Broad community opposes Protest Laws

The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) has today joined a broad alliance opposing the Government’s proposed laws to criminalise protest activities. Over 30 organisations including, union, political, civil society, faith and environment groups have joined in a move to defend our democratic rights for peaceful protest.  

 

Simone van Hattem, Community Engagement Lead at CCWA said "People's rights to protest have protected things we all love, value and rely on. Peaceful protest has protected our State from long term risks like becoming the world’s nuclear waste dump; it has protected places that are now on the World Heritage Register like Ningaloo Reef and has saved some stands of forest in the South West that are under continued threat from logging.”

Chantelle Roberts, CCWA Climate Campaigner said "These new laws mean that people who stand up to protect their land and water could be branded as criminals.”

“The law is very broadly drafted and could be open to misuse. We are very concerned that people will be intimidated into not attending peaceful, legal protests and events or speaking out to protect the places they love.”

"Anyone who relies on ground water, who loves our forests and bushland, people who want to secure a better future for generations to come should be deeply concerned about this legislation.” 

 

Media Contact:

Simone Van Hattem: 9420 7266, 0421389013

A number of spokespeople from the organisations who have signed the joint statement are available for comment.

Attached – joint statement and list of signatories

Briefing on the concerns around the legislation

 

Joint Statement - Criminal Code Amendment (Prevention of Lawful Activity) Bill 2015

On behalfof our staff, members and communities we represent, we the undersigned organisations are gravely concerned by the Criminal Code Amendment (Prevention of Lawful Activity) Bill 2015 and the implications it has for advocates, activists and concerned citizens.

Our first concern is the criminalisation of protest. Australians have a long, proud history of peaceful demonstration, which has been instrumental in securing the rights that many of us now take for granted; the right to vote, to a fair wage for a fair day’s work, to a fair price for produce for farmers, and those longstanding campaigns to protect the beautiful places we love, from the Franklin River to the Ningaloo Reef.

We are concerned that the punishments defined in the bill, up to $24000 or 24 months’ imprisonment, will act as a deterrent to lawful and peaceful protests; inhibiting our ability and the ability of all Western Australians to stand up for the people, places and activities they love and to have their voices heard.

Secondly, reversing the onus of proof undermines the fundamental presumption of innocence. Concerned citizens taking political action should not be presumed to have criminal intent. We are concerned that the law is so broadly drafted as to be open to misuse. In criminalizing the possession of a "thing", this law creates a very wide crime and is a threat to civil liberties.

Peaceful demonstration has played an important role in shaping our modern society and we foresee dire consequences of stifling the right to engage in such activity. We are calling on all our parliamentarians to oppose this bill in order to protect our fundamental rights and values.

Signed:

  • The Western Australian Farmers Federation
  • Community Legal Centres Association of Western Australia
  • Western Australian Council of Social Services (WACOSS)
  • Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University
  • The Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission, Anglican Diocese of Perth
  • The Justice, Ecology and Development Office (JEDO), Catholic Archdiocese of Perth
  • The Uniting Church in Western Australia
  • The Church of Christ, Wembley Downs
  • BaptistCare Support Services
  • Unions WA
  • Alliance for a Clean Environment
  • Save Helms Forest
  • Save Mowen Forest
  • Save Our Trees
  • The Conservation Council of Western Australia
  • The Wilderness Society WA
  • Sea Shepherd Australia
  • Margaret River Regional Environment Centre
  • Environs Kimberley
  • Australian Youth Climate Coalition
  • 350.org Australia
  • Hands Off Point Peron
  • Grandmothers Against Removals WA
  • Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance
  • Refugee Rights Action Network
  • People for Nuclear Disarmament
  • Nyoongar Tent Embassy
  • Anti Nuclear Alliance of WA
  • WA Forest Alliance
  • Justice for Reza Barati
  • The Anti-Bigotry Response Team
  • Socialist Alliance WA
  • No Shark Cull
  • No Fracking WAy
  • Stop Live Exports
  • West Australia Nuclear Free Alliance
  • Ban Uranium Mining Permanently (collective)
  • Animal Liberation WA
  • Defending Public Space
  • Counteract

 

Many people and community groups oppose the Criminal Code Amendment (Prevention of Lawful Activity) Bill 2015. Here is a summary of the reasons why:

  1. This bill criminalises peaceful protest.  People all over the world and throughout history have engaged in non-violent direct action to establish rights and protect beautiful places. 
  2. This bill applies on private land and on public land. This means that a farmer ‘locking the gate’ to fracking could be convicted of the offence of physically preventing lawful activity, for protecting their own farm.
  3. This bill creates an offence of possessing “a thing” to be used for preventing lawful activity or trespass.  This can apply to literally any thing. This criminalises the possession of ordinary everyday items, and is so broad it could apply to the possession of a pair of shoes.
  4. This bill reverses the onus of proof. In ‘circumstances giving rise to a reasonable suspicion’, anyone charged would have to prove that they did not intend to prevent lawful activity.  The presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle of our law, and should not be removed for peaceful protesters.  If you were charged would have to prove a negative, about your own thoughts.
  5. This legislation uses very broad terms to create new criminal offences. The offence relates to preventing any “lawful activity”, and to any “thing”. Criminal offences should be drafted specifically to target a crime, not as broadly as possible.
  6. Current laws already give police power to charge people for trespass, to issue a move on notice, and to charge people for failing to comply with a move on notice.  Move on notices can be issued pre-emptively if police are concerned an offence is going to be committed.  There are already a range of offences specific to protesting in forests and on mine sites. Police can already charge activists with ‘conspiracy’ to commit offences.
  7. The bill proposes that a Court can order an individual to pay the cost of police or others removing a physical barrier to lawful activity.  Costs of policing are not passed on to people who commit serious crimes such as murder or rape, and peaceful activists should not face these costs.
  8. This bill sets penalties at 2 years in prison and $24,000 fine. Many protesters have received spent convictions, after convincing the Court that they were motivated by the public interest, and were otherwise law abiding citizens.  Peaceful protestors do not deserve jail.  This penalty is disproportionate to the crime.
  9.  The bill is badly drafted. As well as very broad undefined terms, it includes circular sections imposing higher penalties, and includes a definition of “physically” prevent which seeks to include things well outside the normal definition of “physical”.  Poorly drafted legislation can easily be misused.
  10. Creating an offence of ‘possession of a thing’ could lead to police routinely searching or strip searching peaceful protesters. This would be an oppressive response to peaceful protest.

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  • published this page in Media Releases 2016-06-01 11:56:36 +0800