Speak with your feet

KATE DAVIS is a lawyer, and has co-convened the Protect Peaceful Protest campaign since the Bill was first announced in March 2015. The campaign brings together unions, churches, the environment movement, lawyers and social justice movements. Kate is also the Australian Greens candidate for the federal seat of Fremantle.  

HAVE you ever been so moved by an issue that you felt the need to act? To write to the minister? Attend a rally? Participate in a community picket or blockade?

These type of actions have achieved a great deal for all of us: saving the south-west forests; stopping the shark cull; gaining the eight-hour working day.

Governments in WA, NSW, Tasmania and Victoria have proposed draconian new laws, targeted at peaceful protest.

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We know these laws target peaceful protest, because in WA the Barnett government says its proposed laws are in response to community protests at James Price Point in the Kimberley, and in the forests of the south-west. There’s no allegation of violence at these protests – simply community members linking arms, and locking on to save our precious places.

Many feel Barnett’s laws are targeted at us here in Freo, with hundreds of locals ready to put their bodies on the line to protect the Beeliar wetlands from the Roe 8 bulldozers. Others raise concerns the laws are targeted at famers locking their gates to fracking.

Barnett’s laws are part of a growing trend of legislation that undermines civil rights.  Governments are targeting people with the courage to stand up for what they believe in, and in doing so, undermine basic human and civil rights.

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These proposed laws strike at the presumption of innocence, the touchstone of our criminal justice system. Barnett intends to create new offences, including possession of “a thing” for the purpose of preventing a lawful activity, or for the purpose of trespass. It’s anyone’s guess what the government is targeting with the crime of “possession of a thing for the purpose of trespass” – shoes? A map?

Not content with criminalising possession of “a thing” the proposed laws go further, reversing the onus of proof with respect to intent. This attacks both the presumption of innocence and the right to silence.

The Barnett government’s laws are drafted so broadly, and attack such fundamental principles, that the United Nations Human Rights legal experts, the WA Law Society, the Criminal Lawyers Association and the Community Legal Centres Association of WA have all spoken out in opposition.

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No fewer than 80 organisations have signed the joint statement with the Protect Peaceful Protest campaign. Constitutional lawyers raise concerns the Bill infringes the Commonwealth Constitution’s implied freedom of political communication, and could be struck down by the High Court.

With the Senate recently staring down the PM over the Australian Building and Construction Commission, it’s tempting to write off the whole pantomime as just politics. But this is serious, the ABCC proposal strips workers of the right to silence. This is a fundamental right central to a healthy democracy.

At the big May Day rally (see the pictures above) we celebrated the rights of workers to collectively organise: these rights, and the rights to protest, are being undermined and we must defend them.

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One response to “Speak with your feet

  1. How ridiculous that a little group of people think they can stop people from going about their lawful business.
    Good on the state government for passing such laws, protest is fine, until some one physically stops another from doing there job.
    What would they say if a group of protestors stop them from getting to their protest all we would hear about is their rights.
    Seems their opinion is all that counts
    I don’t agree with Barnett a lot but it’s about time the government stopped the broader community from being held to ransom by small groups of professional protestors.

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