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Thursday, 25 February 2016
Page: 2307

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (09:30): Rethink the Link is a grassroots collective of community groups from across the Fremantle electorate which is fighting the state and federal Liberal governments' imposition of the ill-conceived Perth Freight Link truck freeway on our communities. Rethink the Link is a legitimate, persistent, coordinated and peaceful campaign supported by a diverse range of people. So far it has succeeded in having the shoddy state environmental approval thrown out by the Supreme Court. For its efforts in standing up for the community, Rethink the Link was last month, in a beautifully poignant twist, awarded the Premier's Australia Day Active Citizenship Award for a community group.

I am among many who have pledged to peacefully protest the construction of the Perth Freight Link, including Roe Highway stage 8 through the precious Beeliar Wetlands in Bibra Lake, by blocking the path of bulldozers if that is what is required to express the level of community dissatisfaction with this project. But now the same state government which applauded and awarded Rethink the Link's activism is pushing through broad and draconian antiprotest laws which carry penalties of up to two years jail and $24,000 fines for physically 'preventing lawful activity'. This law, which the Premier states is intended to prevent people from locking themselves to equipment in protest, is so generally worded that it makes it illegal for a person to 'knowingly possess a thing' when planning to protest. This law marks the first time that the onus of proof will lie with those accused to demonstrate that a 'thing' is not intended for use in a protest.

On Tuesday hundreds of people from a broad cross-section of the community, including religious leaders, unions, environmentalists, Aboriginal elders, lawyers and members of the public, gathered in front of the WA parliament to protest this proposed law. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last week slammed as 'chilling' this legislation, which will criminalise lawful protests and silence environmentalists and human rights defenders. The UN report states:

The proposed legislation will have the chilling effect of silencing dissenters and punishing expression protected by international human rights law. Instead of having a necessary legitimate aim, the Bill's offense provisions disproportionately criminalize legitimate protest actions … the passage of the Bill would grant police disproportionate and unnecessary powers to restrict lawful protests, primarily against environmental activists trying to raise awareness of key environmental issues. "It discourages legitimate protest activity and instead, prioritizes business and government resource interests over the democratic rights of individuals," … "Human rights defenders have a legitimate right to promote and protect all human rights, including the right to a healthy environment, regardless of whether their peaceful activities are seen by some as frustrating development projects or are costlier for the police to address."

In its report Safeguarding democracy, released this week, the Human Rights Law Centre pointed to the corrosion of our democracy. In the words of the centre's executive director, Hugh de Kretser:

Open government, a free press, a strong and diverse civil society and the rule of law are some of the vital foundations of our democracy. Yet we are witnessing an unmistakeable trend in Australia of governments eroding these foundations with new laws and practices that entrench secrecy and stifle criticism and accountability.

In my view, this legislation may contravene the implied constitutional freedom of political communication. The ignorance and obstinacy of the WA government will likely force the community to take another legal action, this time to the High Court. (Time expired)