Saturday, 31 October 2009

Civil disobedience can contribute to change

Two local supporters of Bryan Law's civil disobedience action, say such acts are good and can achieve a dialogue with the public.

Life-coach Geoff Holland, who moderates Cairns-coev, an online forum on environmental, community and sustainable development issues, advocates a careful approach to the attention-seeking behaviour.

Cairns is a conservative community.

Civil disobedience was used at False Cape and one person was arrested. It may not have directly achieved a lot, but it was certainly justified in hindsight.

It wasn't long ago it was declared illegal by the Queensland government to congregate in the street in groups of more than three or four (anti-assembly laws) - I forget the details but I believe that legislation enacted by the Joh Bjelke-Petersen government are still in effect. Civil disobedience should be used if only to have these repressive laws repealed.

A couple of years ago I set up a table with a petition on the pavement in Cairns CBD for two hours once a week. I had a police permit and there was plenty of room for pedestrians to pass the small table. Nevertheless, one politician and one law firm couldn't tolerate it (though there was nothing directly relating to them other than different political views) and contacted the Cairns City Council who forced me to stop.

I think civil disobedience should be used carefully and with discretion, and I think people need to be trained to carry out civil disobedience actions properly (eg to keep them positive and non-violent). It also does cost public money to address civil disobedience actions (but often saves
lots of public money in the long run).

But when there is failure of government, we need civil disobedience. There has been a massive failure of government up to this point to adequately address climate change.

For example in Cairns and FNQ we still have no program to measure greenhouse gas emissions for this region. If you don't measure it you cannot measure the success of any policy to reduce GHG emissions. Cairns and FNQ has one of the highest per capita emissions of GHGs in the world.

Here's an example of how civil disobedience is being used in less conservative (less parochial?)
communities in Australia.

Margaret Pestorius says that civil disobedience is often linked to civil and civic rights. She explains her reasons why, following her arrest after wanting to "inspect" the USS Blue Ridge in Cairns recently.

When Terry and I went to 'inspect' the USS Blue Ridge last week, we spent about half an hour handing out GI Rights pamphlets to sailors and marines.

For the second time this year, the PR guy for Cairns Ports told me that I couldn't hand out leaflets on Port Authority/Cairns Ports land. No one could. This is a classic example of the intersection between nonviolence on an issue [in this case challenging war] and civil rights [the right to freedom of communication – an inherent right underpinning democratic processes].

Terry asked him "what would you actually do if we kept handing out." He said he would warn us and then tell the police.

I told him again that actually Freedom of Communication is a right under the Australian Constitution, and this includes political communication: a democracy requires freedom of political communication so that people can remain informed about issues.

I suggested that if the Government was going to make public land 'private' by using the Government-owned corporations structure, I doubted it would stand up in court. That is what Singapore has done. After all, at what point does the Government stop restricting the actual spaces/places in which people can communicate?

I know this from a previous experience with the Cairns Post and the Council who had both at time tried unsuccessfully to stop us handing out pamphlets.

We kept handing out, and the guy told the police. They were smart enough to do nothing.

But over the past eight years, we have heard many examples of people in Cairns succumbing to this sort of civic threat and restricting there own actions – or worse still paying for them by being tricked into getting “public liability insurance”.

Many people were tricked by officers of the last Council. That Council had an unofficial policy that “there should be no politics in City Place” This was Kevin Byrne's idea but was never formal policy. There were many Council officials who attempted to enact the “policy”. The fact is they can’t stop politics in public places as long as people act reasonably regarding pedestrian/traffic flow and respectful behavior, especially if you get a Peaceful Assemblies Permit from the Police.

Once you have a permit, it becomes up to the Council to take your daggy activist group to the Magistrates court to oppose your suggestion for a stall or a handing out of leaflets. It just doesn’t happen because once they get there the magistrate is going to want to know how annoying it is compared with your right under the constitution - and it just isn’t. It is not annoying at all.

Donna Maree O’Connor once came down and issued a Bylaw offence ticket to the Buy Nothing Day Crew. What a joke. That didn’t succeed. It couldn’t have stood up in a court with the most basic ‘defence’.

So be warned and don’t be tricked by gamon Council officers pushing a non-policy from an ex-mayor. ‘Freedom of communication’ is an inherent right.

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