Monday, January 24, 2011

No excuse for 'Stop and Search' laws during CHOGM

Alex Bainbridge at Stop Bush
protest Sydney 2007
Reports that the state government is planning to bring in "Stop and Search" laws for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) later this year should be of concern to all Western Australians.

Even more worrying (albeit unsurprising) is that the ALP has dropped its lukewarm opposition to the laws, at least for the duration of the summit. (I say that the ALP's opposition to the laws was lukewarm because they typically spoke out against the "scope" and the "untargetted" nature of the laws rather than the fundamental attack on civil liberties that they represented.)

These laws have already been rejected by the state upper house and the CHOGM summit is no excuse to bring them in by the back door.

The Law Society's Hylton Quail is correct to point out that police already have extensive powers to stop and search and that CHOGM is no justification for removing the requirement for reasonable suspicion before police make a search.

Labor frontbencher Margaret Quirk's explanation that the opposition will support Stop and Search laws as a one-off as long as they are similar to NSW Labor's police powers laws for the APEC summit in 2007 ignores two important points about the NSW laws:

Firstly, those laws were extremely draconian and unnecessary. They led to a number of abuses of police powers around the time of the APEC summit. Those laws were one part of an intimidation campaign specifically designed to deter people from exercising their legitimate right to protest.

Secondly, the supposedly 'one-off' APEC laws were resurrected and repackaged for the Pope's visit to Sydney in 2008 proving that there is no such thing as a 'one-off' suspension of civil rights. These latter laws were challenged in the federal court and overturned in part. This demonstrated that the state government crafted the laws without regard for civil liberties and democratic rights.

It is for both of these reasons that we should oppose police minister Rob Johnson's latest move: both because they are likely to intimidate people from exercising their right to protest at CHOGM and also because if the government gets away with using them this time, they'll try to bring them back in other circumstances as well.

By Alex Bainbridge
Socialist Alliance WA co-convenor