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States, public take stance on protest laws

AAP logoAAP 23/12/2016 Andrew Drummond

Bob Brown says the NSW government's move to support harsh anti-protest laws has backfired, serving only to boost public approval for his High Court challenge.

The former Australian Greens leader is almost halfway to his $100,000 crowdfunding target to help pay for a costly battle with the Tasmanian government in the nation's highest legal jurisdiction.

He argues that the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act, introduced by the island state's Liberal government in 2014 and carrying fines of up to $50,000 or five-year jail terms, is unconstitutional and should be scrapped.

"It's very heartening to see such a big public response to a case that hasn't yet been heard," Dr Brown told AAP on Friday of his appeal which has raised more than $46,600 in just 10 days.

Expected to be listed before the High Court's full bench of seven judges in mid-2017, NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton has already lodged a notice with the court supporting the Tasmanian case, in line with its own proposed law which takes a similar hardline against protesters.

"We had a lot of people from NSW contact us appalled that the NSW government was proposing laws not too different (to Tasmania), punishing people who protest against coal seam gas exploration and coal mining," Dr Brown said.

"What it did was underscore that corporations are getting to Liberal (state) governments who are removing the rights of groups because they can't win the battle in the public arena."

NSW proposes a maximum penalty of $5500 for anyone convicted of interfering with a business and putting safety at risk, with a maximum jail term of seven years for intentionally or recklessly interfering with a mine.

Dr Brown says he expects other states to back the Tasmanian law before the case is heard.

He and fellow challenger Jessica Hoyt were arrested during a peaceful protest in Tasmania's Lapoinya forest in January, but charges against them under the new law were subsequently dropped by police.

Pending the outcome of the matter, the pair could face legal bills in excess of $250,000.

The crowdfunding campaign is open until mid-February and has already attracted donations from across Australia and overseas.

"I went back to Lapoinya a few weeks ago and the logging there is an absolute disgrace," Dr Brown said.

"There had also been a big eagle nest found after logging was completed and if that had been found earlier, it would have prevented much of the clearing in accordance with rules that enforce a 500-metre exclusion zone around such fauna."

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