Scott Morrison will not allow “selfish, indulgent and apocalyptic” environmental activists to keep “testing the limits” of the right to protest in public.
The prime minister indicated he would follow the Queensland Government’s example in banning extreme activism and potentially introducing tougher penalties to further deter people from joining demonstrations that divert police officers away from their duties.
“Let me assure you this is not something my government intends to allow to go unchecked,” Morrison said in a speech to the Queensland Resources Council according to the Australian Associated Press (AAP). “Together with the attorney-general, we are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians.”
The decision comes after four days of violent clashes between police, Extinction Rebellion Victoria and other protest groups outside the 2019 International Mining and Resources Conference, held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Between October 28 and 31 more than 71 people were arrested for a variety of offences including trespassing, abusing a police horse and not following a police direction.
The PM slammed the activists as “anarchists” who are hell-bent on waging “economic sabotage” on small businesses.
“Environmental groups are targeting businesses and firms who provide goods or services to firms they don’t like, especially in the resources sector,” Morrison said. “They are targeting businesses of all sizes, including small businesses, like contracting businesses in regional Queensland.”
He described the ‘saboteurs’ as an “insidious threat” to the economy, jobs and living standards.
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‘Price to pay’
Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton welcomed tougher penalties and himself proposes the activists should be publicly shamed, stripped of any government welfare benefits and be required to cover the additional cost of policing such protests.
“Police are being diverted away from other activities and there should be a price to pay for that,” Dutton told the Nine Network according to AAP. “We don’t have 150 police just sitting around in Melbourne or Brisbane or Sydney waiting to respond to these people who spontaneously pull these stunts together.”
The legal system, which previously only handed down small fines, will need to deliver the harsher penalties for such a ban to make a real difference.
“If you’re going to the courts eight times and getting a slap on the wrist, why wouldn’t you do it a ninth time?” Dutton said.