Perth rally defends the right to protest

Issue 

1000 people rallied on the steps of WA parliament on February 23 to protest against the Barnett Governments anti-protest laws. The "Criminal Code Amendment (Prevention of Lawful Activity) Bill" passed through the upper house on February 16 but has not yet gone to the lower house.

The Barnett government government claims that these laws are needed in order to clamp down on what it claims to be "extreme protest movements". He cited the successful campaign against the James Price Point oil and gas hub.

However these laws have been considered so draconian that three United Nations Human Rights experts have written an open letter to the Barnett government urging that the laws be scrapped.

If passed, the laws would make it a criminal offence to physically block lawful activity or to carry a "thing" with the presumed intent to block lawful activity. It opens the possibility of two year prison terms for peaceful protest.

After giving a welcome to country, Nyoongar elder Uncle Ben Taylor told the assembled crowd that "he had been campaigning on the steps of Parliament house for 30 years and would continue to do so til the day he died".

He was followed by State opposition leader Mark McGowan who denounced the laws, stating “they are too broad" and that they will impact ordinary protests by ordinary people.

"There can be no compromise, there can be no amendment, there can be no fiddling at the edges," he said. McGowan promised that a future ALP government would repeal the laws.

Kate Davis from the Community Legal Centres Association noted that the proposed laws would remove a person's presumption of innocence, which is a bedrock of the legal system. This means that instead of the prosecution having to prove that you're guilty, you have to prove that you're innocent.

The UN Special Rapporteurs stated that the laws are so draconian that they could be considered to be in violation of the implied right to freedom of expression in the Australian constitution. Other legal organisations have come out against the laws.

Father Chris Bedding from the Anglican Church and Love Makes a Way told the crowd that in order to do the right thing you sometimes have to defy unjust laws. He cited the church leaders who were staging a sit in in the Victorian Parliament that very day in support of the 267 refugees in danger of deportation to Nauru.

Photos by Alex Bainbridge