By MAL GILL
BOOS, derisive jeers and slow hand clapping greeted Nationals WA leader Terry Redman when he told a protest demonstration on the steps of parliament on Tuesday The Nationals would not block anti-protest legislation.
Mid West farmers joined with church groups, civil libertarians, unionists, animal rights groups, conservationists and others - about 120 in all - to protest at the Criminal Code Amendment (Prevention of Lawful Activity) Bill introduced in the Upper House in February.
They greeted Mr Redman with polite applause when he and other National MPs were introduced by Father Chris Bedding from the Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission of Perth who conducted the demonstration.
However, boos, jeers and slow clapping threatened to drown Mr Redman out after he said The Nationals would continue to support the passage of the bill which seeks to criminalise two forms of protest activity.
It proposes penalties of up to two years' jail or $24,000 fine for a new offence of physical prevention of lawful activity and one year's jail or $12,000 fine for creating, adapting or possessing an item for trespass or preventing a lawful activity.
"The reason we are doing this (supporting the bill) is that the legislation only applies to protest action which prevents a lawful activity," Mr Redman said.
"If people don't like the lawful activity then we should change that activity."
He tried to reassure demonstrators that "getting a level playing field" for farmers who were "trying to take on big companies" wanting to look for oil or gas on their land was something "we do feel very strongly about".
He said Moore MP Shane Love, one of three Nationals MPs to attend the demonstration, was working on ways of achieving that.
Mr Redman accepted a petition of 14,618 signatures opposing the bill from Conservation Council of WA director Piers Verstegen.
The online petition and demonstration was organised by the Protect Peaceful Protest group, an amalgam of 71 diverse organisations, including WAFarmers, churches, and conservation, anti-fracking and anti-mining groups.
Earlier in the demonstration Catherine Davenport outlined opposition in Carnamah Shire to fracking and oil and gas search activities on farmland, as reported on in last week's Farm Weekly.
Irwin River mango and rockmelon grower Rod Copeland called on The Nationals to "throw it (bill) out".
"We will have no say, we (farmers) won't be able to lock our gates if this goes through," he said.
Opposition leader Mark McGowan told the crowd if the anti-protest legislation was approved, a future Labor government would repeal it.
Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren said the government "doesn't have the right to take away our right to complain".
"It's a bridge too far to criminalise the right to protest," she said.
"It shows the government is scared of the people."