A lawyer who represented two anti-Adani coal mine protesters in a Bendigo court last week claims the magistrate’s decision not to enforce trespass charges vindicated peoples’ right to protest.
Magistrate John Murphy placed both men on diversion, effectively withdrawing the charges if both are of good behaviour for three months.
Lawyer Bill O’Donnell, acting on behalf of Bernard Tonkin and Damien Cook, said the single charge of trespass for each man related to an incident in May 2017, when activists dressed as pieces of coral reef floated along Hargreaves Mall, and entered the office of Senator Bridget McKenzie in protest against the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland.
The Castlemaine-based lawyer said Tonkin and Cook were charged as ringleaders of a group of environmentalists.
Prosecutor Sergeant Mark Snell said the protesters entered the Senator’s office in Hargreaves Mall in May, when a small child slipped through a gap in the security glass and opened the secure locked door from inside the secure area of the building.
Once protesters were in the secure section of the Senator’s office, Mr O’Donnell said there was no violence, no damage, and all parties cooperated with police when they arrived.
Prosecutors argued the protesters had no right to be in that section of the building, he said.
However, Mr O’Donnell said the protesters did have a right to be in the building as Senator McKenzie was a public figure, which was not conceded by the prosecution and never tested by the court due to the disposition.
He suggested a legal argument then centered on whether protesters planned to trespass before the event, which Mr O’Donnell said they didn’t.
“In the constitution there’s a right to elect a representative and that brings with it a right to contact or communicate with someone,” he said.
“To some degree you can’t trespass when it’s open.”
Prosecutors later accepted magistrate Murphy’s proposal to put both men on diversion.
“(The decision) is a signal that the court as constituted on Friday asserted the right of people to protest and that you can’t bring laws against them if there's no laws broken or property damaged,” Mr O’Donnell said.
Senator Bridget McKenzie said she respected the decision of the court.
“Illegally entering commonwealth offices and harassing a member of my staff is not an acceptable way of getting a point of view across,” she said.