Protest against anti-protest bill

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Mid-West farmers were last week out in force, joining other groups at Parliament House to demonstrate their objection to anti-protest laws being debated in State Parliament.

The farmers joined with conservationists, church leaders, unionists, social justice groups, lawyers and others to demonstrate their objection to the anti-protest laws.

The group handed a petition with more than 14,000 signatures opposed to the laws to Premier Colin Barnett.

More than 65 groups have signed a joint statement opposing the proposed laws.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Prevention of Lawful Activity) Bill 2015 has been attracting criticism for its broad language, reversal on the onus of proof and its application on both public and private land.

The farmers, predominantly from the Irwin and Carnamah shires, were concerned because their communities had vowed to protect their land and water from gas fracking, which includes locking their gates to prevent access by gas companies.

However, under the proposed law, farmers who locked their gates against gas fracking on their land could face 12 months jail or a $12,000 fine.

Irwin mango and rockmelon grower Rod Copeland said the proposed amendments flew in the face of democracy.

Mr Copeland said in wanting to protest about fracking on their land, the farmers had no intention of being violent.

"We are just talking about locking our gates against gas companies and making a stance - yet that will be illegal," he said. He said any law which removed a farmer's right to protect the health of their families, farmland and groundwater must be rejected by the WA Parliament.

Earlier this month, Carnamah declared itself gasfield free at a community-organised ceremony, after a survey supported by 96.8 per cent of residents.

Central Greenough and Cervantes are other areas that had previously declared themselves gas- free.

Mr Copeland said the Irwin area planned to do the same at a public event in late June.

Irwin will differ slightly and declare itself non-conventional gas field free in recognition that conventional gas fields already exist.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said the Criminal Code Amendment was a law that was not needed and he was particularly concerned people would be considered guilty until proven innocent.

He said although he had met with the police minister and assured protests such as holding up banners would not be considered illegal, the current wording was too ambiguous and open to interpretation.

Mr Park said landowners should have a veto on mining and gas exploration.

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said his party would repeal the anti-protest legislation.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Greens introduced a Bill that would give landholders the right to refuse shale gas and coal-seam gas mining on their properties, to a Senate standing committee.

The Landholder's Right to Refuse Bill 2015 also seeks an outright ban on fracking in Australia.

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