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Civil liberties in the old deep north

By Evan Whitton - posted Friday, 22 February 2013


Civil Liberties Persons (CLP) are typically worthy, vigilant, sleepless, ever ready to denounce, and rightly denounce, people who would infringe human rights. Their patron saints are, or should be, Dr (as he now is) Harry Akers and his dog, Jaffa.

Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, 66, and his police chief, Terry Lewis, 47, who happened to be organised criminals, were running Queensland as a police state in 1977. CLP naturally took exception.

Bjelke-Petersen had a cunning plan to persuade gullible voters to re-elect him in November of that year: those who protested that the Bjelkist Regime was up to no good would be billed as the dread Commoes.

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Hitherto, if police rejected an application for a protest march, an appeal could be made to an magistrate. In September, Bjelke made Terry the final arbiter.

Announcing the change, he said: “Nobody, including the Communist Party or anyone else, is going to turn the streets of Brisbane into a forum. Protest groups need not bother applying for permits to stage marches because they won't be granted.”

CL types dutifully rose to the Bjelkist fly. At a rally in October, the wallopers cracked a few heads and flung 400 protesters into police wagons. The regime bolted in.

Harry Akers, then 29 and a dentist in Bundaberg, and Jaffa, a male cattle dog, took a different tack; they showed up the law for the evil nonsense it was. This from a little history of corruption in Queensland, The Hillbilly Dictator (the libel lawyers jibbed at Fuhrer. It can be downloaded free from netk.net.au/whittonhome.asp):

[Akers]applied in March 1978 for a permit to march, in company with his dog Jaffa, down an unnamed No Through road at The Hummock, outside Bundaberg, at 2.45 in the morning of 1 April. Akers told Inspector Seaniger he intended to march only 100 metres, and that he was a pacifist; the march would be peaceful. He also applied for a permit to carry a placard inscribed:

The majority is not omnipotent: the majority can be wrong and is capable of tyranny

Seaniger refused the application. He told Akers a permit could not be issued because it was a protest march. Akers and Jaffa embarked on their illegal procession in the dark on April Fools' Day. A carload of detectives observed this breach of the law, but did not arrest the offending man and dog.

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Jaffawas hit by a car in 1982 and sadly passed away.

One who suffered from Bjelkist thuggery was Terry O'Gorman. A lawyer with a resoundingly booming voice, he got a whack at the old scoundrel on behalf of the Council of Civil Liberties at the Fitzgerald inquiry in 1988. This from The Hillbilly:

Other lawyers addressed Bjelke-Petersen as “Sir Joh”, and largely endured his evasions; O'Gorman gave him no more than “witness”, and, in demanding straight answers, a welcome touch of Police Court thuggery to boot ...

On the illegal march by Harry Akers and his dog Jaffa at 2.45 am on April Fool's Day 1978, O'Gorman asked: “Doesn't that highlight the absolute tyranny and absurdity of this law? I'm asking you to comment on that proposition.”

“No it does not. Simply because you cannot - If the law is a law it has to be observed. I can't for example just go out in the street and block the whole street, even for half a minute - stand out in the middle of the road and block everything, and neither can he for a couple of hundred yards, same principle.”

FITZGERALD: “But Sir Joh, I think Mr O'Gorman’s question is really, might not Mr Akers and Jaffa have been granted a permit without any risk to the public?”

BJELKE-PETERSEN: “I know he - I beg your pardon?”

FITZGERALD: “I say the question really is: might not Mr Akers and Jaffa have been granted a permit without any risk to the public?”

BJELKE-PETERSEN: “Yes, but sir, I'm sure you realise this was just a try-on and just the thin end of the wedge.”

O'GORMAN: “What! Might two people walk at 2.45 am with two dogs?” (Laughter)

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About the Author

Evan Whitton is a former reporter who became a legal historian after seeing how two systems dealt with the same criminal, Queensland police chief Sir (as he then was) Terry Lewis.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Evan Whitton

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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