Three uniformed police officers walk the street in QLD.

Police overreach on display once again as students take to the streets to protest against climate change

As thousands gathered around the country today to show their anger at the Australian government’s lack of action on climate change, students in Sydney were once again roughly pushed to the ground in a clash with NSW police.

This is not the first time law enforcement officers in NSW have used force while policing peaceful protests. As outlined in Amnesty’s report “Covid 19 Crackdowns – The Policing of Protest in New South Wales during the Pandemic” unnecessary and disproportionate force was used frequently to disperse protests in 2020, including at protests at the University of Sydney.

This included mounted police chasing student protesters at a protest on 23 September 2020, police pushing both protesters and bystanders to the ground, and arresting and fining dozens of students and staff for breaches of public health orders. The police’s use of force caused injuries to multiple students and bystanders.

On 14 October, University of Sydney law Professor Simon Rice was pushed to the ground by police while observing protests. His legs were kicked out from under him by police, and when he tried to get up, he was pushed down a second time, and then arrested. He was also fined $1000.

This punitive policing of protests continued into 2021. Organisers of the 2021 Invasion Day march told Amnesty International Australia they felt pressured and intimidated by police to call off the march.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of …the protection of public health …or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

“The right to peaceful protest on matters such as climate change must be protected, and the NSW police should be helping facilitate that right, not putting protesters at risk of injury,” said Amnesty campaigner, Nikita White.

Amnesty International Australia is calling for independent investigations for any public assembly during which police resort to the use of force, with a view to establishing responsibilities and accountability of the officers involved.

To date, there have been no independent investigations into the use of force by New South Wales police at public assemblies in 2020, including into force that caused injuries.

“The NSW Police Force seems to increasingly rely on intimidation tactics and forceful conduct to maintain ‘order’. It is clear that the right to peaceful assembly is at risk,” said Josh Lorschy, Amnesty Australia’s Youth Advisory Group Representative for NSW