WAFarmers in protest-law backflip

Rueben HaleCountryman
Former WAFarmers president Dale Park (far right) with (from left) Law Society of WA president Matt Keogh, UnionsWA secretary Meredith Hammat, Conservation Council WA’s Piers Verstegen, Opposition Leader Mark McGowan, BaptistCare leader of mission and service Stephen Hall and No Shark Cull Group chairwoman Natalie Banks.
Camera IconFormer WAFarmers president Dale Park (far right) with (from left) Law Society of WA president Matt Keogh, UnionsWA secretary Meredith Hammat, Conservation Council WA’s Piers Verstegen, Opposition Leader Mark McGowan, BaptistCare leader of mission and service Stephen Hall and No Shark Cull Group chairwoman Natalie Banks. Credit: Countryman

WA Labor has expressed its “disappointment”, after WAFarmers changed its position on tough new anti-protest legislation proposed by Parliament.

Last year WAFarmers vehemently opposed the Barnett Government’s Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2015 alongside Labor and several other high-profile groups on the steps of Parliament.

At the time, former president Dale Park said the federation was concerned about the Bill because it potentially criminalised peaceful protests, including those staged by farmers on issues affecting agriculture.

But the lobby group has announced that its position on the issue has changed.

Newly appointed president Tony York said the group no longer held reservations about the Bill after receiving a briefing on the proposed laws from Police Minister Liza Harvey.

“This Bill aims to criminalise actions of a person who prevents lawful activity from occurring, via actual or by threat of force, the creation or maintenance of a physical barrier or the creation or maintenance of a risk of injury to any person,” Mr York said.

“For the offence to apply, a person must create the physical barrier with the intent to prevent lawful activity. There is a presumption clause that presumes a person to have the requisite intention where the circumstances give rise to reasonable grounds.”

“Some opposition has arisen to this Bill as the onus of proof has somewhat shifted from traditional laws, as police have the “right” to make a presumption.

“That aside, as the Bill is aiming to outlaw mechanisms such as thumb locks and other implements that could be manufactured/used to attach a person to machinery or similar, the police would quite easily be able to find evidence on the person to satisfy any presumptions”

Mr York said WAFarmers did not oppose this Bill.

“This Bill is not trying to quash one’s right to protest (peacefully), and certainly is not aiming to outlaw free speech; these are the exact arguments many of the opposing view are using to try and gain support,” he said.

“There are instances where animal activists have trespassed onto agricultural lands which has led to criminal damage, biodiversity issues and animal welfare offences resulting in stock losses.”

But WA Labor leader Mark McGowan said WAFarmers’ original position was correct.

The laws are too broad and too extreme,” he said.

“They have potential to see farmers treated as criminals for attending peaceful protests, or locking their gates to prevent mining exploration on their property, or simply being in possession of a ‘thing’.”

Mr McGowan said his party would not support the laws.

“Farmers across WA have been let down by the Liberal and National parties,” he said. “They’ve arrogantly ignored farmers’ concerns over these draconian laws.”

“WA Labor will stand with the community. If we’re elected in 2017, we will repeal the laws.”

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