to gather or assemble on public land may cease to exist, unless the state government allows it.

On July 1, the Crown Land Management Regulation 2018 (NSW) will come into effect, meaning the State Government will have wider powers on deciding whether people can take part "in any gathering, meeting or assembly" on Crown land - which is land owned by the State Government including areas such as town squares, parks, roads, beaches, and community halls.

The regulation empowers an authorised officer such as a police officer, council or government officer to, at their discretion, disperse any assembly or gathering on any crown land anywhere in NSW. The penalty for disobeying such a ban or order to stop meeting in public could be up to $11,000.

Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice lecturer Aidan Ricketts said the regulation to the existing Crown Land Management Act 2016 was an encroachment of democratic freedom.

"This regulation is momentous because it removes an underlying common law right to protest in a public space," Mr Ricketts said.

"We've always had a right to protest in public unless we were obstructing traffic or a pedestrian.

"It is an absolutely fundamental to democratic culture that anyone should be able to go to a park, put down a soap box, stand on it and address a crowd of people. It's an outrageous example of creeping totalitarianism where the government really takes it upon itself to make public space closable at it's whim."

Mr Ricketts said the regulation wouldn't stop protests from taking place in the future.

"There will still be protests, the government just is making it more and more difficult to have a simple lawful democratic protest," he said.

"All protests are going to end up as lawful offences."

Last week, Greens Member of the Legislative Council David Shoebridge sought to disallow this regulation. The government prevented debate on this motion.

Council for Civil Liberties Michael Brull said if the regulations are allowed to stand, it would mean virtually all public events will only occur with the tolerance of public officials.

"Our right to assemble on public land will become something less than a licence," Mr Brull said.

"That right may temporarily be granted by public officials, but it may just as easily be withdrawn, at any time, for any reason.

"It is shocking that the government would pass such a sweeping attack on our civil liberties, and then prevent parliamentary debate on the subject."

A spokesperson for the Minister for Lands and Forestry Paul Toole said The new regulation dealing with gatherings and protests ensures that the managers of the land have the ability to prohibit activities that are unsafe or unauthorised.

"Any suggestion the new regulation is designed to ban protests is simply wrong, particularly when similar measures have been in place for more than a decade," they said.

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