Rally against anti-protest law

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

WA Labor has vowed to repeal "extreme" anti-protest laws which are feared to impact on farmers.

Last week a broad coalition of community and industry groups gathered on the steps of State Parliament to vigorously oppose the State Government's extreme anti-protest laws.

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

Representatives from WAFarmers, the Law Society of WA, BaptistCare, Conservation Council of WA, Unions WA, and the No Shark Cull group individually expressed their concerns with the laws.

The group was protesting about how they perceived the laws could create a reverse onus of proof so people protesting or in possession of a "thing" would have to prove they were innocent and did not intend to prevent a lawful activity.

"The unfair and extreme laws could be used against farmers, church members, conservationists, local community groups, workers or anyone involved in a peaceful protest," the protest read.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said the farm lobby group is concerned about new legislation currently being debated in the Upper House which potentially criminalises peaceful protests, including those staged by farmers on issues affecting agriculture.

He said he is concerned about the potential ramifications for farmers who could face significant fines or jail time if they were to create a physical barrier to lawful activity or were even suspected of being about to. WAFarmers recently staged a peaceful protest at Wagin Woolorama, holding up a 'Save Lives, Save Rail' banner during Minister Dean Nalder's opening address.

"As I understand it, a police officer could have apprehended me beforehand on the grounds that I might be about to prevent lawful activity, which is ridiculous," Mr Park said.

"The legislation is not specific and uses broad language, such as the term 'thing', when referring to objects which people may use to prevent lawful activity."

At a press conference last week, Police Minister Liza Harvey said the laws are needed to prevent extreme forms of protest and that "it is not about farmers driving around their properties with padlocks and chains".

"Even if farmers are not the direct target of this legislation, as Minister Harvey has indicated, they are still at risk of being punished for exercising their right to protest peacefully," Mr Park said.

Meanwhile State opposition leader Mark McGowan said the laws "are just plain wrong" and has vowed a Labor Government would repeal them.

"They would treat peaceful protestors as criminals," Mr McGowan said.

"Peaceful protest is part of our way of life, it is an integral part of our democracy.

"These Liberal-National laws go way too far, they criminalise ordinary people."

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