A UN Special Rapporteur has raised concerns about increasingly draconian laws that restrict citizens’ rights to peaceful protest around Australia. 

UN Special Rappoteur Dr Marcos Orellana [1] said in his interim report today that: 

“Draconian restrictions on the right to protest in several states are also very troubling. Peaceful protests are a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of assembly, and they enable citizens to mobilize their concerns and make them visible to public authorities.” [2] 

Dr Orellana also warned that: “Draconian restrictions on the right to peaceful protest in several states aggravate the distance between State and society.” [3] 

Environmental Defenders Office Legal Strategy Director Elaine Johnson welcomed Dr Orellan putting the spotlight on this troubling trend. 

“Over the past 18 months, maximum fines for certain types of peaceful protest in some states increased 10-fold and prison terms trebled,” Ms Johnson said.  

“The risks to people exercising their democratic rights to political free speech and expression has been significantly hampered by these changes. 

“Such changes pose a very significant risk not just to those individuals, but also to our democratic process and our shared climate. We cannot achieve the kind of transformational change that we need to see for a safe climate, without a free and fair democracy.” 

Dr Orellana’s findings amplify those made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly last December who declared that: “Peaceful protesters should never be criminalised or imprisoned.”  

Ms Johnson said: “Australia has a long and proud history of peaceful protest and a lot has been achieved for the protection of our environment through peaceful protest.  

“The iconic campaign to save the Franklin River spurred a whole movement for the protection of the environment. It is imperative that these rights be upheld.  


[1] Dr Orellana is the UN Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. 

[2] End of Mission Statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights, Marcos A. Orellana, on his visit to Australia, 28 August to 8 September 2023.  

[3] Australia: Deep divide between Government and community narratives on toxics fuels anger and distrust, says UN expert, Media release, UN- Special Rapporteur, 8-9-23.