Protests and Rallies
Updated August 2019
You have a constitutionally implied right to protest that is recognised under international treaties. But, it can be helpful to inform the police about your planned event as they can assist in closing down roads or similar. Informing the police about your protest is a simple process that should be done with at least 5 business days notice of the event.
However, it is still lawful to protest in a public place without providing prior notice to the police. Keep in mind you may be more likely to be moved on by police or be charged for offences like blocking roadways.
Be mindful there are occasions where even an authorised event can become an unlawful assembly and participants may be arrested and/or charged.
Right to Protest
Our rights to protest, demonstrate and take part in political activities are recognised by the International Declaration of Human Rights 1948 as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 and other covenants, and is an implied right in the Australian Constitution. These rights are not necessarily enforceable except where provided for in legislation, as such it is important to remain vigilant and not take these rights for granted.
Authorised protests and rallies
If you want to hold a public assembly, protest or event on public land, it's a good idea to be aware of the rules in the Peaceful Assembly Act 1992.
Under this Act you can apply for a “permit” which authorises your event. Once granted, if the event remains peaceful and complies with any conditions and your description of the event, participants cannot incur any civil or criminal liability for obstructing a public place. As long as you are complying with any conditions and your description of the event, generally you cannot be charged with obstruction, public nuisance or blocking a roadway. You can still be charged with unrelated offences like damage to property.
The police cannot direct you to move on during an authorised peaceful assembly unless there are specific public safety concerns, public order concerns or to protect the rights and freedoms of others. Most big rallies and events seek authorisation, and it’s especially important to do so where you want police assistance for the event, for example in closing off roads (like at the school strike events).
How to apply for authorisation
You need to provide a “Notice of Intention” to the police at least five business days before the event.
Fill out this form: https://www.police.qld.gov.au/online/Documents/QP0802.pdf
Here is a pre-filled form as an example. It’s good to know you are not required to include specific details about what your event will include (eg details of banners, maps etc) but sometimes it can be helpful for the police to know you’re well organised.
Once you’ve completed steps 1 and 2 with at least 5 business days notice your protest is ‘taken to be approved’ – that is, approved automatically.
The only way the council or police can stop you going ahead is if they get a court order from the Magistrates Court preventing the event. Before they can apply for a court order, the police (or council) must first hold a mediation session with the protest organisers using an independent mediator in accordance with the processes set out in the Dispute Resolution Centres Act 1990 .
Once police receive your notice of intention, they generally give you a call to say hi, and email you a notice of permission to be signed. This notice may include conditions on the approval. If you applied with at least 5 business days notice, this notice of permission is not a legal requirement for authorisation.
If you lodged your notice with less than five business days’ notice, and the police refuse to give you a notice of permission, your rally won’t be authorised unless you apply for approval from the courts under section 14.
If you’re organising your event at short notice, you should try to negotiate with the police to get a notice of permission, otherwise they can charge you with obstructing traffic etc.
A note on public liability insurance:
Lately, Brisbane City Council has been telling some organisers that they need insurance to hold a rally in a council park. This is not true. There is no legally enforceable requirement to hold insurance and you should refuse such requests from council or the police. Legal responsibility for any injuries or damage occurring at a protest is the same for any other use of public space.
For more information about holding peaceful assemblies, Jonathan Sri has prepared a useful resources here: https://www.jonathansri.com/peacefulassembly
You can hold a public event without authorisation
Even without a permit, it is entirely lawful to gather in a public place to protest. However, police do have the power to issue “move on” orders in particular circumstances.
Avoid becoming an "unlawful assembly"
There are instances where an assembly, authorised or not, can become unlawful and subject participants to potential charges. If there are three or more people gathered for a common purpose and their conduct would cause a person in the vicinity to reasonably fear that unlawful violence will be used against a person or property, each person involved in the assembly can be arrested. There does not actually have to be someone in the area who holds that fear. It is up to the police to decide whether the behaviour could be perceived as threatening. The charge is more serious if someone has actually used violence against a person or property and you continue to participate in the assembly.
Protesting on private land
Protesting or holding an event on private land is a bit different, because you don’t automatically have an assumed right to be in that space. Under the Summary Offences Act a person must not enter into, or remain in someone’s property, or business premises without their permission, unless they have a lawful reason to be there. Doing so without a lawful reason, can lead to charges of criminal trespass (a summary offence). A lawful reason can be interpreted broadly, for example if you want to talk to the staff in a business, or are transiting through a building to get to your workplace.
This doesn’t mean that you will automatically be arrested if you enter private property to conduct an action or protest, but it does mean there is less protection from the law, and police don’t have to issue a move on order before arresting you. Often they will still give you a formal order, or the business owner will ask you to leave before the police arrest anyone for trespass.
Across Australia, following a “crackdown” by governments on activists exposing mistreatment of animals this is an area of law that is rapidly changing. The Queensland Government recently changed laws to allow police to issue on the spot fines for criminal trespass in certain circumstances.