The NSW government recently gazetted a new regulation under the Crown Lands Management Act that removes the right to peaceful assembly, gathering or protest on public land anywhere in NSW. This is a wholesale attack on the tradition of democracy that can only be described as totalitarian. Under the new law any assembly anywhere on public land, parks, town squares, beaches, forests or roadsides can be dispersed at the whim of a police officer or any other authorised official, and people who disobey can be fined up to $1100.

This has been enacted on the quiet by a National Party minister and is a continuation of that party’s revenge against our region and its subservience to corporate vested interest such as mining and forestry and its big political donors. The Nationals have not only left the farm, they have abandoned democracy and once again betrayed the people of the Northern Rivers.

There’s a state election early next year and the seats of Lismore and Ballina will be battlegrounds between the Nationals and the Greens. In 2014 the Nationals suffered massive swings against them following public anger at their attempts to force gasfields into the Northern Rivers.

Four years later it is abundantly clear that the Nats learned all of the wrong lessons from the gasfields debacle.

They should have learned as we all did that the Northern Rivers is a proud and courageous community that values our regional lifestyle and healthy natural environment and that we want a say in major industrial developments that threaten our region.

Sadly the Nationals have opted for revenge, backlash and bullying against our region and the all of the people of NSW. In 2016 they passed new legislation creating a tenfold increase in the fines for protests that involve minor trespass on business premises, 7 years jail terms for ‘interfering” with a mine or gas drilling operation, and laws to allow seizure of blockade equipment, but the latest assault on democracy is comprehensive, it completely abrogates our long standing right to protest throughout NSW. The law won’t mean there won’t be any assemblies or protests, it just means you won’t have a right to do so, you will effectively need permission, or hope to be tolerated.+

This stunning totalitarian assault completes the National Party’s transmogrification from a party that once represented regions into a cynical servant of big corporate extractive industries that threaten the regions.

Gasfields were only the most recent invasive industry the Nats tried to force upon us. The Deputy Premier (another Nat) in March 2018 floated the idea of a nuclear industry in northern NSW. Then there’s coal mining, toxic antinomy mining, water mining, gold mining, sand mining, you name it and the big global corporations have a plan for it and the NSW National party will fall in lockstep to force it on a region near you. We already know they have a plan to massively expand logging of our regions with clear felling planned for many Northern NSW native forests. Unless we kick them out next election, the next time a dangerous industry comes along you could be arrested just for holding a meeting in a local park to discuss it, let alone establish a blockade.

There is no point in having the right to vote if we elect dictators. Democracy is about more than elections it is about the right of communities to discuss, to assemble and to protest.

So don’t be beguiled by the smiling faces of your local National Party candidates at the next election, it doesn’t matter how many cheques they hand to kids sports clubs or primary schools or how many free sausage sizzles they put on or how many toxic helium balloons they give to your kids to lose, or even how many understaffed hospitals they claim to have built, those smiling mugs on the coreflutes are the poster boys (and they are all men) of crony capitalism and its total disdain for democracy.

The Greens are leading the democratic charge against the Nationals in the Northern Rivers seats, and if elected stand a chance of nabbing the balance of power in parliament. Whether you vote Greens or Labor or for any minor party, make sure you number all your preferences or your vote may not end up counting at all.

I am sure we will continue to stand and fight as a region, we will stand up for forests and if we have to we will stand and fight for democracy and the right to protest itself, but when you get a chance to vote make it count for democracy and for our region. Number every square and put the Nationals last again.

This article was originally published in the July edition of the Nimbin Good Times.


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