Campaigners expected a new “anti-association” law to be passed by the Parliament of Western Australia on May 1. Instead, the law has been debated inside and outside parliament ever since.
The new law would give a judge the power to declare an organization “criminal association”. Members of declared organizations may receive “control orders” restricting their contact with other people and may even ban their use of the telephone or e-mail.
Members of declared organizations or associates of members face a mandatory prison sentence of two years if convicted of even the most minor criminal offense.
eminent lawyer and former president of the bar, Hylton Quail, described this legislation as âThe most significant erosion of the rule of law and civil liberties that has occurred in the life of this governmentâ.
Similar laws have been found unconstitutional in New South Wales and South Australia. Attorney General Christian Porter has said the current bill will survive a legal challenge, but critics dispute it.
The United Motorcycle Council of WA (UMCWA) has taken the initiative to oppose this bill since motorcycle clubs are at the forefront of the government’s attack. Civil liberties groups such as Search for Rights have spoken out strongly against the bill, as have the Greens in WA, some union leaders, Forest Rescue and the Socialist Alliance.
The Labor “opposition” has proposed some amendments to the law, but supports the bill. Shadow Attorney General John Quigley – who has a reputation for speaking out on civil liberties issues – also backed the law.
WA Socialist Alliance co-organizer Alex Bainbridge said Green Left Weekly that opposition leader Mark McGowan relied on unconvincing arguments to justify Labor support.
“Speaking on ABC radio [on May 16]McGowan basically said he didn’t want to be associated with the bikes, âBainbridge said. “This is no reason to take away basic legal rights from the whole community.”
UMCWA this month organized two rallies outside parliament against the proposed laws. The second, involving 100 people, took place on May 15.
UMCWA spokesperson Anthony âShepâ Shepherd told the crowd the law would affect the entire community. He said: “It is very important that everyone realizes that this law is coming for them, not just for bicycles.” Shepherd went on to say that the law could affect anyone having any association with someone subject to a control order.
Speaking at the rally, Bainbridge pointed to the massive police mobilization in Kimberley the day before as an example of how the government was using brute force instead of democratic means to support the interests of big business like Woodside.
He argued that the anti-association law was part of a larger scheme of undermining democratic rights so that Liberal and Labor governments could more easily represent corporate interests.
Bainbridge also conveyed greetings from the Defend Free Speech Perth coalition.
Human rights activist Seamus Doherty condemned the PLA for its support for these laws. Robert Callan of the Refugee Rights Action Network said the group passed a motion opposing the bill.
At the previous rally on May 3, representatives of unions, Prisoner Fellowship and the United Church were also heard.
[Related article: Ten things you should know about the anti-association laws]