Mild mannered Gloucester resident, and recently retired pre-school educator Dominique Jacobs, made legal history recently when the NSW Supreme Court ruled that some significant parts of the draconian anti-protest laws passed by the NSW Parliament were constitutionally invalid.
The laws were rushed through the Parliament in May 2022 by the then Liberal/National Government with the cheering support of the Minns Labor Party. The laws were a kneejerk reaction to a few environmental protesters, including Dom, who had caused some traffic disruption.
The laws as passed meant that protesters, such as Dom, would be treated as criminals and fined $22,000 or jailed for two years if the protest caused disruption to a major facility, a main road or a highway.
It was, so it seemed, OK to close the Harbour Bridge for a whole weekend to make a film, but a criminal offence to block traffic for a short time by a protester concerned about environmental destruction.
Dom and fellow protester Helen Kvelde, who are both Knitting Nannas, courageously decided to challenge the might of the NSW Government and, with the help of the Environmental Defenders Office, launched Supreme Court proceedings alleging that the laws infringed the Australian Constitution by interfering with the right to political communication.
On 13 December 2023 Justice Walton upheld their argument, saying: (as follows:)
“In my view, the adverse effect … on the implied freedom in terms of deterring otherwise lawful protests significantly outweighs the benefit sought to be achieved by more effectively deterring any conduct that may disrupt major facilities themselves.’
And that the laws represented an ‘overreach from the legislative purpose.”
He also commented (that):
“They have a chilling effect on political communication via protests and public assemblies.”
A few readers might disagree with the actions of some environmental protesters, but the impact of the anti-protest laws was not restricted to environmental protests. Recently some residents of the Mid North Coast were outraged by a plan by the MidCoast Council to close or restrict access to several local swimming pools.
Understandably protests have, and will be held against this ill-thought-out proposal. Most people taking part would be horrified to learn that taking part in such a protest might have, depending on the circumstances, resulted in a two-year prison stretch, if Dom and Helen hadn’t successfully challenged the laws.
On the face of it, Dom might be seen as an unlikely candidate for environmental activism. She is 59-years of age and has been married to Brett for 40 years with seven children and some grandkids.
Over the years she and Brett have fostered numerous children in need of love and care, and she also now also looks after injured wildlife – at the moment caring for seven wallabies.
Since she was a child Dom has had a passion for whales and she regularly visits Tonga to observe them. (She says:)
Dom describes her experience with the whales as follows:
“I go out on the boat every day and hop in the water with those majestic gentle giants, but at an appropriate distance. I also love the place and the people and have developed some great friendships there. These enormous creatures are so gentle, graceful, curious and intelligent and being near them is always exhilarating.”
Consistent with Dom’s values and passions, her visits to Tonga are about more than the whales, important though they are to her. She has grown to love the peoples of the Pacific Islands and understands the pain they are starting to feel because of climate change threats.
She says: “I often chat to the locals about climate change. They are always in my thoughts whenever I take part in any actions to fight the climate change crisis. I do what I do for my family and friends but, also, I do it for powerless peoples everywhere.
“My friends in Tonga walk lightly on the planet and yet they are the ones facing the worst consequences of climate change caused by the selfish consumerism of nations like our own.”
Former Gloucester Mayor Julie Lyford has this to say about Dom:
“Dom and Brett Jacobs and their family have been a large part of my family’s life for many years. The integrity, love and selfless devotion to their children, their community, and in protecting the places and wildlife they care deeply about is inspiring and incredibly life-affirming.
“It was a wonderful privilege to observe Dom and the extended Jacobs family in NSW Parliament House when Dom was honoured and acknowledged as a nominee for Mother of The Year. Her dedication to love and care for children who needed a safe, stable, kind, and nurturing home has been, and continues to be, one of the most beautiful aspects of Dom as a person.
“Dom’s deep sense of social justice for those who need care, coupled with a strong, loving family life, has garnered deep respect and admiration from everyone who knows her.”
Former head of the Environmental Defenders Office and now NSW State MP, Sue Higginson comments:
“This is a massive win for protest and nonviolent civil disobedience. It is not every day two Knitting Nanna’s take on the state and win. I commend the courage and tenacity of Dom and Helen – it takes true grit to be an applicant in these massive cases.
“These laws, with harsh and excessive penalties, were introduced with the direct intention of stifling dissent and protest and punishing protestors who were simply calling for real climate action. The laws were widely condemned by over 230 civil society, human rights and lawyer groups.
“Since then, we have seen protestors targeted, searched, jailed and facing harsh and restrictive bail conditions under an anti-protest regime that is contrary to our fundamental right of political communication in this country and an assault on our democracy.
“I have written to the Premier and the Attorney General asking them to seriously consider the decision and not only repeal the laws that the court has declared unconstitutional, but to use this as the opportunity to repeal all of the anti-protest laws that are sitting in our law books under the dark draconian shadow that they are.”