A MEMBER of far-right protest group Reclaim Australia initially told police he brought a flare to a protest in Bendigo in case he “got jumped” by counter-protesters.
Phillip Galea, 31, of Braybrook, then changed his story to police to say he was holding the flare for a friend – also a far-right protest leader – who had recently purchased a boat, a court has heard.
Galea appeared at a contest mention hearing in the Bendigo Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday to fight his charge of possessing a distress signal without reasonable excuse.
He has risked an even larger fine after refusing to settle the charges in court, wanting to call the boat owner as a witness to give evidence to the court.
The charges stem from a United Patriots Front rally in Bendigo on October 10, when police were mistakenly told Galea was carrying a knife.
Instead, they found a flare in his front right pocket.
Galea told police it was for his personal protection, but later claimed he was holding it for a friend, a member of the Australian Patriots Defence League.
The court heard the flare could reach temperatures of 1600 degrees Celsius.
Galea told the court the protest was relatively peaceful, but he had been pepper sprayed at an earlier protest in Bendigo.
Magistrate Tim Bourke was prepared to fine Galea $1200 with a recorded conviction.
Galea refused the offer however, and wanted to continue to fight the charge by calling the witness.
“I can’t plead guilty today then,” he said.
“A conviction could affect my opportunities to travel overseas in the future.”
Mr Bourke said Galea already had convictions and another one would not make much difference, but Galea was determined to fight the charge to the end.
He will re-appear in the Bendigo Magistrates’ Court on July 29, when he will call the boat owner as a witness.
Galea is also appealing a one-month prison sentence for weapons possession charges stemming from a raid last year.