Reports that the WA state government is planning to give police "stop and search" powers during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) later this year should concern all Western Australians.
Even more worrying — albeit unsurprising — is that the ALP has dropped its lukewarm opposition to the laws, at least for the duration of the summit.
Stop and search laws were rejected by the state upper house in November and the CHOGM summit is no excuse to bring them in by the back door.
The Law Society’s Hylton Quail is correct to point out that police already have extensive powers to stop and search, and that CHOGM is no justification for removing the requirement for reasonable suspicion before police make a search.
Labor frontbencher Margaret Quirk said the ALP opposition would support the stop and search laws as a one-off as long as they are similar to NSW Labor's police powers laws for the APEC summit in 2007. But this explanation ignores two important points about the NSW laws.
First, those laws were extremely draconian and unnecessary. They led to a number of abuses of police powers around the time of the APEC summit. Those laws were one part of an intimidation campaign specifically designed to deter people from exercising their legitimate right to protest.
Second, the supposedly “one-off” APEC laws were resurrected and repackaged for the Pope’s visit to Sydney in 2008.
These latter laws were challenged in the federal court and overturned, in part showing that the state government crafted the laws without regard for civil liberties and democratic rights.
We should oppose WA police minister Rob Johnson's latest move: police stop and search powers are likely to intimidate people from exercising their right to protest at CHOGM. Also, if the government gets away with using them this time, it will try to bring them back in other circumstances.