The possibilities and limits of protest

A Roundtable to Launch The Monash University Law Review

Special Issue on The Law of Protest

Date: Tuesday 20 August 2019 
Time: 1pm to 2.15pm
Venue: Monash University Law Chambers, 555 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
RSVP: Register here

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law invites you to a roundtable to launch the Special Issue on the Law of Protest published recently in the Monash University Law Review which can be viewed here.

The roundtable, which will be moderated by Castan Centre Director, Professor Sarah Joseph will discuss the recent Anti-Extradition protests in Hong Kong, the current legal impediments facing environmental protest in Australia and the effectiveness of Victoria’s Safe Access Zones on anti-abortion protests.

Speakers will include:

Yik Mo Wong, Vice Convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, Hong Kong (via Zoom).

Bob Brown, lifelong activist, former Senator and founder of the Bob Brown Foundation.

Ronli Sifris and Tania Penovic, Deputy Directors of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law and co-authors (along with Caroline Henckels) of amicus curiae submissions in the 2019 High Court litigation on safe access zones - Clubb v Edwards [2019] HCA 11.


Bob Brown was born and educated in rural NSW and worked as a doctor before becoming the face of the campaign to save the Franklin River in 1982. He was elected to the Tasmanian state parliament in 1983 and during his tenure most notably advocated for gun law reform, gay law reform and achieved the expansion of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. In 1996 Bob was elected to the Senate, where he led the national debate for 16 years on issues including climate change, democracy, preventative healthcare, conservation, and human rights. Bob resigned from the Senate in June 2012 to establish the Bob Brown Foundation, a not for profit organisation dedicated to supporting action campaigns for the environment in Australia and our region. He is a published author and acclaimed photographer.


Ronli Sifris is a Senior Lecturer in Monash University’s Faculty of Law and a Deputy Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. Her research focus is on the intersection of reproductive health / rights and the law at both the international and domestic level. Her book, Reproductive Freedom, Torture and International Human Rights: Challenging the Masculinisation of Torture (Routledge, 2014) was launched by the then Hon Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Marilyn Warren AC and has been the subject of favourable book reviews. In addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters, Ronli has Co-Edited two special issues of high quality journals. Further, in an effort to influence real legal change she has made submissions to a number of different Parliamentary / Law Reform Commission Inquiries and has been cited / extensively quoted in the resulting reports.

Dr Tania Penovic is a Deputy Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law and a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Monash University. In addition to teaching and publishing widely on a range of human rights issues, Tania has designed and delivered human rights training to judges and government officials and provided influential advice in numerous law reform enquiries.

Yik Mo Wong is Vice Convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front and has been involved in the ongoing Hong Kong protests. Bio to follow when available.

Event Summary

The panel discussion started with the perspective of Yik Mo Wong - Vice Convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front (appearing via video link) - who provided the audience with an overview of the current situation of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The protests started in June as a call for the withdrawal of the Extradition Bill under which it would be possible to extradite Hong Kong citizens to China. At the time of the event, the Bill had already been suspended as a result of the protests which have seen a quarter of the population participate.

In addition to the complete withdrawal of the bill (which has now been achieved), Yik Mo noted that protesters demand a retraction from the government that protesters are ‘rioters’ (as rioting is a criminal offence which may result in imprisonment); accountability for police violence during protests; the resignation of leader Carrie Lam; and universal suffrage. Of these demands, Yik Mo underlined the importance of accountability for police violence. At the time of publication, the protests in Hong Kong are still ongoing and violent clashes have been reported.

The roundtable continued with a presentation from Dr Bob Brown, lifelong environmental activist and former Senator. Like Yik Mo, Bob spoke about the challenges faced by protesters, particularly in the form of anti-protest laws which target environmental protesters. Speaking from experience, Bob discussed his legal battle which arose in the context of his peaceful protest to save the Franklin River in Tasmania in the 80s. In a constitutional challenge under the implied freedom of political communication, the High Court found the relevant anti-protest legislation invalid.

In response, a growing number of environmental protests, anti-protest laws with tougher penalties are debated in numerous jurisdictions. The same day as the Castan Centre event, the Queensland government announced plans to introduce tougher anti-protest laws, following a number of protests in Queensland against the construction of the Adani mine. Bob is supporting campaigns against Adani and underlined the urgency of supporting peaceful protests. He concluded by calling on lawyers to take action and provide assistance to protesters against unfair laws.

Castan Centre Deputy Directors Dr Tania Penovic and Dr Ronli Sifris concluded the roundtable presentations by discussing their qualitative research on safe access zones enacted to protect women seeking an abortion from anti-abortion picketers outside abortion clinics. The research formed the basis of a Castan Centre amicus brief which supported the compatibility of safe access zones with the implied freedom of political communication in a constitutional challenge by anti-abortion picketers.

In their presentation, Tania and Ronli noted the safety and privacy concerns expressed by women seeking abortions due to picketers and the fact that some women have delayed their appointments out of fear of being confronted. While anti-abortion picketing fell within the purview of the law of protest, Tania underlined that this conduct can be distinguished from protest per se. Unlike environmental protests and the protests in Hong Kong, the conduct of the picketers is harassment and abuse that impacts on many rights of the women targeted. In a victory for women’s rights, the High Court found that the safe access zones do not violate the implied freedom of political communication.

To conclude the event, the presenters (with Castan Centre Deputy Director Dr Maria O’Sullivan in place of Yik Mo Wong) formed a panel to reflect on the presentations and take questions from the audience. The panel distinguished peaceful protest as a fundamental right and pillar of democracy from harassment and otherwise abusive and intimidating conduct which target individuals (such as women outside abortion clinics). The panel also observed the importance of the topic of protest in light of the debates across Australian jurisdictions for tougher laws on protesters.

As the title of the event promised, the speakers gave important examples of both the possibilities and limits of protest, more of which can be explored in the Special Issue on the Law of Protest, available here.