Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Legal protection needed for democratic rights

Newcastle Greens
24 February 2010

Greens elected representatives today called for greater legal protection of basic democratic rights of freedom of political expression, in the lead up to a local event in support of Greens upper house parliamentarian, Ian Cohen, who has been hit with $1million legal costs from comments he made in a small community hall in Byron Bay in 2001.

Mr Cohen now faces financial ruin because he criticised a developer at a fundraising event for a fellow environmental activist who was facing legal action by the developer.
Newcastle Greens will be holding an event to support Mr Cohen this Friday night (see details below).

Mr Cohen said he has been receiving tremendous support from right across the community, but was still a long way from being able to meet his costs.

“Newcastle has always had a strong progressive and activist community, who I know are very concerned about how legal processes can be used to chill democratic participation,” Mr Cohen said.

Newcastle Greens councillor Michael Osborne, who will be attending the event, and who has recently been subjected to a council Code of Conduct complaint for his own “involvement in a protest” in December last year, said that these situations demonstrated the need for eternal vigilance and greater protection for basic democratic rights.

“It’s outrageous that our institutional systems can be abused in these ways to muzzle democratic free speech, and it demonstrates the urgent need for law reforms protecting rights of public participation and protest, and giving more legal substance to our right to freedom of political expression.

“In a number of Australian jurisdictions, Greens and public interest groups have proposed legislation to protect public interest advocates against SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). The ACT has already passed such legislation.

“Unfortunately, bringing such proposals into law usually relies on support from one of the big parties, who are often too indebted to the vested interests who want to keep things the way they are."

The Newcastle Greens event will be at 7:30pm at the Gallipoli Club in Beaumont St, Hamilton on Friday 26 February. Entrance cost is $15 ($10 concession) with all proceeds going to the Ian Cohen Defamation Fund.

Mr Cohen will be speaking about his case at the event, and will be supported with performances by popular Hunter rhythm & blues band, The Pop-up Toasters; Newcastle hip-hop band, Dhopec; and local comedienne (and Lake Macquarie Greens councillor), Hannah Gissane.

For further comment, please contact:
Ian Cohen (Greens NSW Member of the Legislative Council) on: 0409 989 466
Michael Osborne (Newcastle Greens councillor) on: 0439 442 984

Monday, 22 February 2010

Council’s Code of Conduct used to stifle the public interest

Newcastle Greens
22 February 2010

Newcastle Greens Councillor Michael Osborne today hit out at the abuse of the council Code of Conduct “as a mechanism to stifle democratic participation and debate”.

Clr Osborne said he had received an official notification of a formal complaint against him for allegedly breaching the council’s Code of Conduct for his “involvement in a protest”.

Clr Osborne was involved in a protest action last year that involved a ‘sit-in’ on a railway line with other climate change activists.

“That protest took place within a well-established framework and tradition of civil disobedience, and it was dealt with through the legal system,” Clr Osborne said.

“The right to protest has been fundamental to achieving many of the other rights and privileges we enjoy today, and is a basic democratic right of every Australian citizen.

“It’s unfortunate that council’s Code of Conduct – which was primarily intended to prevent corruption and to deal with things like conflicts of interests and councillors receiving gifts and benefits from vested interests – is now being abused as an instrument of repression.

“Unfortunately, this kind of abuse is similar to other forms of SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) in which legal action is taken (usually by or on behalf of vested interests) with the purpose of preventing or intimidating people from participating in public interest protests.”

Clr Osborne said that the official notification from the General Manager did not state which part of the council’s code his involvement in the protest is alleged to have breached, and he has not yet been provided with a copy of the complaint itself.

He has sought further information about the complaint, and the procedure to be followed.

Code of conduct

from Michael Osborne
to Lindy Hyam
date 22 February 2010 11:12
subject Letter received last Friday

Dear Ms Hyam

Thank you for your letter received last Friday 19 February 2010 informing me of a Code of Conduct complaint lodged against me in relation to my alleged participation in a protest action.

The letter refers only to my “participation in a protest action”. If this accurately reflects the complaint, I cannot see the basis on which it could be referred to a conduct review process, since engaging in protest action is the inherent democratic right of any Australian citizen and could not – in itself – be regarded as conduct that could found a breach of the code.

I assume, therefore, that the written complaint contains more specific allegations against me, and I therefore request a copy of the complaint itself, so I can properly understand exactly what it alleges that I have done, and the specific provisions of the Code that it alleges I have thereby breached.

Once I have been provided with this essential preliminary information, I would be happy to provide a written submission in response to the specific allegations.

I would also appreciate notification of the procedure (and relevant timeline) that will be followed in the investigation of this complaint.


Councillor Michael Osborne

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Solar sailor heading to Hong Kong

The Australian-invented solar powered ferry could soon become a frequent sight in and around Hong Kong's harbour.

The ferry is designed like the Toyota Prius using an electric/diesel hybrid engine with solar panels to power their electrical needs and a diesel backup engine. It means that cruising at less than 6 knots can be done with the zero emissions engine.

See the Green Living pedia and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Regal cinema in sale drama

From The Herald...


A LAST-MINUTE plea from film and television industry heavyweights has won a reprieve from sale for the former Regal Cinema.

Newcastle City Council last night considered selling the Birmingham Gardens property.

Proceeds would go towards a community project in western Newcastle, while a working party would look at catering to film demands in the area.

Councillors decided to defer the decision for two weeks after receiving a late submission from industry insiders.

Australian Guild of Screen Composers executive director Jo Smith, who is a former Novocastrian, led a late push to save the cinema after hearing on Sunday that the council was set to sell.

A letter with 21 signatories including The Chaser's Andrew Hansen, Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker Bob Connolly and Blue Murder writer Ian David was sent to the council, asking it to consider re-opening the cinema.

Ms Smith and Rabbit Proof Fence writer-producer Christine Olsen addressed last night's council meeting.

Ms Smith said it was important for Novocastrians to have access to independent film.

She said old country cinemas were rare.

"The Regal Cinema is an absolute gem," she said.

Ms Olsen said the site was built with community labour and retained a strong sense of community.

"You can't take it and plonk it somewhere else," she said.

Cr Bob Cook said a council committee had considered options for reopening the cinema building, but could not find a model that would work.

Cr Nuatali Nelmes suggested deferring a decision on the proposed sale for two weeks, and most of her colleagues agreed.

Councillors Michael Osborne and Tim Crakanthorp said the interest from the film and television industry might produce some new options for the site.

The 50-year-old cinema closed in 2006 because the building was considered unsafe.

A site sale was proposed in 2008, but the council halted plans after community protest.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Council meeting 2 February 2010

Tonight, the community consultation process for Laman St was adopted.


Council resolves to endorse the community design process outlined in this report.

Following discussion Councillor Claydon indicated that the report suggested Councillors could participate in the design workshop or attend as observers. She proposed that Councillors attend as observers only.

The Lord Mayor suggested that the matter regarding Councillor attendance be included as a Part B.

The mover and seconder agreed to include a Part B in this regard.
The motion was put to the meeting and declared carried.

A Council resolves to endorse the community design process outlined in this report.
B Councillors attend as observers as opposed to stakeholder members.