Opposition grows to WA's anti-association law

About 100 people rallied against the proposed law outside state parliament on May 15. Photo courtesy of Alex Bainbridge

Activists expected that a new “anti-association” law would be passed by the Western Australian parliament on May 1. Instead, the law has been debated inside and outside parliament since then.

The new law would give power to a judge to declare an organisation to be a “criminal association”. Members of declared organisations can be given “control orders” restricting their contacts with other people and could even prohibit their use of telephones or email.

Members of declared organisations or associates of members would face a mandatory two years imprisonment if found guilty of even the most minor criminal offence.

Prominent barrister and former law society president, Hylton Quail, has described this legislation as the “most substantial erosion of the rule of law and civil liberties which has occurred during the life of this government”.

Similar laws have been found to be unconstitutional in NSW and South Australia. Attorney General Christian Porter says that the current bill would survive a high court challenge, but critics dispute this.

The United Motorcycle Council of WA (UMCWA) has taken the lead in opposing this bill since motorcycle clubs are in the front line of the government’s attack. Civil liberties groups such as Search for Rights have spoken out strongly against the bill as have the WA Greens, some union leaders, Forest Rescue and the Socialist Alliance.

The Labor “opposition” has moved some amendments to the law, but is supporting the bill. Shadow attorney general John Quigley — who has a reputation for speaking out on civil liberties matters — has also backed the law.

Socialist Alliance WA co-convener Alex Bainbridge told Green Left Weekly that opposition leader Mark McGowan relied on unconvincing arguments to justify Labor’s support.

“Speaking on ABC radio [on May 16], McGowan basically said he didn’t want to be associated with bikies,” Bainbridge said. “That is hardly a reason to take away fundamental legal rights from the whole community.”

The UMCWA has organised two rallies outside parliament against the proposed laws this month. The second, involving 100 people, took place on May 15.

UMCWA spokesperson, Anthony “Shep” Shepherd told the crowd that the law would affect the entire community. He said: “It is very important that everybody realise that this law is coming for them, not just the bikies.” Shepherd went on to say the law could affect anyone who had any association with a person under a control order.

Speaking at the rally, Bainbridge pointed to the massive police mobilisation to the Kimberley the day before as an example of how the government was using brute force instead of democratic means to support the interests of big corporations like Woodside.

He argued that the anti association law was part of a broader pattern of undermining democratic rights so Liberal and Labor governments could more easily represent corporate interests.

Bainbridge also gave greetings from the Defend Free Speech Perth coalition.

Human rights campaigner Seamus Doherty condemned the ALP for its support of these laws. Robert Callan from Refugee Rights Action Network said the group had passed a motion opposing the bill.

The earlier rally on May 3 heard also from representatives from trade unions, Prisoner Fellowship and the Uniting Church.

[Related article: Ten things you should know about the anti-association laws]