Hansard of Bentley Blockade Motion 15/05/2014

bignumbersbentleyBelow is the Hansard of a Motion moved in the NSW Upper House yesterday (15 May 2014) which successfully passed and calls on the Government to refrain from the using their draconian Emergency Powers under Part 6A of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act to break up and disperse the peaceful community action at the Bentley Blockade.

Jeremy Buckingham moved an amendment to this motion which called on the Government not to use these powers to break up any peaceful protests and this was agreed to by the house.  This sends a powerful message to the NSW Government that the right to peaceful protest must be upheld.

BENTLEY BLOCKADE

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [12.25 p.m.]: I move:

      (1) That this House expresses its support for the right of communities to engage in peaceful, nonviolent protests to protect their land and water.
      (2) That this House acknowledges the strength of community support for the Bentley coal seam gas blockade in northern New South Wales including support from:
        (a) a large cross-section of the local community;
        (b) local councils and mayors; and
        (c) religious and community leaders.
      (3) That this House notes that a 2012 plebiscite in Lismore City Council found that 87 per cent of local residents opposed coal seam gas exploration and production in their area.
      (4) That this House calls on the Coalition Government and the NSW Police Force to:

        (a) ensure that the peaceful nature of the blockade is respected, and
        (b) to refrain from the use of Emergency Powers under Part 6A of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act to break up and disperse this peaceful community action.

This motion is essential business for any Parliament concerned about the right of freedom of expression; the right of peaceful, nonviolent protest; and the right of communities to stand up and unite against destructive industries even if those destructive industries are given permission to operate by the Government of the day. Those communities have a right to stand up against those destructive industries and say that their land and their water is too precious to be destroyed for the sake of the profits of a well-connected gas exploration and mining company. That is what the people of Lismore and the North Coast, and others around the State, are saying.

Right around this State—whether it be in the Pilliga, on the mid North Coast, on the Central Coast or in the Southern Highlands—people are saying that they want their Government to protect them from the destructive impacts of coal seam gas exploration and drilling. They do not want fracking of their aquifers. They want to ensure that the water supporting their communities, farms and towns, which is clean now, will be clean for their kids and their grandkids. If ever there has been a statement of a united community then it has been the Bentley blockade. Religious leaders have come out to support the Bentley blockade. Mayors and councillors have come out to support the Bentley blockade. Local councils have resolved with overwhelming majorities to support the blockade and to approve development applications to allow the protestors and the protectors of the land and water to establish campsites and to have a legal presence at the site to protect their own land and water. If ever there was an example of unity in the face of wrong-headed government policy and bad laws it is the Bentley blockade and the thousands of people from across the spectrum of society who have united against coal seam gas and said they will not allow the drilling rigs into the site to damage their land and water.

The driving force behind the blockades at Glenugie, Bentley, Doubtful Creek and out in the Pilliga is a demand from ordinary people to have clean politics and a clean energy future in this State. Clean politics is at the core of the demand of the people at Bentley. In protest after protest and blockade after blockade a united community has been met with a ratcheting up of police powers by this Government.

We saw the protests and the arrests at Doubtful Creek. Over the past few weeks extraordinary numbers of police have been amassed to go to Bentley with the express intention of this Government to break the blockade. We know that this Government has been seriously considering using the police emergency powers contained in part 6A of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act to break the blockade at Bentley. Governments of this State have an appalling history of using police emergency powers to break up peaceful environmental protests. In 2008 the former Labor Government used the emergency powers to break up the Climate Camp.

The police emergency powers were not put on the statute books to break up peaceful protests or stop concerned citizens from engaging in non-violent protests to protect their land and water. The extraordinary police powers were introduced in 2005 in response to the Cronulla riots. They were rushed through this Parliament on only hours of notice. They were never intended—at least not expressly—to be used for the purpose of breaking up peaceful, non-violent action. When the part 6A powers were being pushed through the Parliament the Premier of the day, Morris Iemma, and the Leader of the Government in this House, the Hon. John Della Bosca, both said:

    These powers are not intended for use in respect of peaceful protests, union demonstrations and the like.

Yet one of the first uses of the powers was to shut down the peaceful Climate Camp protest in 2008. What has this Government been actively considering using them for? To break the Bentley blockade.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: Occupy Sydney.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I hear the Leader of the Government interject they were also being considered for Occupy Sydney.

Dr John Kaye: That’s news.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: It is news that the Government was considering using these appalling powers to break up Occupy Sydney.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: Point of order: The member is misrepresenting what I said, which is not unusual for him. It is no wonder he had to leave the bar if that was his behaviour.

The Hon. Lynda Voltz: To the point of order: The Minister knows full well that he did not cite any standing order. Time and time again when he takes a point of order he makes debating points. I ask that in the future you bring the Minister to order.

DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones): Order! I thank the Hon. Lynda Voltz for her suggestion. There is no point of order.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: For the record, once again the appalling abuse by the Leader of the Government and his personal invective against me has no foundation. I have not left the bar and I have no intention of leaving the bar.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: You’re still working?

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: If the Leader of the Government had a brain, which he clearly does not, he would understand that a person can be a member of the bar without working at the bar. I will move on from that worthless interjection by the member. It was another attempt to throw a spoke in the wheels of democracy to avert the public’s attention from the Government’s brutal anti-environment, anti-community agenda. It comes out time and time again when Government members see a united community and a genuinely democratic groundswell of community support for clean air, clean water and above all—which is what most offends the member—clean politics in this State. Wherever they see it they want to step in and send in the police.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: Point of order: I find the imputation that I am against—

The Hon. Lynda Voltz: You never make any reference to a standing order.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: Can you wait a second?

DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones): Order! The Hon. Lynda Voltz will cease interjecting.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: I find the imputation that I am against clean politics offensive and I ask the member to withdraw.

Dr John Kaye: Unlike the imputation you made about him that he was chucked out of the bar?

The Hon. Duncan Gay: He made imputations about me that were wrong and did not withdraw them. He lied to the Chamber and Dr John Kaye knows that.

Dr John Kaye: You can dish it out but you can’t take it.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: I can dish it out and I can take it.

DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones): Order! Dr John Kaye will cease interjecting.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: To the point of order: For the member who makes constant gross and unfounded aspersions against me in interjections and statements to take a point of order to try to stop a discussion about clean politics in this Chamber shows not only the glass jaw of the member but also the glass jaw of this Government on the issue of clean politics.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: Further to the point of order: It was not about a discussion; it was about a statement that I was against clean politics in this State. I once again ask you to instruct the member to withdraw that allegation. I find it offensive.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The standing orders are quite clear as to how these matters are dealt with. While the words were not offensive, the imputation was offensive. Therefore, I call Mr David Shoebridge to order for the first time.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Thank you, Mr President. I acknowledge and accept your ruling. What are the extraordinary emergency powers that can be used under part 6A? First of all, part 6A allows the Commissioner of Police or a deputy or assistant commissioner to authorise the use of emergency powers when they have reasonable grounds for believing that a large-scale public disorder is occurring or a threat of a disorder and are satisfied that the powers are necessary.

How is public disorder defined? It is defined as a riot or other civil disturbance that gives rise to a serious risk to public safety, whether at a single location or resulting from a series of incidents. The thought that this Government and senior police would consider a peaceful protest to be that kind of civil disorder is deeply disturbing. What is the target area in which they can apply these emergency powers? It is as big or as little as they want. It can be a town, roadway, farm, region or locality. Wherever the senior police determine they want the emergency powers they can draw a line on the map and have the powers in that area.

How long does it last? It lasts for a maximum of 48 hours but of course the police can extend the time by application to the Supreme Court. Where can the powers be exercised? The emergency powers, which I will detail shortly, can be exercised within the target area and any public place in the target area. “Public place” is an extraordinarily broad definition and would almost certainly cover the camp of protesters at Bentley, the paddocks around the entrance to the farm where the blockade is and the roadways in those areas. In addition to the target area, a good many of these powers that allow police to stop, detain and search vehicles and detain property can be exercised anywhere in the State, with certain limitations.

What emergency powers was the Government considering giving to the police? First of all, it was considering giving police the power to set up roadblocks and cordons. To stop and search people or vehicles or to stop people in vehicles entering or leaving the target area police can put a cordon around the target area and establish a roadblock in the target area. Once police have set up their roadblocks and cordons they can stop and search any vehicle in the target area. Police officers can stop and search a vehicle, anything in the vehicle and anyone inside the vehicle without a warrant. They can stop a vehicle for as long as they think reasonably necessary to carry out a search. Having stopped the vehicles and having searched the people within the vehicles, any police officer within the target area can stop and search, without warrant, any person in the target area. They can perform a frisk search on anyone in the target area and they can search anything in the possession of the person in the target area. They can go through a person’s mobile phone records, their backpack or any documents that they have with them, and they can detain a person as long as they think it is reasonably necessary to do that.

The police officers within the target area can demand proof of identity and can demand to know everybody’s name and address. They also can request proof of identity in the form of documentation. Anyone who does not give the police those details faces a criminal offence and a maximum fine of $550 or 12 months imprisonment. Within the target area—and this is where it becomes absolutely like martial law—as part of a search of a vehicle or a person, the police can seize and keep for up to seven days any vehicle, any mobile phone or, as the legislation so extraordinarily phrases it, “any other thing”. They can hold onto that for a maximum of seven days. They can take a person’s vehicle, their mobile phone and all their possessions as a result of a search, if they think it will assist in preventing or controlling public disorder.

As well as that—and here we get to the Joh Bjelke-Petersen powers—a police officer can direct any group of people in the target area to disperse immediately. The police officer only has to tell the group that the direction is given for the purpose of preventing or controlling public disorder. If people do not disperse, if they do not leave the area and if they do not break up the crowd or the blockade, they face a maximum penalty of $550. A wish to maintain the protest and a democratic right to protest would not be considered a reasonable excuse although perhaps the fact that a person is locked onto an object might be: but no doubt that will be tested. The emergency powers also would allow the police to search and detain vehicles that are outside the target area. A police officer can search and detain a vehicle and its occupants and can seize possessions if they suspect on reasonable grounds that the occupants of the vehicle have participated or intend to participate in the public disorder, and the officer is satisfied that the exercise of those powers is reasonably necessary to prevent or control disorder.

Seizure and detention powers also are provided but, thankfully—and this is the one small limitation in the legislation—the police cannot disperse groups outside the target area. Effectively, this is martial law whereby the police will have the power, and other people’s rights will be extremely limited. Those laws should never be considered for use against peaceful protests. We should be demanding now that this Government say it will never use those powers for peaceful environmental protests. I commend the motion to the House, but I commend the strength of the community, the Bentley blockade—those thousands of ordinary individuals who put their lives and their time on the line to protect what is precious to them.

The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Minister for Roads and Freight, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [12.42 p.m.]: Some days when I come into this House I think I am living in a parallel universe. I have just heard a speech that, frankly, does not have a lot to do with the motion. Anybody who listened to the speech made by Mr David Shoebridge would be inclined not to support the motion. Once again it is a speech that is anti the police and anti any powers for the police.

Dr John Kaye: That is just not true.

The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: Dr John Kaye should read Hansard and he will find out that it is true.

DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones): Order! Interjections are disorderly at all times.

The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: The fact is that the focus of police is always on public safety and a non-violent approach to protesters. That is what they do, and that is what they should do. That is why we have the police. I have to say that I find the motion before the House to be supportable. I find it supportable.

Mr Jeremy Buckingham: What have you done, David?

The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: I have actually read the motion. There is a difference between reading the motion and listening to the tripe that comes out of Mr David Shoebridge. The fact is that this motion is pretty much supportable. There are a couple of words which, if I had written the motion, would have been slightly different: But in general terms, it is not a bad motion. It is an aspiration with which, I suspect, no-one in this House would disagree. However, they would certainly disagree with the venom and the viciousness of the attack on the police once again made by The Greens, who are trying to build something into the debate that is not happening.

The fact is that this morning the Minister announced that the drilling approval had been suspended. Once again The Greens have been left like cocky on the biscuit tin—without a chance. The Greens have connived with their political friends, the Labor Party, to bring on a motion—any motion they could find. They saw Corncob Joe’s motion and thought, “That’s a bit controversial. I don’t think we can bring that one on.”, and then they found this motion. When the motion is read, it is a good motion. I have to say that I do not mind it although, as I said, there are couple of words that I would change. The first paragraph states:

      That this House expresses its support for the right of communities to engage in peaceful, nonviolent protests to protect their land and water.

Who could disagree with that philosophy? I have a slight but not huge disagreement with the second paragraph, which states:

      That this House acknowledges the strength of community support for the Bentley coal seam gas blockade in Northern New South Wales including support from:
      (a) a large cross-section of the local community;
      (b) local councils and mayors; and
      (c) religious and community leaders.

Yes, there is support. I think there is tad of exaggeration within that part of the motion, but that is a nuance that could be argued and is worthy of proper debate. The third paragraph states:

      That this House notes that a 2012 plebiscite in Lismore City Council found that 87 per cent of local residents opposed coal seam gas exploration and production in their area.

That is a fact relating to that plebiscite. The wording of that paragraph could be argued, but I will not oppose something that actually happened. The fourth paragraph of the motion states:

    That this House calls on the Coalition Government and NSW Police to:
      (a) ensure that the peaceful nature of the blockade is respected;

And so we damned well should, and that is what we were going to do, had the protest continued. The fourth paragraph of the motion also states:

        and
      (b) to refrain from the use of Emergency Powers under Part 6A of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act to break up and disperse this peaceful community action.

Of course we would. That was what we wanted to do. We wanted to refrain from having to use those powers, but there is an equal responsibility on the other side to behave peacefully and properly in putting their point of view. While the Government is absolutely opposed to the venom and viciousness once again displayed by The Greens towards police with support from the Labor Party, the Government has no problem with this motion. In general terms, it is a motion that should be supported.

The Hon. WALT SECORD [12.47 p.m.]: As the shadow Minister for the North Coast, I will make a brief contribution to debate on the motion in relation to the Bentley blockade, Metgasco and The Nationals. I lead in this debate for New South Wales Labor. This morning, the Office of Coal Seam Gas told Metgasco that its licence to drill at Bentley would be suspended because the company “did not fulfil a condition of its exploration licence, namely to undertake genuine and effective consultation with the community as required”. Firstly, I welcome the decision made this morning. There is no way to describe it other than as a community victory. It is a victory for North Coast families and North Coast farmers, but it is a victory that had nothing to do with The Nationals. The Nationals had to be dragged to this morning’s decision.

Unfortunately, The Nationals are trying to spin a completely different line. They claim that they always were there in the fight to stop the expansion of coal seam gas and unconventional gas industries in the Northern Rivers, but the North Coast community has a long memory. They know the duplicity of The Nationals. Just last month, the New South Wales Minister for Resources and Energy, Anthony Roberts, attacked farmers and locals who were protesting against coal seam gas and unconventional gas exploration on the North Coast and described them as “extremists”, but this morning at 8.00 o’clock, Minister Roberts was standing on the steps of the New South Wales Parliament with the member for Lismore, Thomas George, announcing that the State Government had suspended Metgasco’s licence.

The community will not forget that the member for Lismore, Thomas George, the member for Ballina, Don Page, the member for Tweed, Geoff Provest, and the member for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis, all were advocates for the expansion of unconventional gas and coal seam gas exploration on the North Coast. This was evident in Lismore’s Northern Star article of 12 September 2012, which reported that those very same Nationals members of Parliament, in relation to reissuing 21 coal seam gas licences, were “on a conference call with Northern Star in a bid to sell the policy to North Coast readers yesterday”. Earlier this week, the State Government was doing everything in its power to facilitate exploration of unconventional gas and coal seam gas [CSG] at Bentley near Lismore. The Government was ready to bring in 800 police and the Riot Squad to break up lawful peaceful protestors.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: Point of order: My point of order is relevance. The motion before the House is quite discrete on the issue of Bentley. It should not allow a wide-ranging debate on what happens at Tweed and across other States with other people. The motion relates to police action in the area of Bentley.

DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones): Order! There is no point of order. The member may continue.

The Hon. WALT SECORD: Motels and accommodation across the North Coast had been booked for police use. However, the police were uncomfortable with the decision by the State Government to use them and their resources to remove lawful and peaceful protestors. Only after sustained questions in the NSW Legislative Assembly by the shadow Minister for Police, Michael Daley, and the Opposition Leader, John Robertson to the Premier and the Minister for Police did the State Government buckle. It is on the public record that the Premier and the Minister for Police refused to meet representatives of the Bentley blockade and the Lock the Gate organisation. However, the New South Wales Opposition assisted and met with representatives of those organisations on their visits to Parliament over the last two weeks.

On April 30, I visited the Bentley blockade and met with locals, university students and farmers and their wives. My visit was to show solidarity with their cause. I can assure the House that those protestors are far from being radicals, as the State Liberals and Nationals have tried to label them. They are decent, law-abiding locals who want to protect their water supply, their family farms, and the region’s future. They are defending farms that have been in their families for generations. Their deep opposition to unconventional gas and coal seam gas exploration was astounding and understandable. I met an 80-year-old woman at the Bentley blockade—it was the first protest she had ever attended.

On the 30 April visit, I was accompanied by the Federal member for Richmond, the Hon. Justine Elliot MP, and Labor’s candidate for the Tweed, Ron Goodman. Justine Elliot and Ron Goodman have joined with other concerned locals in their opposition against coal seam gas expansion on the North Coast. In fact, Mr Goodman climbed to the top of the tripod to survey the scene. I also note that Isaac Smith, Labor’s candidate for Lismore, also visited the Bentley blockade to show his solidarity.

The announcement today does not bring an end to the fight against unconventional gas and coal seam gas exploration on the North Coast; it is only the beginning. The genuine concern remains that, if re-elected in the 2015 State election, the Nationals in Government would once again give the green light to Metgasco and other coal seam gas companies to resume start-up operations on the North Coast.

I commend everyone involved in the action to stop unwanted unconventional gas mining on the North Coast. I cite the work of Phil Laird, Ian Galliard, Michael McNamara and all the other community-minded people involved in this campaign. Finally, I acknowledge Mr Jeremy Buckingham, member for The Greens and Federal Labor member for Richmond, the Hon. Justine Elliot MP for their strong stand against coal seam gas and unconventional gas exploration. They both warned about coal seam gas and unconventional gas from the very beginning. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM [12.53 p.m.]: I make a brief contribution to the excellent motion of Mr David Shoebridge. In acknowledgement of the contribution by the Hon. Duncan Gay, I hope that the Government is going to support this very reasonable motion. If members opposite and members of the Opposition have read it, they will see it is a fair statement of community expectation. The first part of the motion says:

    This House expresses its support for the right of communities to engage in peaceful, nonviolent protest to protect their land and water.

That is a fundamental part of our democracy. If these protests were occurring in the Ukraine or in parts of Africa or Asia, they would have been met with overwhelming violent force early in the piece. In opposition to the manner in which the Hon. Duncan Gay has characterised it, The Greens would like to pay their respects to the NSW Police Force and to acknowledge the way in which it has engaged with the community in this matter. There has been a constructive, ongoing relationship between the NSW Police Force and liaison representatives from the Bentley blockade which has meant that it has been a peaceful and constructive protest. Despite some elements of the media and some members of this place wishing to characterise these people as law-breakers, extremists, violent and the like, it has been a peaceful and positive expression of a community’s will to be free from gas development. The Greens believe that this motion is clear recognition of that.

I amend the motion by inserting after, “and disperse this” the words “and all other” so that the motion reads:

    To refrain from the use of emergency powers under Part 6A of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 to break up and disperse this and all other peaceful community actions.

The Greens believe that the motion should apply to all protests and not just to the one that we are discussing today.

I acknowledge the work of Mr David Shoebridge in highlighting the pressure that has been brought to bear upon the Government. We should also consider the unfair pressure that has been brought to bear upon the NSW Police Force by Metgasco. It is disgraceful that, without a social licence, a corporation that is seeking to bully its way into a community in this State would seek to use political means to pressure the NSW Police Force to put the company’s corporate interests before the interests of the community.

I fully support the motion. I acknowledge the work of Mr David Shoebridge in his efforts to highlight the correspondence and the political pressure that Metgasco has put on the State Government and I join with him in saying that it is disgraceful. The NSW Police Force exists to protect the community. It should be noted by the House that today the local NSW Police were joining with the community in celebrating. They were driving up and down the Bentley to Kyogle Road with their lights on, tooting their horns and waving their hands in the air, celebrating the victory of a peaceful demonstration of people power.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: So, a good Government decision.

Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: A good Government decision—overdue and one that needs to go further. Suspending the drilling is one thing but the Government needs to recognise that, wherever this company and this industry turn up, the people will be there en masse. People recognise the risk. This form of gas mining has not been proven safe and these companies do not have a social licence. The Greens commend the decision of the Government today but we want it to go further. I commend the motion to the House because I know many members opposite share these concerns.

Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [12.58 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the motion in principle, particularly the opening section that:

    This House expresses its support for the right of communities to engage in peaceful, nonviolent protest to protect their land and water.

And a right to protest on other matters as well. As members of the House know, the whole Bentley gas mining project has been stopped by the Government. It is not proceeding but it does appear that The Greens would like to make some political mileage out of that by proceeding with the motion. The matter has been referred by the Hon. Anthony John Roberts, Minister for Resources and Energy, and Special Minister of State, to the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC] because there is some indication of links with the Australian Water Corporation. That is a rumour I have heard that may or may not be true.

The Christian Democratic Party supports the notion of peaceful community protest. I note that the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s website states:

      The right to peaceful assembly protects the right of individuals and groups to meet and to engage in peaceful protest.

And I emphasise the word “peaceful”.

    The right to freedom of association protects the right to form and join associations to pursue common goals.

The Federal Attorney-General’s website quotes also Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which again guarantee recognition of the right to peaceful assembly. Clearly, in Bentley the people have gathered for a peaceful protest without incident against the proposed coal seam gas exploration. This does not warrant using emergency powers. The Christian Democratic Party considered proposing amendments to remove the words “protect their land and water” to support peaceful protest or action on any other issue or matter.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [1.00 p.m.], in reply: I thank members for their contribution to this debate. I commend the motion and the amendment to the House.

Question—That the amendment be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion as amended agreed to.

[The Deputy-President (The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones) left the chair at 1.01 p.m. The House resumed at 2.30 p.m.]

Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted at 2.30 p.m. for questions.

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