Gympie Council, protester clash over civil rights
AN ONGOING protest over the alleged failure by the council-owned Rattler to uphold a historic lease has ignited questions over the right to protest.
Mr Lightfoot said his presence in Mary St last month sparked the debate when two Gympie regional Council staff members threatened him with a sanction.
It was not the first time his signs, criticising what he feels is shoddy treatment over items leased to the heritage venture in 1998, have drawn ire — he said someone involved with the train has previously tried to take it away.
An email from council staff after the event agreed he had not broken any laws with his protest.
However, the letter advised “if Gympie Regional Council receives any further such complaint, we will be referring the matter to the Police, for them to assess whether any public order or similar offences may have been committed” — something he feels is another “threat” to his right.
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A council spokeswoman said it had responded to a complaint about Mr Lightfoot and his signs.
“Council officers attended the scene and spoke to Mr Lightfoot.
She said no further action was being taken but “if council does receive new calls of complaint from residents or local businesses, council will follow up the matter accordingly”.
“Should the complaint include public nuisance issues, council will refer the matter to police, which is standard procedure.
“Gympie Regional Council supports the public’s right to protest provided protesters are respectful, do not threaten members of the community, do not cause harm, and that their conduct is in alignment with Gympie Regional Council’s Local Laws.”
Interfering with protest rights can be criminal
ONE of Australia’s premier civil liberties experts has warned interfering in a person’s right to peaceful protest can land you in hot water.
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O’Gorman said the right to protest was “one of the major Fitzgerald reforms” and “neither the council or anyone else has the right to stop (them)” — including by trying to remove their boards.
He shot down any claim protesters like Mr Lightfoot were a nuisance. “There’s no such thing. Those who disagree with the protesters’ point of view are always going to consider it a nuisance.
“You can engage in protest as long as you’re not breaking the law (like trespassing).”
And if those under protest were feeling red-faced? “The fact it’s embarrassing … is what protest is all about.”
He also criticised any attempt to chill or silence protests like Mr Lightfoot’s through the threat of future legal action. “This is the sort of nonsense that was going on in the Joh (Bjelke-Petersen) days,” he said.