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Australia and the ICCPR

Citizen Coleman | 22.06.2008 05:34 | Free Spaces | Repression | Social Struggles

In its Chapter 13 of its election platform of 2007, The Australian Labor Party promised to uphold the ICCPR and adhere to its obligations. Under John Howard many including myself had to have recourse to the UNHRC to uphold our rights. It should now be a relatively simple matter to get those decisions implemented......however

To The Prime Minister of Australia
Mr Kevin Rudd
Parliament House ACT

Re: Coleman v Australia, Communication 1157/2003 United Nations Human Rights Committee Decision July Session 2006.

Dear Mr Rudd

Mr Rudd, I am a Townsville activist who has been involved in environmental and social activism since around 1997. In December 1998 I read out the universal declaration of human rights and publicly criticised the Howard government on native title matters and also criticised the then Labor dominated Townsville City Council on its suppression of free speech in the Flinders Pedestrian mall. I had stood on a cement table in the mall and given a long speech before leaving.

I was charged with an unlawful public address under s8 (2) (e) of Chapter 39 of the Townsville City Council’s by-laws. I was convicted, fined $300 or 10 days in gaol, and ordered to pay $3035 costs or 101 days in gaol. I refused to pay and fought the matter to the high court where I lost. I was gaoled for 5 days for refusing to pay the fine after being arrested on a warrant. I got convicted for sitting on the ground (obstruct police) during that arrest and was also convicted and fined for that. I appealed to the UNHRC under the 1st optional protocol to the ICCPR, but in between this I was bankrupted by the council for the costs.

In July 2006 the UNHRC found that my right to freedom of expression had been violated by Australia and I was entitled to have my convictions quashed, all costs returned and to be compensated for my arrest and time in gaol ( pp 70-79) .

Both I and the Howard government were under the impression that the Qld court of appeal had overturned the order for the costs of $3035 from the Magistrates Court (see the chronology of the governments reply to my complaint p 27). Apparently this was not the case and a couple of months ago, the state penalties and enforcement register took my $3035 and gave it to the council. This caused me much anger.

I have written to the Qld government asking for the UNHRC decision to be upheld and a reply through independent Liz Cunningham said they regarded it as a federal matter ( at pp 80-82) . A number of Questions on notice to the attorney general by Sen. Kerry Nettle were answered by the former Justice Minister Chris Ellison, and he said it was a state matter ( at pp 83-85), and the Howard government’s reply to the UNHRC said that they regarded the mall as a place for shopping and they would not do what the committee asked p 94-99) . I wrote to your new Attorney General Mr McClelland pointing out chapter 13 of the Labor party’s election platform 2007, regarding implementation of UN human rights instruments and he said he agreed with the Howard governments response. He also said I might like to make a submission to your upcoming human rights inquiry which he downplayed to a “consultation” ( at 85-86) .

Prime Minister, I have done everything I had to do, following the procedures set down for appealing to the high court and then the UNHRC, and the gaol posts keep shifting.

You will note that the government response to the UNHRC decision is against giving speeches and demonstrating in the mall without a permit. You will note from the High Court decision that I could have given a speech, on a Sunday, without a permit under s8 (1) of the by-laws if I did it from a booth, “as little as a table and chair – a milk crate and umbrella” ( at p14). You will note from the evidence attached to my reply to the government response to my complaint that the council and police would not allow even this and a public letter writing campaign was initiated .The UNHRC acknowledged that this resulted in the council placing a ‘speakers stone’ in the mall ( at pp5-20 and 59-66) . This was used by former labor leader Kim Beazley during the republic campaign of 99. The council responded to those letters however, that they would continue to suppress people setting up stalls for political purposes without a permit. I had no choice but to engage in a defiant free speech campaign and to do what I did. Since my campaign the council has backed off completely on the issue of booths without a permit and there was therefore no further need to be loud, since myself and others had been left alone. It also took beating trumped up charges by the cops and suing them for false imprisonment to get them to back off (including being unlawfully arrested for petitioning for those letters).

Mr Rudd, I would also like to point out that this matter is similar to what occurred in Velichkin v Belarus (Communication 1022/2001 UNHRC decision 20/10/2005 at 88-93). There a man handed out the text of the Universal Declaration and got charged and massively fined. Our representative to the UNHRC Mr Ivan Shearer was a party to the UNHRCs decision in favour of Mr Velichkin, to the effect that his right to Freedom of Expression under Article 19(2) of the ICCPR had been violated and that he be given compensation not less than his fines and costs. He had not been arrested on this occaision.

But, that’s Belarus and this is Australia isn’t it Mr Rudd, it couldn’t happen here? But if it did then surely a Prime Minister would not do and say the opposite to what our own representative at the UNHRC would do? Surely not! That would amount to Orwellian doublespeak wouldn’t it Mr Rudd?

Mr Rudd, all of the information you will need to base your decision is contained in the documents provided to you. The current stance of your government on this matter which is the same as Howards -is against the high court decision as well as that of the UNHRC. Should I have been punished for (as the evidence shows) trying to apply the law and for strengthening the rights of the people of Townsville?

Right through this episode I have been met with “Catch 22” after “Catch 22”. If the consequences to my life and my liberty weren’t so bad Prime Minister, this would make a good cynical political comedy , so much so that not only am I putting all the relevant documents on a website, I am going to send them to the ABC Drama/comedy department together with any response of yours to this letter. You could make it even more cynical and funny if you say you won’t overturn Mr McClelland’s decision and again refer me to your human rights “consultation”. I know what Sir Humphrey Appleby would say: “Yes Prime Minister –Never hold an inquiry unless you already know the outcome!”

You have visited the Flinders Mall Townsville prior to the election, and well know that it is a public pedestrian mall with a centre stage forum. You and your colleagues have also , I believe , conducted television interviews in this mall without a council permit and have also therefore addressed the media and through them the public . The media used amplification devices such as microphones. As Justice Muir said in the Qld Court of appeal decision, you and the media would have been guilty of an offence under the by-law. ( p50, pars [48]-[49])

Can I assume;

(a) That you will hand yourself in to be charged if you don’t overturn Mr McClelland’s decision? ; and
(b) That because Australia is under an obligation to uphold the UNHRC’s decision in this matter as a result of our being a party to the 1st optional protocol , you may be honest and withdraw Australia from it because we aren’t actually going to uphold it at all?
(c) That Australia will make a statement to the international community that we just want to make other countries look bad on the world stage but want a blind eye turned to us?

Or Mr Rudd, are you going to surprise me and do something democratic and comply with the UNHRC decision.

Citizen Rudd, you may very well argue that you don’t like the tone of this letter and the cynical way it has been drafted. You may argue that it sounds like I have already prejudged you and possibly any decision that you may make. All I can say is that you should feel free to surprise me. Oh, and in case you forgot, I have taken the liberty of copying below ss1. In part and ss4. Of Chapter 13 of the Labor Party Platform and Constitution 2007 (Principles).
1. Principles
1. Labor is committed to supporting the international human rights instruments to which Australia is a signatory including:
o The Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
o The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
4. Labor supports both the promotion of human rights internationally and the development of international standards and mechanisms for the protection and enforcement of these rights. Labor will adhere to Australia's international human rights obligations and will seek to have them incorporated into the domestic law of Australia and taken into account in administrative decision making.

Other Documents Relating to the Matter in the Qld Courts

Citizen Pat Coleman

3/53 Ford st Hermit Park (Townsville) Qld 4812
Ph: 0439839121
Emails: ,

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