The South Australian government will increase fines for public obstruction from $750 to $50,000 in the wake of recent protests by Extinction Rebellion activists.
The climate action group has caused havoc in Adelaide this week protesting the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference being held at the Adelaide Convention Centre.
On Wednesday a 69-year-old woman caused peak hour traffic to be diverted for 90 minutes by dangling herself from the Morphett Street Bridge above North Terrace.
On Thursday protestors threw paint at oil company Santos’ Flinders Street office.
The Premier said existing penalties were “plainly inadequate” as he backed an Opposition bill that would not only massively increase fines but also allow courts to order guilty defendants to repay police costs associated with removing them from obstructive protests.
He insisted the harsher penalties were not meant to curtail people’s ability to protest.
“The government considers that protestors speaking up about issues is an integral part of our vibrant democracy,” he said.
“However, recent activities have seen people being put at risk, disrupting members of the community when they are trying to go about their daily lives.”
Opposition leader David Speirs, who came up with the bill, has slammed Extinction Rebellion as a bunch of “out of touch, greenie lefty losers”.
“When you mess up our city like those protestors did the other day, you deserve to pay,” he said.
The South Australian bill follows similar moves in NSW and in Queensland to crack down on protests that disrupt cities.
The bill was approved by the lower house on Wednesday but could be blocked by Greens in the upper house who described the new penalties as “chilling” and “alarming”.
Greens MLC Robert Simms said: “The right to peaceful protest and civil disobedience are fundamental to our democracy.”