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Tougher penalties for anti coal activists go before parliament

Action Ready
Action Ready

Anti mining protestors who use dangerous locking devices could face serious jail time, if the Queensland Government approves tougher penalties.

The Summary Offences and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 will be debated in state parliament and, if passed, it would effectively ban L-shaped cylinders and other so-called “sleeping dragon” devices that extreme activists use to resist being moved by force through requiring authorities to use special tools to cut them free.

Aurizon, which supports the tougher penalties, claims protestors have previously used the L-shaped cylinders to lock themselves to the railway line, forcing freight trains to postpone services. Others have even resorted to posing as a train conductor and blocking the path of trains.

“In relation to moving trains, the[ir] use of a red flag to signal and to cause the train driver to implement emergency braking procedures and stop the train,” the rail freight company said in a submission to the government.

“The use of tripods to suspend individuals over a railway line blocking the path of trains, with tripods only able to be taken down with specialised equipment and handling [and] tree-sit protests in which individuals are suspended over the railway line, including by attaching ropes to a rail line requiring the use of specialist police forces to remove them.”

Two years behind bars

A parliamentary committee of members of parliament from both sides of politics has tentatively approved the bill, which aims to counter activists who interfere with freight trains and try to create peak hour traffic chaos in urban areas.

The penalty for using a dangerous locking device could be up to two years in prison. There is a lesser penalty for being caught in possession of a dangerous locking device. Glue, rope, chains, padlocks and bike locks will still be permitted.

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‘Booby traps’

The Human Rights Law Centre, Caxton Legal Centre, Environment Council of Central Queensland and Griffith Criminology Institute director Janet Ransley have reviewed the proposed bill.

Some of them are concerned about the lack of evidence the government has produced to substantiate the existence of dangerous locking devices. They also claim the Queensland Police Service already has powers to search people and vehicles suspected of carrying the devices without a warrant, which is one measure proposed in the bill.

State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk does not believe the laws are being rushed through, and maintains she has seen evidence of “locking devices laced with booby traps” like glass and and butane gas containers.

State Police Minister Mark Ryan backs the bill, saying it is necessary to prevent protesters from being harmed and emergency services personnel from having to remove them.

‘Keep it civil’

Yuggera traditional land owner Deborah Sandy criticised the devices protesters use to lock themselves to train tracks and public infrastructure.

“We don’t need that stuff going down in our town,” she said according to the Australian Associated Press (AAP). “If you’re going to have a rally, keep it civil, if you’re going to have a march or a protest, keep it civil. Don’t go doing extreme things that’s going to encourage and teach our children, our next generation, to do those things.”

Dangerous devices are ‘peaceful’

However, Action Ready supporters who oppose the bill claim the dangerous locking devices help them do peaceful protests.

“They are so far from dangerous, only if they’re removed incorrectly, which we have seen in the past,” protester Anna Reynolds said according to AAP. “They are such an important part of the ways that we can use our bodies to stand up for our rights, to stand up for all of our causes.”

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