SA sets new low for anti protest law

Image of a "die in" in a mall, with people in white on the ground and a lone woman in red standing

Extinction Rebellion and other climate activists made their presence felt in Adelaide in mid May with a series of protests targeting Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) and their fossil foolish champions such as Santos, and the Labor government has responded with extraordinary over-reach in response to the mere hint of a little disruption. In contrast they have advised the fossil fuel industry they are “at their disposal” Please read through the overview for a summary of the laws, and points of action.

Update 26th May

We have been excited to see a huge response from unions, social, environmental and climate justice organisations and hope that Labor will come to their senses and listen to the community. An open letter signed by us and 80 other organisations went out today, and radio ads will be playing in South Australia this week, alongside widespread lobbying and public pressure. In a rare intervention the SA Bar Association has even come out against the legislation as well as a United Nations special rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change.

The key issues with this expanded legislation – Obstruction of a Public Place

  • The breadth of application: not only could this law apply to anyone who doesn’t seek out a permit to protest (which is a human right we should not have to get permision for) but could be applied to young people gathering in public places, rough sleepers, or a group of disabled people having issue accessing a venue
  • The law has become easier to apply – moving the goal posts from a “wilful” intent to obstruct a public place, to reckless or indirect obstruction
  • The maximum penalty has increased 7000% – from $750 to $50,000 and now includes a jail term of up to 3 months
  • The police can issue a costs order with the onus on activists to disprove in court – which would be nigh impossible. Across the country police have often tried to recoup costs of attending protests – something that is not even applied to gatherings of nazis, or other dangerous people. These are often thrown out by magistrates, or successfully challenged – we have numerous examples of costs up to $8000 across the continent – most recently in WA, activists resisting Woodsides Burrup project had a cost order of $33,000 dropped.

Overview from Human Rights Law Centre

Contrary to many politician’s rhetoric – nonviolent disruption and protest has a history in social movements going back many years. We did not win workers rights, the 8 hour day, votes for women and Aboriginal people, and saved national treasures like the Daintree, Kakadu, Walmadan/James Price Point, and old growth forests across the country by standing quietly in the corner, and waving a sign. Disruption was involved. Nonviolent disruption. Civil disobedience.

Its been difficult to work out which aspect is more shocking following the Extinction Rebellion action at APPEA:

  • A South Australian Labor government seemingly writing up and smashing through legislation in one day, increasing penalties for Obstruction of a Public Place by 7000% – in response to the Liberals throwing around a figure of a $50,000 fine on talkback radio to punish climate protesters – in a valiant attempt to steal the crown from NSW Labor and their widely condemned protest laws rapidly passed in a few days
  • Santos Ltd demanding that a climate activist pay them $4900 for a cleaning fee – apparently with a serious face, with their track record of shocking environmental vandalism outlined below. And apparently telling APPEA conference they were “on the right side of history”
  • The South Australian Police Commissioner casually wishing he could cause death or serious injury to an Extinction Rebellion activist hanging from a rope as part of the APPEA protests activists. Grant Stevens was frustrated by protesters and said “The ropes are fully extended across the street. So we can’t, as much as we might like to, cut the rope and let them drop,
  • Opposition Leader David Speirs stating “in some countries your head would be cut off for protesting in the streets, echoing similar comments Scott Morrison made about the Womens marches.

This bill – likely to be pushed through the Upper House Tuesday 30th May, is so wide in scope, that it appears these huge new penalties could theoretically apply to not only peaceful activists holding a candlelight vigil congregating on a pavement, any march or rally that the police decided to use their ‘discretion’ to decide was obstruction, Aboriginal activists protesting deaths in custody at a police station, knitting nannas out the front of a politicans office in a mall – but could it even be applied to a houseless person blocking the pavement? How about young people gathering in public places? Could they be looking at $50,000 fine and 3 months jail?


  • Get on the phone to the Premier (08 8429 3232) and demand that this bill be scrapped
  • Seek out social and traditional media to boost, and use the hashtag #ProtectProtest (great twitter thread here)
  • Watch and share this excellent Juice Media Honest Government overview
  • If you are in a union, ask them to push back against this attack on all rights, including workers
  • Take one minute to email or phone SA Labor MPs or join this Amnesty International email action

For those lucky enough to not have had much interaction with police, Obstruction of a Public Place, or different variants of it around the country is one of the least serious offences. It is an offence that is common for civil disobedience actions in some jurisdictions, but it is also an offence that gets easily thrown by police at youth, homeless people, Aboriginal people, and other marginalised folks in various daily interactions.

In fact in the Summary offences act it states that these are not serious offences, they must not breach two years in jail as a maximum penalty, and are not violent in nature.


Santos is a class act – and has previously been hit with a wet lettuce in 2018 – being fined a mere $1500 for discharging CSG water into the environment unlawfully. Back in 2014 it was a bit higher – with $52 000 fine for spraying untreated CSG water around. Many climate protesters practicing civil disobedience across the continent are copping more than that these days for peacefully trying to address what the ALP’s own Kevin Rudd described as “the greatest moral crisis of our time”. Oh, and there was a major explosion in their pipeline in SA in January, and also sometime back in 2020. These are just a handful we know about.