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Freedom Of Speech? Activist Faces Prison For Postering Macquarie Statue

Kieran Adair

January 19, 2021

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A piece of A4 paper, quoting Governor Lachlan Macquarie, has become centrepiece of a controversial trial testing Autralia’s implied freedom of political communication – pitting human rights activist, Stephen Langford, against the NSW Attorney General’s office.

Mr Langford was arrested in June last year, after police caught him pasting the piece of paper on a statue of Governor Macquarie in Sydney’s Hyde Park.

The paper in question quoted an 1816 directive from Macquarie declaring that all Indigenous people “from Sydney onwards are to be made prisoners of war and if they resist, they are to be shot and their bodies hung from trees.”

Mr Langford claims that he hung this paper up to help educate the public about the actions of Governor Macquarie – providing important details currently missing from the statue, and provoking further discussion of Macquarie’s colonial legacy.

As covered in The Guardian, the outcome of the trial is an important test of Australia’s implied freedom of political communication:

A Sydney man in court for gluing a poster about an Indigenous massacre to a statue of governor Lachlan Macquarie is defending it on freedom of speech grounds.

 

Stephen John Langford, 52 this year, is in Sydney’s Downing Centre local court after council workers spotted him pasting an A4-size poster to the statue in Hyde Park in June.

 

 

Lawyer Mark Davis described his client as a “dangerous man with pamphlets in his backpack with some scissors and glue”.

 

“Part of his defence is [his actions] are defended by the implied freedom of political communication under the federal constitution,” he told the court.

 

The court heard the incident came amid a series of protests in Sydney and worldwide for the Black Lives Matter movement.

 

“If someone can be charged merely for the possession of pamphlets, I would like to extend the defence of implied freedom of political communication to that charge,” Davis said.

 

 

A lawyer acting for NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman spoke in support of the charges’ validity, saying the implied freedom operates as a qualified limitation on legislative power.

Australia is one of the few developed countries that does not have a bill of rights – or guaranteed right to free speech.

However, the High Court has recognised an implied right to freedom of political communication in the Australian constitution.

 

Further coverage:

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Written By Kieran Adair

Kieran Adair is a reporter for Xenophon Davis, covering government accountability, civil liberties, and whistleblower trials. He has previously written for the Michael West, Guardian Australia, and Sydney Criminal Lawyers. Twitter: @kieranadair_

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