Thursday 23 September 2010

The Bureaucrats, the Mayor, and Free Speech

In the build up to Tuesday's Allies to Free  Speech event in City Place, to speak out against the defamation action taken by Cairns Regional Councillor Alan Blake, there's be a nervous response from local authorities.

Event organiser Bryan Law says Tuesday's event is not an exercise in character assassination.  "I'm hoping it will be both a robust discussion on issues of free speech and politics, and funny," he says.

In planning the event, Bryan has had a discussion with Councillors and Officers about free speech.  Whoda Thunkit?

I shared yesterday about some correspondence I received from Sarah Philpott, General Manager of Corporate Services, Cairns Regional Council, reminding me that it’s a condition of using speakers corner that: “speaker(s) are not allowed to make slanderous statements”.

I’ve responded, and have lodged and received approval for the event under the Queensland Governments Peaceful Assembly Act 1992.

In the interests of informed public discussion, I’m releasing both the bureaucratic and the political communications I’ve been having today about Tuesday’s event in City Place at 5.30 pm.  This includes an exchange between Mayor Val Schier and myself about the event.

A peculiar aspect of this discussion is that, while I sent every Councillor a separate invitation and have been treating the correspondence as personal, starting with Sarah Philpott’s first e-mail, the Mayor, all councillors, and some Council officers have been copied into the discussion.  I’m not sure if it’s a debate, a Kangaroo Court, or a Davies Cup Tennis match.

Come along on this Tuesday 28 September, City Place at 5.30 pm, and have YOUR say. It’ll be fun!

The Bureaucrats and Councillors
  • Wednesday, 22 September 2010 5:33 PM
  • To: ''
  • Cc: ~All Councillors; Lyn Russell CEO 
  • Subject: Speakers Corner information

  •  Good evening Mr Law,

  •  I noted your information on Cairns Regional Council Website Enquiry Form regarding a speakers corner event.

  •  I attach for your information a copy of Council's General Policy relating to the Speakers' Corner, which was adopted by Council in May 2009.

  •  I particularly draw your attention to the conditions regarding lawful free speech, including:
  • - 2.04 Speeches are to follow Australian Law therefore the speaker(s) are not allowed to: 
  • A) make slanderous statements;  B) 
  • discriminate any identifiable race, gender, religion or nationality;  C)
  •  use obscene language.

  •  Council encourages public assembly and free speech through the provision of the Speakers' Corner, and member are allowed to evoke their rights in this regard in line with these conditions.   
  • If you have any enquiries, please feel free to contact me.

  •  Yours sincerely,
  • Sarah Philpott
  • General Manager of Corporate Services
  • Cairns Regional Council
  • (NB  Sarah "cc"ed the CEO and all the Councillors. Is this the regular procedure for incidental correspondence for residents and ratepayers?)

  • 5.51pm 22/9

    Hi Sarah,

    I’ll need a definition of “slanderous statements”. As far as I’m aware slander and defamation are civil matters, and a decision about what constitutes slander is made by a jury after due process. Does Council have a mechanism for pre-emptively deciding such matters? Which officers have you trained to adjudicate? Are there any “defences” available?

    Please take this letter as notice that I am intending to conduct this event as an authorised Peaceful Assembly, under the Peaceful Assembly Act 1992.

    I will be using a small PA system as contemplated under that Act, and I agree to be bound by the restrictions specified by that Act. Additional Council restrictions, provided they are lawful and do not conflict with the Peaceful Assembly Act 1992 are of course welcome.

    Yours sincerely,
    Bryan Law

  • 9.02 am 23/9
    Hello Mr Law,

    Thanks for the notice that you are intending to conduct this event under the Peaceful Assembly Act. Another officer will be in contact with you regarding your application for this purpose - I will pass on your details in order that our officer can contact you.

    With regard to your other questions, Council does not regulate or adjudicate such matters. Our Policy is intended to provide a guideline, and is a reminder that such activities need to be conducted in line with appropriate State and Federal legislation.

    Yours sincerely,

  • Dear Mr Law,
  • Please find attached the Council's Letter of No Objection to the Peaceful Assembly on 28 September and 5 October 2010.

    Kind Regards
    Wendy Matheson

  • The Mayor   1.27 pm 23rd September 2010

  •  Thanks for the email Bryan and your invitation to attend an event in City Place. I most certainly favour free speech and am pleased that the council has been able to provide a spot where debate and discussion can occur.

     I am not impressed with or supportive of the topic that you have chosen; I personally endeavour to show respect to all people and it seems that the topic you have chosen may have been intended to denigrate a councillor.

    For this reason I will not be accepting your invitation and am disappointed that you have wrongly indicated to others that I would be opening the event.

    Val Schier
    Cairns Regional Council
Thanks for your response Val.

I’m amazed you could construe my invitation as in any way indicating that you would be opening the event.

1/ You and all the other Councillors are invited to the event, because the central issue here is the right to a discussion among citizens about matters of politics and government... at a time when Cairns Regional Council is being caught up in a defamation suit, lodged against a private citizen by a seasoned Councillor. The suit is going to expose the Council to discovery and testimony about its affairs. It is going to be a closely watched matter of public interest. I would have thought that responsible councillors will take a view on these matters, and be willing to share that view with citizens.

2/ The invitation is clear that you opened the Speakers Corner some time ago. As I recall, the topic for discussion at that opening was “Why I Love Cairns”. Wasn’t it organised in association with Rostrum Cairns? As a community based event promoting the city, and a restoration of a speakers corner that had been “accidently” lost under the former Mayor, it was a charming exercise that I enjoyed. As an actual practice of free speech it was mere vanilla.

A recent story on “The Drum” unleashed said “Free speech isn't just about saying things you find nice, or pleasant, or relaxing. Free speech is about being insulted. Free speech is about being humiliated. Free speech is about being offended. If the freedom of speech does not mean the right to hold unpopular and offensive opinions, then it means nothing at all.”   The story received 472 comments.

I confess that I’d just finished reading that story when I formulated the plan for “Allies to Free Speech” and the celebration at speakers corner. The topic is intended to celebrate free speech, and to celebrate those who take risks protecting it.

3/ If you go to the first article cited in Alan Blake’s statement of claim - you’ll find that it’s about Alan Blake making a telephone call to Michael Moore’s employer. After first identifying himself as a Cairns Regional Councillor, Blake makes various denigrating allegations, all of them completely false, with a view to harming Mike’s employment.

It seems to me that if you were stalwart in your intentions to respect all people, you would have reprimanded Councillor Blake for this behaviour, instead of reprimanding me for calling Blake’s behaviour as I see it (disgraceful, cowardly, lying, bully). I respect Alan Blake, but not this behaviour. I have invited Alan to attend the event, and I respect his ability to take up the argument on his own behalf if he chooses to.

4/ Finally, I’m afraid you’ll have to take back the claim that “council has been able to provide a spot where debate and discussion can occur.”   Since receiving Sarah Philpott’s e-mail yesterday I have abandoned the Council's policy on speaker's corner as inappropriate to my needs, and likely to cause more trouble than it’s worth. I have instead sought and received approval from the Queensland Police for an authorised Peaceful Assembly. Your staff have not objected to the Peaceful Assembly, and the event will now be conducted in accordance with the Peaceful Assembly Act 1992.

Val, in conclusion, I’m sorry that you seem to have misunderstood my intentions.

I’m happy to continue the discussion about free speech and what I see as Council responsibilities. I hope that we are able to achieve a measure of agreement about the principles that matter, and not be distracted by misunderstandings or personal discomforts.

I ask you to reconsider your decision.

Bryan Law


kate said...

How on earth can you construe an "Thanks for the email Bryan and your invitation to attend an event in City Place. I most certainly favour free speech and am pleased that the council has been able to provide a spot where debate and discussion can occur" as an assumption on the part of Val that she would be opening the event?

Or have I missed something?

Leuco Gaster said...

Rob, Bryan, when will you boys pay attention? That's "tongue in cheek"! You wouldn't want "tung" in your cheek, I promise.

Good luck with this event, I support your initiative, and only wish I could be there.

kate said...

P.S. What's happening' on the5 October 2010???

As in " Please find attached the Council's Letter of No Objection to the Peaceful Assembly on 28 September and 5 October 2010."

oracle said...

Sorry Kate, you seem to have missed the spelling, grammar and punctuation classes but an A+ for effort anyway

kate said...

Or p'raps there was a last minute scrambling edit instead, eh MM?

C'mon, "fess up!

Bryan Law said...

Hi Kate, sorry for the confusion. Our blogger Michael Moore has corrected the omissions, and the final version is up now.

Val has replied to apologise for misreading the invitation - it's a hazard of busy people (I wouldn't know).

Val has not yet responded to the substance of my letter, particularly about the ideas of robust and honest political debate. If she does, I'll share them with you.

At the moment, nothing is planned for 5 October. It's just a precautionary thing while seeking the protection of the Peaceful Assembly Act. That Act has time constraints for notification built in, and I missed them. 5 Oct was a back-up.

Fortunately both the Police and Council Officers have moved quickly to authorise the assembly.

So people are now protected to turn up and share their opinions and knowledge. The laws re defamation still apply, but will not be interpreted on-the-spot by Council Officers, which is what I was concerned to avoid.

Come along and have your say and/or enjoy a moment of community politics. 5.30 pm Tuesday 28 September, Speakers Corner City Place.

kate said...

Hey Bryan,
Sorry to have been so darn pernicky. I'm bored. Not much on TV.

lonesome heart said...

Don't be bored Kate i'm free .... in more sense than one ..... and not pernicky at all!

Love, Alan :-)

kate said...

Would rather watch re-runs. Thanx all the same, Al!

Sleepyhead said...

I'm not usually up this late. I can't stay in bed once the bluefaced honeyeaters start talking and I need my beauty sleep.

Nice to find an entertaining, good natured exchange on Kenzblog.

A farmer mate told me, "I never stay up late, I go to bed with the fowls." He was puzzled by my reply, "Won't your wife let you sleep in the house?"

Lady Macbeth said...

I'm free too...blogs can also be used for dating sites.

Mrs Bear said...

I have to confess, I vomited a little in my mouth after reading the words Respect and Alan Blake in the same sentence. I just cant seem to get the image of him pushing a young 20 something year old lady over in Rusty's markets in the 2007 fed election, then there’s the time at the polling booth at 2008 local election, the umpting million times of stand over tactics used over rate payers, one of my favourites was his turn out to "support" the Banana growers... where’s that support now Al? Respect??? PTTF PLEASE!!!

1234 said...

Kate, the only reason you'd bother with this site is to be 'bored' or to learn 'what never to be in your life' i.e. a 'big mouth' 'nothing better to do' or 'busy body' ..this site was sent to me via citizens who realize that I was involved in the biggest Defamation case in Oz - against 'wing of government' namely ABC - it cost the ABC over $1b - if Blake needs assistance, he'll get it from the 'best' in what is a 'legimate' case due to 'the written word' should it be on 'blog' or otherwise. I can't imagine any Justice or Jury agreeing with any of MM's open air opinions, but, we shall see! Good luck at the Public Forum in City Place, too bad I'm not 'bored' enough to attend or waste such time. The CCC will have their 'spies' out to 'tape' the affair, together with 'FNQ Lawyers' to have 'prepared questions' to 'help their case'...the whole thing is immature, sickening, bad policy, sulking boys, idiot gang attitude, BUT, 'if you haven't got anything good to say' 'say nothing' Amen!!!

5678 said...

Seek professional assistance immediately!

muggles said...

Dear 1234,
Are you able provide any more details of the biggest Defamation case in Oz - against 'wing of government' namely ABC - it cost the ABC over $1b?

Sounds very interesting...

Not a Kiwi .... honest! said...

What is it with you people?

You're arguing like a bunch of school-kids whilst the biggest story in the world right now is passing you by ....

"Scientists seek deodorant for smelly Kiwis"

Lonely Heart said...

Oh Lady Macbeth you have made my heart race in anticipation! Quite unlike the horrid witch Kate, hatefully brewing double toil and trouble before her self despised TV!

Where can we meet to palpitate and enjoy buskers whilst Kate disolves in her own boiling pot?

Lustfully yours,


Lady Macbeth said...

Oh Lonely Heart:

Nought's had, all's spent
Where our desire is got without content.
'Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than, by destruction, dwell in doubtful joy.

Damn you lonely heart, I yearn for you and yet you unviel your luscious temple to all that fall in front of you on bended knee.

kate said...

Hey MM,
The dating site idea appears to be a rather compelling and popular one for some. You could run a service thru CB and thus handsomely self-fund all your court cases, now and into the future.

Lady Macbeth said...

Ah Kate,

'fair is foul and foul is fair'... for those of whom fall into the tempation of despair.