Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

WA: Stop & search laws undermine civil liberties

The West Australian Liberal government is pushing a ‘law and order’ agenda of which one aspect is the proposed Criminal Investigation Amendment Bill 2009. The bill is currently under review and seeks to give powers to the police to ‘stop and search’ people in all public places with absolutely no need for a reason. Even federal Liberal Party member Joe Hockey attacked the laws labeling them a threat to individual liberty and saying they go “too far”.

WA already has mandatory sentencing laws meaning that if someone resists a search they will face the prospect of prison. Britain and other countries have introduced similar laws under the guise of ‘anti terrorism’ legislation. This has resulted in personal prejudice being the basis for searches. If a police officer has no reason to suspect a person of committing a crime, then the only possible basis they can have to make a decision on who to search can be prejudice.

In Britain it was found that in 2008 out of 170,000 searches not a single one produced a conviction. It was also found that minority groups were unfairly targeted being far more likely to be searched.

The government’s excuse for wanting to introduce these laws is violence in Northbridge around bars and night clubs. In reality the problems of violence in Northbridge are linked to bar owners plying people with alcohol and then turfing them out on the streets. Matters are made worse by the lack of transport options. People are often forced to wait for hours at taxi ranks.

A better way to address the problem would be to extend public transport throughout the night and to ensure nightclubs and bars are serving alcohol responsibly. We need a community plan that involves venues, patrons and residents to get people home quicker and to address the problems of alcohol fuelled violence without undermining civil liberties.

By David Suter