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CHOGM laws breach human rights

CHOGM laws breach human rights

Security laws passed for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this year are a "wholesale suspension of human rights", according to the WA president of the Australian Lawyers…

Security laws passed for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this year are a "wholesale suspension of human rights", according to the WA president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

Tom Percy QC said the CHOGM (Special Powers) Act, designed to promote the security and safety of people attending CHOGM in Perth in October, was "contrary to anyone's notion of fairness or proper procedure".

His protests mirror those which flowed from the unprecedented security operations surrounding the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, in which 21 world leaders descended upon Sydney in September 2007.

CHOGM is held every two years to facilitate discussion about global and Commonwealth issues, and to agree on collective policies and initiatives. From 28 to 30 October this year, as many as 3000 delegates - including the Queen - from more than 50 nations are expected to attend.

The Australian Army, Navy and Air Force are involved in the security operations, along with WA and Australian Federal Police, and Customs. Under the CHOGM (Special Powers) Act, authorities will be able to exclude people from designated "security areas"; ban items such as marbles, poles and 'offensive liquids'; take personal details; and search people and bags with no reasonable grounds for suspicion.

After stop and search laws were rejected by the WA parliament in 2010 as a general law, Percy said all that was needed for CHOGM was an increased police and security presence.

"We have a set of laws enacted by parliament which say they are sufficient for the peace, order and good government of the state. Why we need any more for a special function, I don't know," said Percy.

"There's a suspension of our general prohibition on stop and search; an abrogation of the right to appeal determinations or seek compensation; the handing over of what are normally police functions to people such as security guards ... It just turns the whole place, for the period in question, into a police state."

National president of the ALA, Greg Barns, said earlier this year that the CHOGM legislation was a "suspension of the rule of law" and "a charter for police misconduct". Both ALA leaders voiced their concerns at the recent annual WA Conference of the ALA, alongside WA Governor Malcolm McCusker AO QC.

McCusker said he had signed into law the CHOGM security legislation but did so without any personal approval of it. While he acknowledged that he could not personally advocate for legislative change, he stressed it was the duty of all legal professionals to carefully scrutinise laws that had the capacity to produce unfair outcomes.

"I see it as being endemic that both sides [of government] are locked into the 'law and order auction'; that is, any sign of any opposition or any support for human rights is perceived to be a weakness and symptomatic that that particular party is weak on crime if it is not opposed," Percy told Lawyers Weekly.

"I know by speaking to several members [of government] privately that they're opposed to these measures but are reluctant to oppose them publicly."

Stephanie Quine

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