A large and passionate crowd, including a varied range of community groups, gathered at WA’s State Parliament House yesterday to stand together to defend their right to peaceful protest.
The State Government’s proposed Criminal Code Amendment (Prevention of Lawful Activity) Bill 2015 proposes to criminalise the possession of a ‘thing’ at a protest and introduces fines of up to $24 000 or 24 months imprisonment.
Many community groups fear the bill will prevent people from raising their voices in peaceful protest. They also claim the bill reverses the onus of proof, meaning protesters can be presumed to have criminal intent, rather than being innocent until proven guilty. The Uniting Church WA and a number of other community groups have signed a statement supporting the Protect Peaceful Protest campaign and has been engaged as a prominent member of the coalition for more than 12 months.
Protesters at the rally were encouraged to bring along a ‘thing’, to highlight how broad the term is and how easily it could become misused. Participants turned up with mobile phones, banners, wheelchairs, Bibles, candles and more. Some were dressed in character; including Dr Suess’ Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Kate Davis, a lawyer with Community Legal Centres WA, addressed the crowd.
“The legislation does not attempt to narrow the ‘thing’ at all. Similarly, the new offences could impact the prevention of any lawful activity,” she said.
Rev Chris Bedding, representing the Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission, spoke of the Love Makes a Way campaign which involves sit-ins in political offices around Australia, often resulting in arrest. Chris said that sometimes you have to break the law in order to do what is just.
“These are people are committed to their faith, committed to their communities, who are not afraid to flout the law if it means standing up for what is right,” he said.
“That’s why the Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission, and that’s why the Uniting Church Synod of Western Australia, and that’s why Baptistcare, and that’s why countless Christians around WA are standing in solidarity with you people to say that we have to protect peaceful protest – because sometimes governments act unjustly. And unless people like ourselves are willing to get in the way of that injustice, they will continue to act with impunity.”
Chris continued, explaining the importance of community groups standing together for this cause.
“I’m inspired by Jesus, you’re going to get your inspiration from whatever source you want; but together, if we stand together in solidarity, we can protect human rights and we can work together to ensure that our environment is protected, Aboriginal sacred sites are protected, our rights at work are protected and the rights of the most vulnerable and weakest people in our community are protected,” he said.
To find out more on the campaign to Protect Peaceful Protest visit http://protectpeacefulprotest.com/.