Queensland government accused of 'fabricating' claims about climate activists

Exclusive: Premier claims Extinction Rebellion using ‘sinister tactics’ such as traps, but police have never laid charges with such an offence

The Queensland government has been accused of “fabricating” claims about climate activists setting booby traps to justify a crackdown on escalating protests, including using images more than 18 months old as evidence of the new allegations.

The state premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, on Tuesday announced that police would be given new powers to search anyone suspected of carrying “locking on” devices, which delay the removal of protesters during acts of civil disobedience.

She spoke mostly about a series of recent street protests, organised by the group Extinction Rebellion, that aim to stop commuter traffic in Brisbane.

Palaszczuk said she had been briefed about the actions of protesters “last week” by the Queensland police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, who had shown her “evidence of locking devices laced with traps that are dangerous”.

Palaszczuk claimed in parliament that protesters were using “sinister tactics” – cylinders containing glass fragments and gas containers “so that anyone trying to cut a protester free will be injured or worse”.

In a video distributed on social media, Palaszczuk posted images apparently showing one such cylinder to support her claims. Guardian Australia can confirm the image was from a protest in North Queensland that occurred in January 2o18.

Everyone has a right to peaceful protest.

They don’t have a right to put others in danger.

This is why we’re acting against extreme forms causing harm. #qldpol pic.twitter.com/uaZc4POVBi

— Annastacia Palaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) August 20, 2019

Police at the time complained that the concrete cylinder contained “metal and pipes” and was potentially dangerous, but made no allegation the intent of the protesters was malicious or to cause injury.

Police have never charged a climate protester in Queensland with an offence alleging they had set a trap or intended to cause injury to others. Police told Guardian Australia in a statement that the placing of items into a locking-on device had the capacity to cause harm but was “designed to delay the attempts of police to extricate protesters in a timely manner”.

The police minister, Mark Ryan, on Tuesday described protesters as “extremists”.

Critics have rounded on Palaszczuk and her government, comparing her to the former ultra-conservative premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who cracked down on street protests.

The state’s lone Greens MP, Michael Berkman, told Guardian Australia: “All Queenslanders should be concerned that the premier has provided absolutely no evidence for the claims she made in parliament this morning.

“The government is using this fabricated notion – that peaceful protesters are using dangerous, booby-trapped tools – to silence dissent and distract from their own hypocrisy on climate change.

“These are dangerous, anti-democratic new laws that pretend to solve a nonexistent problem.”

Protest groups vehemently denied using such tactics, including butane canisters. The intent of “locking on” actions is to remain in place for as long as possible, and activists do use tactics to prevent their removal. These can include mixing cement with metal, which slows down attempts to cut through devices and extricate them.

Ben Pennings, a spokesperson for the group Galilee Blockade, said: “If [Palaszczuk’s] claims were true, police would have laid extra charges and produced evidence in court. This clearly hasn’t happened.

“Protesters rely on rescue personnel for their safety and would never design lock-on devices to injure them. Protesters in particular love the fire and rescue service because they take climate change seriously, unlike the premier.”

The group responsible for the most grating protests in Brisbane, Extinction Rebellion, said the government had misrepresented peaceful actions.

“These proposed laws are based on entirely unfounded allegations. There is no evidence of booby trapping lock on devices, and to do so would go against Extinction Rebellion’s principles and strategy of non-violence.

“The state has the monopoly on violence, which Extinction Rebellion wants no part in. We are interested in a safe and peaceful planet, the path to which must be non-violent.

“The Queensland people know from the Bjelke-Petersen era what it’s like to live under a police state and they are not going to let it happen again.

“Today’s announcement confirms that the government is more interested in protecting corporations than people. We are in a rebellion against the government.”

The Queensland Civil Liberties Council president, Michael Cope, said police already had the power to search a person they suspect has something intended to cause harm.

“It is not clear why this power is not adequate to deal with the issue described by the premier,” Cope said.

“Every time we give police new powers that are not necessary we chip away at our liberty.”

Contributor

Ben Smee in Brisbane

The GuardianTramp

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