This letter to you and for Australia is about environmentalist memorial trees, free speech and democracy.
In 1945 during World War 2 (WW2), my father served in the fight against fascism on the Indonesian island of Morotai. In 2012, I encouraged some Morotai locals to plant memorial trees to honor the memory of soldiers who fought for freedom. Memorial trees are a proud Australian tradition often forming Avenues Of Honour in the approaches to many of our country towns.
In 2013 a landowner in Morotai planted over 100 memorial trees on land which was frequently visited by legendary General Douglas MacArthur. Planting finished on 26th of January, 2013, both Australia Day and MacArthur’s 133rd birthday. The indigenous landowner’s intentions were environmental and honouring WW2 soldiers who helped free Indonesia from colonialism. Indonesia’s Avenue Of Honor in Morotai may be the most environmentalist Avenue Of Honour ever planted.
Above is a photo of those trees taken before Australia Day, 2015, when 70 more trees were planted nearby to commemorate the 70th anniversary of WW2’s end. Many local government officials attended the 2015 planting. The last three trees were planted by three officers from the Indonesian army, navy and air force. I was very excited by this Indonesian participation in an Australian tradition.
In autumn of 2015, on my return to Australia, I lobbied many people to support this endeavor, including all Maribyrnong City Councillors. I believed the huge heritage site in Maribyrnong known as the Explosive Factory Maibyrnong (EFM) was a place for similar tree plantings. This site is in your electorate of Rivers Ward, Councillor Carter.
At one public council meeting you told me you had been part of a parliamentary delegation that visited islands of military heritage significance to Australia’s north. I sent you a small flurry of emails and text messages with ideas I wished to share.
You labelled my communications “harassment”. This was profoundly upsetting to me: I wrote complaints to the mayor and CEO of the council. The matter was unresolved; approximately a year later I felt compelled to write again.
On June 18, 2016, I sent you an email stating that if you did not attempt to resolve the matter by discussion with me I would renew and extend my formal complaints. Then I was arrested on July 5th, 2016, by Victoria Police for the alleged “crime” of sending you “too many electronic messages”. I was also served with a notice to appear before the Family Violence Court of Melbourne Magistrates Court because an application for an intervention order had been made against me to “protect” you: I am still at a loss for words to say how my conduct was dangerous to your personal safety. As an elected representative, communicating with citizens in Maribyrnong was and is your job.
On July 5th I collapsed from stress during police finger printing and on July 12th I went back to the local police station to try to explain my concerns about human rights issues raised by these events and I again collapsed from stress. I collapsed from stress a third time at a court hearing on December 9 at the Family Violence Court.
No opportunity for mediation was ever afforded me and you did not attend either of two court hearings.
For much of the five months following July 5th, I was crippled by the stress of these events. That was the beginning of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During that time you were reelected to Maribyrnong Council.
American gender equality analyst Elizabeth Jack describes the following questions of mine as “the right ones to be asking.”
What are the implications for democracy when an elected representative can be up for reelection and facing the possibility of a formal complaint from a citizen voting in that round of elections and then Personal Safety laws are used by the police to make that voter liable for two years jail if he mentions the candidate online or contacts her?
How did Personal Safety legislation and police intervention come to be a substitute for a complaints process at local government level?
What is happening in western societies to push us to the point where the police and a Family Violence Court treated me, a midwife for 3 decades, as a potential rapist and stalker for using publicly available channels of communication to lobby a local elected member of council?
Why is it that in discussions with police and at two court hearings, I was never allowed to see the full argumentation for the charges against me and the evidence for the personal safety concerns which were allegedly justified by my conduct?
Here are a few quotes from Ms Jack about this situation:
“Any would-be civilized country which employs such backward proceedings has no citizen’s rights in mind as it proceeds.”
My case “….. bears a disturbing resemblance to the campus sexual misconduct proceedings that our Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos described as “procedures that do not afford fundamental fairness” and “Harassment codes that trample speech rights” ……… I hope that my country takes DeVos’s words to heart, rather than looking to Australia as an example. I’m absolutely terrified of any legal institution that can get away with such abuses.”
“(Geoff Fox’s) case, as I understand it, sets an unsettling precedent for what an elected official can do in order to maintain her power and image while eschewing her responsibilities as an official. I would go so far as to say that if she feels that the earnest messages of an interested citizen asking for collaboration is a violation of her privacy or safety, she’s in the wrong career.”
“My country, (the United States), is one of the few remaining that still has free speech largely intact. There are no hate speech laws here. There are no banned ideas.
The beauty of free speech is that it’s reciprocal. If you espouse an idea that I find harmful, I can espouse ideas that I think are better. If you say something rude or hateful to me, I can tell you to go get hit by a bus. And then we can both go home and feel like idiots for engaging in such childish behaviour in the first place.”
Councillor Carter, The High Court Of Australia recognizes that freedom of speech in communicating with an elected representative is an implied right of the Australian Constitution.
In the state of Victoria, where Maribyrnong is located, the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities includes both freedom of speech and the right to participate in government via elected representatives.
What about you, Councillor Carter? What do you have to say for yourself with respect to the use of the police and personal safety legislation to “protect” you from my lobbying when you were facing an election?
Geoff Fox, Java, 8th November 2017