The use of the Liquor Control Act to ban vegan protester Tash Peterson from all approved venues in Western Australia has been described by legal experts as an ‘abuse’ and ‘misuse’ of the law, in a State without human rights legislation through which to challenge it.
- WA Police used the Liquor Control Act to ban vegan protester Tash Peterson from all pubs, clubs and restaurants in the state
- Legal experts have raised concerns about the law’s ‘misuse’ and ‘overbreadth’ against it
- WA Police say restraining orders are used as a ‘protective mechanism’ to ‘minimize harm’ to people in licensed places
Ms Peterson, a controversial figure known in WA for staging graphic and divisive animal rights protests involving fake blood and nudity, left that state after being banned from all licensed sites under the section 115AA(2) of the Act. The ban affects restaurants, bars, nightclubs, pubs, licensed events and liquor stores.
“I have no doubt this is an attempt to try to silence me as an animal rights activist,” said Ms Peterson, who was found guilty of two counts of disorderly conduct and ‘a leader of intrusion for his demonstrations.
“And I believe I have the right to defend nonhuman animals in a nonviolent way, and I’m always nonviolent in my protests.”
Under the law, the Commissioner of Police or his delegate has the power to issue such a ban when he believes “on reasonable grounds” that the person has been violent, disorderly, indecent or violated the law in or near of approved premises.
But some legal experts said the use of the prohibition notice against Ms Peterson was concerning.
“[They are] for people who get violent and hurt people, they will see them.
“And when you look at most decisions, that’s what it’s really about.”
A tool, not a punishment, according to the Liquor Commission
According to a written ruling by the Liquor Commission, which oversees enforcement, the primary purpose of a prohibition notice was “to protect the general public or a licensee and not to act as a tool to punish the offender”.
Anna Copeland, an associate professor at Murdoch University, said prohibition notices were not designed to be used in cases where alcohol was not a factor.
“It’s really clearly designed to address disorderly indecent behavior or disorderly behavior associated with alcohol consumption,” Professor Copeland said.
“It is this problem that every law must be limited [to its purpose] because otherwise you would be overreaching on all sorts of fronts.
“I think he is abusing the law in this circumstance.”
Ms Peterson has been subject to several bans over the years, including the most recent order issued in June which remains in effect until March 2023.
Order is a “protective mechanism”: the police
WA Police said there was a process to decide when a prohibition notice was warranted.
“Incidents related to authorized premises are reviewed by the [Police] commissioner’s delegate,” a spokesperson said.
“After considering the circumstances, a decision is made whether a notice of prohibition is necessary to support the purposes of the law. [harm minimisation].”
The spokesman said the delay in the prohibition notice was “proportionate to the seriousness of the offence” and was a “protective mechanism” rather than a punishment.
A test of the law
Ms Peterson has been arrested and convicted of disorderly conduct on three occasions following her protests, where she called the killing of animals for meat a ‘murder’ and called the meat industry a ‘holocaust’ animal”.
In WA, she is a highly controversial figure who has been the target of vitriol and death threats, as well as being bullied and verbally abused during protests.
Professor Copeland said cases like Ms Peterson’s test laws that protect the right to protest.
“That’s the purpose of protecting them, so it’s not just there for protests that we don’t mind, or that we think are okay, or that may align with our values - or even not align. about our values but we can understand where they come from,” she said.
Australians have the right to peaceful protest under international human rights treaties the country has signed.
But human rights protections differ from state to state because, unlike many other western democracies such as Canada and the UK, Australia does not have a declaration or charter of rights.
University of Sydney law professor Simon Rice said the fact that WA, in particular, did not have its own human rights law limited Ms Peterson’s ability to challenge the order prohibition.
“She would have a basis to ask the courts whether the act against her, her exclusion, is a proportionate limit on her right to free speech.”
“I think the courts might well say that’s – that the way she protests is such that it’s probably permissible to prevent her [from accessing venues] — but at least you can have this discussion.”
The Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression
In 2007, the WA Labor government pledged to introduce a Human Rights Act and a draft bill was circulated for public comment, but the bill was never passed.
Although the Australian Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of speech or the right to demonstrate, the High Court of Australia has determined that the Constitution provides for an “implicit” freedom of political communication.
Mr Rice said it was the only way Ms Peterson could challenge the order in court.
The avenue of appeal provided by law in WA is to challenge it through the Liquor Commission, a cohort made up mainly of solicitors appointed by the Minister for Racing and Gaming.
Last year, the Commission dismissed an appeal from several people who had received a ban notice for an apparent protest at a restaurant in 2020. That ban notice only applied to licensed restaurants, rather than to a blanket ban like the one imposed on Mrs Peterson.
Alcohol doesn’t need to be a factor, Commission says
The protesters argued that the law did not apply because their conduct was not alcohol-related and that the punishment was disproportionate because they were not violent and did not cause harm.
But in a written decision, the Commission determined that alcohol consumption was not a required factor for issuing prohibition notices under the Act.
“It is sufficient that the incident took place in approved premises,” the decision states.
The Liquor Commission declined to comment and referred questions to WA Police.
Ms Peterson said she viewed the restraining order as a restriction on free speech.
Since arriving in Melbourne earlier this month, she has already taken part in a topless protest.
“If we look at every social justice movement in history, every activist has had to disrupt and participate in civil disobedience to create social change,” she told ABC Radio Perth host Christine Layton. , in an interview earlier this month.
She plans to appeal her two previous disorderly conduct convictions to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that WA magistrates erred in finding her conduct to be “disorderly”.