Queensland police will be given new powers to search suspected climate change protesters, as the state government attempts to crack down on an escalating campaign of civil disobedience.
Extinction Rebellion protesters have regularly disrupted traffic in the Brisbane CBD. They have indicated those stoppages would escalate in the coming months. Other groups have attempted to stop the operations of mining companies, contractors and coal freight networks across the state.
In state parliament on Tuesday the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, announced stronger penalties and expanded police powers that would apply to climate demonstrations and vegan protests at agricultural properties.
In outlining the new laws, which were agreed to by the state cabinet on Monday, Palaszczuk said she had been persuaded by the state’s police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, who had shown her “evidence of locking devices laced with traps that are dangerous”.
Protesters regularly use devices or other means to “lock on”, effectively making it difficult or unsafe for them to be removed from a location.
Palaszczuk claimed in parliament that protesters had used “sinister tactics” – cylinders containing glass fragments and gas containers “so that anyone trying to cut a protester free will be injured or worse.
“Police will have the power to search those they reasonably suspect … of having those devices. They will be illegal.
“Every single minute our [emergency services] spend dealing with these types of protesters, is a minute they are spending not helping others. It will not be allowed to continue.”
The most recent stoppage on Monday caused the closure of the William Jolly Bridge across the Brisbane River and associated traffic delays along the Riverside Expressway, a crowded commuter route.
Brisbane has been particularly susceptible to Extinction Rebellion protests because of the way traffic chokes at the city’s river crossings. Protesters appear to be hitting a nerve in Queensland, where coal provides significant royalties income for the state, and where the Adani Carmichael mine, the world’s most controversial coal project, is under construction.
Before the new laws were announced, police actions appeared to become more heavy-handed. Officers were accused of acting to shield corporate interests.
Protesters have complained that they already face court-imposed fines up to $61,000, while the state punishes “major” breaches of environmental law by mining companies with minor penalties.
The Queensland police minister, Mark Ryan, described climate protesters as “extremists”. He said the laws would introduce a new offence, making it illegal to possess a device used for locking on at a protest.
“This government will bring in measures who believe their rights can ride roughshod over the rights of others,” Ryan said.
“This new offence will make it illegal to possess these devices. Police will have the power to search a person or vehicle suspected of possessing these devices.
“Anyone who uses one of these devices during a protest will be subject to a new category of offence, with penalties.
“If anyone believes passionately in something, they should argue their case on the merits.”
The government also announced that protesters who trespass on farmland and cause a “biosecurity risk” can be punished with up to a year in prison.