Crikey readers will recall that in September last year, well-known
Brisbane peace activist Mr Jim Dowling, complained that he was
unlawfully arrested and bashed
by police at a public debate. The
debate about a national ID card, between Federal Member for Dickson and
former Queensland policeman, Peter Dutton, and Vice-President for the
Queensland Council
for Civil Liberties, Terry O’Gorman, was held
at the Queensland University of Technology.

Last Thursday, Jim Dowling was acquitted of the
charges relating to his arrest. The magistrate gave her judgement to a crowded courtroom that included
Mr Dowling’s friends, family and supporters. With respect to Mr Dowling’s arrest under the Police
Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 – Section 444, she concluded that
no offence was committed, the police had no power to arrest Mr Dowling
in the first place and that he had done nothing to warrant reasonable
suspicion. The magistrate found that Mr Dowling did not yell out,
despite the police and security guards swearing under oath that he
“yelled out in a clear and audible voice”.

O’Gorman, also a witness in the trial, said he “saw Jim Dowling
standing at the debate with the placard ‘Peter Dutton Supports
Terrorism’. He was just standing there. He didn’t call out or move and
the
Magistrate’s decision reflects this version.” The case raises serious issues about civil liberties and freedom of
speech in the age of terror, says O’Gorman. “The scenario I saw unravel was utterly
unacceptable and similar to the
oppressive police tactics of the Joh era”, he said. “I intend to
ensure the complaint is dealt with at a State and Federal level”. Even if Jim Dowling had called out during
the debate, “it is not unlawful to heckle and disagree at a public
meeting”.

Mr Dowling did not enter into an argument for costs, and said he felt
“indifferent” when questioned about the trial’s outcome. “I was a
little surprised by the jubilation outside the court after my
‘victory’ … I guess I was totally confident of winning anyhow, given
that I had nine witnesses, including the former Attorney-General and
now Dean of the QUT Faculty of Law, Michael Lavarch, who said I did not
make a sound during the meeting until I was dragged into the next room
by police.” Mr Dowling has lodged a complaint to the Crime and
Misconduct Commission. He and three other defendants have been
arraigned for trial in the Northern Territory for conducting protest
actions at the Pine Gap Military Base late last year.

It is doubtful that any of the hundred or so students who squeezed into a
lecture theatre at the University of Queensland for an ASIO recruitment
information session this week (protected by a dozen burly Queensland
police and university security guards outside keeping a vigilant watch
for the likes of Mr Dowling) could care less. Not surprising in
this one-paper town. According to Mr Dowling, in a statement
written after the trial, “a reporter for the Courier-Mail put a lot of
work into the original incident last year only to have his article
canned by the editors”.

Peter Fray

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