WA: Libs, Labor attack civil liberties

March 2, 2012
Forest Rescue activists. Simon Peterffy (centre) said he believes the WA government will use these laws to outlaw legitimate pol

The Mark McGowan-led Western Australian ALP opposition has promised it will support the Colin Barnett government’s controversial anti-association laws. The laws were debated in parliament on February 28.

Barnett has said the law will “crack down on outlaw bikie gangs”. However, the words “bikie”, “motorcycle” or “gang” do not appear once in the bill.

See also: Ten things you should know about Barnett's anti-association law

Instead, Pearl Lim of civil liberties group Search For Your Rights said these laws would give a “single, unaccountable judge the power to criminalise any association that he or she likes”.

This means that environmental or activist groups could potentially be targeted if they were deemed “criminal organisations”.

Forest Rescue activists are particularly worried that members of their group will become victims of these laws. Members of the group boarded the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru No 2 in January, receiving widespread publicity. They have taken part in other actions, including forest campaigns and the campaign against the James Price Point gas hub, near Broome.

Forest Rescue members sometimes make use of “non-violent direct action” tactics, including “locking on” to equipment used by environmental vandals.

Many activists have been arrested while taking peaceful direct action during the James Price Point campaign. But their actions have made an impact. The proposed development is widely unpopular. It would lead to environmental degradation and a huge rise in greenhouse pollution.

Woodside, the corporation leading the development, is suffering financial and legal difficulties due in large part to the protests and associated controversy.

Simon Peterffy from Forest Rescue told Green Left Weekly that he believes the government will use these laws to outlaw any similar campaign that proves effective.

Forest Rescue members have already suffered police attempts to use draconian bail conditions to outlaw association between group members.

Peterffy spoke of one case in which an activist was prevented from taking part in any protest action. In another case, two housemates were given bail conditions preventing them from associating with each other. In a third, two activists in a long-term relationship were given bail conditions preventing them from associating with each other.

Some of these bail conditions have been overturned in the courts, but they give an indication of the sorts of draconian measures that police could use if these laws pass.
Search For Your Rights emphasised that the proposed bill outlaws association instead of criminal actions. That is, a person can be punished for the actions of a friend or associate rather than their own actions.

Penalties include prison sentences of up to five years for: associating with another controlled person; recruiting a person to a declared organisation; or even allowing a declared group to use your premises.

Labor opposition figures have said they agree with “90%” of the bill. They intend to move amendments, not to protect the civil liberties of the people, but to prevent a successful High Court challenge to the bill. Similar laws in NSW and South Australia have been overturned by the high court.

Labor has also said its members plan to vote for the laws even if, as is likely, their amendments are not supported by the parliament.

Socialist Alliance Fremantle co-convener Sam Wainwright told GLW that Barnett’s bill is an overbearing attack on democratic rights. He called on Labor to reverse its support for the bill and oppose it outright.

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