Jonathan Sri
Jonathan Sri

Last-minute court order thwarts councillor’s protest

Greens councillor Jonathan Sri has been blocked from holding a "picnic protest" in Kangaroo Point this afternoon after police made an urgent court bid to stop the assembly because it breached COVID-19 health directives.

Cr Sri had given notice of a public assembly of 10 people, which was expected to be held at Walmsley St, Kangaroo Point, this afternoon.

The "vigil" would have closed the street to traffic between 4.30pm and 5.45pm in an attempt to raise awareness of the detention of asylum seekers at a local motel.

Police yesterday took urgent court action to block the protest.

 

In a hearing in Brisbane Magistrates Court today, Senior Sergeant Karen Hall said the protest was inconsistent with of COVID-19 health directives from the Chief Health Officer.

She said the risk to public safety outweighed the right to public assembly, but after 11.59pm today restrictions would change.

"The time frame surrounding the easing of the current restrictions has been carefully considered and the assembly Mr Sri is seeking to have authority for does not fit with the directive as of today," Sen-Sgt Hall told the court.

"For a number of weeks and in fact months, individuals have had their freedom impeded by these directives.

"Individuals have had to cancel weddings, individuals have not been able to be in attendance while there loved ones are buried... individuals have not been able to spend time with loved ones in nursing homes.

"When balanced... an individual's right to assembly being restricted is firmly outweighed by the consideration to public safety."

Greens councillor Jonathan Sri at Brisbane City Hall
Greens councillor Jonathan Sri at Brisbane City Hall

 

Despite this, Cr Sri tried to use two legal loopholes to argue the protest should go ahead - saying a protest was an essential activity and that a picnic was a permitted recreational activity.

Cr Sri told Mr Gett the protest would only consist of small picnic groups with each group either only having members from one household or two people from separate households.

He said the picnic protest should be allowed because it was for "recreation" which was allowed under the health directives.

"A picnic can be held for a range of purposes, whether it's a birthday or a work function... or you're at a picnic talking about refugee rights or your friend's baby shower," he said.

He later told the court: "A roadway, although often used for traffic is a public space".

But Mr Gett did not agree the picnic protest was for "recreation", saying Cr Sri had listed the purpose of the assembly as a "stationary picnic vigil" when lodging the notice of the protest.

Then, Cr Sri argued holding the picnic protest on the roadway was an essential activity because it fell under the category of volunteering and it was not expressly prohibited in health directives - unlike holding religious gatherings or similar group meets.

He said there always an inherent risk with protests and other activities in life.

"Someone might consume food that has gone off and that's a risk to public safety," Cr Sri said.

 

He argued there was another decision made by the court where a protest was allowed and told Mr Gett it would be "persuasive" in his case because the chief magistrate had heard the matter.

"I'm not with you there," Mr Gett replied.

The court agreed a protest was not listed as a non-essential activity but that it should not continue because of the public safety risks.

Mr Gett found there was a lack of specification about who would be attending the picnic protest and how it would be policed by organisers to ensure safety.

When asked during the hearing how he would determine whether people were from the same household, Cr Sri said: "To the extent that if three people tell me they are from the same address I will take their word for it".

In blocking the assembly action in the interests of public safety, Mr Gett said the same effect of raising awareness could be achieved via social media.

"In my view, Mr Sri's argument that the protest is for recreation simply cannot be sustained," he said.

"It seems to me that I can't come to the view that the only method the protest can be performed is in the way that is sought.

"The application does not provide substantial details as to the nature of the assembly.

Limits on public gatherings in Queensland will begin easing with stage one from tomorrow. Picture: David Clark/AAP
Limits on public gatherings in Queensland will begin easing with stage one from tomorrow. Picture: David Clark/AAP

 

"In my view, what has been indicated lacks certain levels of clarity in terms of the activity proposed."

Mr Gett said his decision was made in the context of the "extraordinary position we find ourselves in".

"I reiterate my view that the right of peaceful assembly is of paramount importance in society, but due to the extraordinary position citizens in Queensland find themselves... it is necessary in the current circumstance that the application should be granted," he said.

During the hearing, Cr Sri said the proposed action for today was one of a number of protests planned for the area and activists would continue to exercise around the perimeter of the hotel in solitary with the refugees own protest today.

Outside court he said: "It's kind of strange when you think about it that right now, large numbers of people are able to go shopping for non-essential items, and many of our public spaces are becoming quite busy again, but the police still sought to restrict a very small number of protesters from having a picnic.

"My main concern is still for the men inside the hotel.

"It's really troubling that even though they're genuine refugees, they've been held for over seven years without a release date."

Greens councillor Jonathan Sri rides past protesting asylum seekers in detention at an inner Brisbane motel. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP
Greens councillor Jonathan Sri rides past protesting asylum seekers in detention at an inner Brisbane motel. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP

 

Originally published as Last-minute court order thwarts councillor's protest

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