“Art is not a mirror held up to reality
but a hammer with which to shape it.”
― Bertolt Brecht
Homer was a busy dog this week, court appearances, Brisbane City Council appeals, tent embassy meetings, Homer even got in a game of community bingo up at Jagera Arts Hall.
The story so far. Listeners will recall that Homer was arrested for maintaining the sacred fire and for going unrestrained in a public place, namely Musgrave Park and assaulting a Brisbane City Council dog-catcher.
Homer is of course the tent embassy mascot and hero. He is a quiet and peace-loving dog but nothing riles him more than injustice. Speaking of which, Homer has received nearly two thousand dollars in fines relating to his placing sticks of wood on the sacred fire in Musgrave Park.
The infringement notices claim that Homer has breached the Health, Safety and Amenity Local Law 2009 by maintaining a fire in the open air [Infringement Notice used against Sacred Fire].
The Health, Safety and Amenity Local Law 2009 places aboriginal ceremony in that same category as Parking and Littering infringements. The ceremony is participants sing their ancestors into the sacred fire. It is a spiritual ceremony witnessed by many on Invasion Day this year.
Parking infringements are a big money spinner for Brisbane City Council. In the 2011/12 financial years Council had a target to earn $22, 220, 000 in revenue from the issue of infringement notices. Council employs a rapid response team to issue infringement notices. After frustrating months of waiting, Homer received the following letter from Bob Southwood from the Correspondence and Review Team, Compliance and Regulatory Services, Brisbane Lifestyle Division, Brisbane City Council. What a mouthful! Homer had a friend draft an appeal against these infringement notices. You will recall from last week’s program that Homer was refused legal aid by the Aboriginal Legal Service because of his association with the tent embassy. Homer is owned by an aboriginal person, a proud Cooma murri. The reply from Council was dated 21 February 2013. It reads in part:
In your letter appealing the infringement notices for maintaining the sacred fire, you have stated that you believe that the offences occurred on land held under a Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT) for ‘aboriginal purposes and no other purpose whatsoever’.
I can confirm that the location where the infringements were issued is owned by Brisbane City Council and is listed for use as Parks & Gardens and Bushland Reserves and as such prohibits the lighting or maintaining of fires. I’m sure you can appreciate that dedicated parkland is a public space for the enjoyment of all people and not for the exclusive use of particular individuals or groups particularly not for the exclusive use of aboriginal claimants of the land.
Homer’s friend was flabbergasted but kept his cool. He fired off an appeal to the Council’s Disputes Commissioner as outlined on the Infringement notices. The scripting on all letters, infringements and even in the Brisbane City Council call centre states that the office of the Disputes Commissioner was created in order to improve Councils’ delivery of fair outcomes without having to resort to the Court system. Lord Mayor Graham Quirk issued a statement to the press in November 2011 that the Dispute Commissioner’s fair and independent resolution of disputes over infringement notices were proof the system was working.
“People are availing themselves of the opportunity (to appeal),” Alderman Quirk said.
“I think we have to continue to look towards tightening the administrative ways we operate. The purpose of the Disputes Commissioner is to resolve issues of this nature.” (Reported in the Courier Mail in a story titled Complain-to-council-and-win-a-waiver ).
Well the independent and fair-minded Dispute’s Commissioner, Paul Wesener, dropped a bombshell on Alderman Quirk’s doorstep this week. PShift’s reporter doing the round at City Hall this week conducted the following interview with Mr Paul Wesener yesterday:
PShift: Could you please introduce yourself?
Disputes Commissioner: My name is Paul Wesener; I am the Dispute Commissioner at Brisbane City Council. My office receives nearly 2000 complaints each year lodged against council fines.
PShift: Before you became Council’s Disputes Commissioner where were you employed?
Wesener: I was employed as a Senior Constable in the Queensland Police Force.
PShift: Where were you stationed, Mr Commissioner?
Wesener: I was stationed at West End Police Station. I ran a unit known as the West End Police Beat.
PShift: Why was the West End Police Beat set up?
Wesener: On 7 November 1993, Daniel Alfred Yock, was intercepted by police in the West End area. Yock was subsequently arrested and placed in the rear of a police van. Upon arrival at the Brisbane City Watchouse, he was found not to be breathing and without a pulse. He was then taken to the Royal Brisbane Hospital where he was subsequently pronounced dead on arrival.
PShift: Sorry, I don’t understand the connection between Daniel Yock’s death and the setting up of what you refer to as the West End Beat?
Wesener: That is the West End Police Beat. This unit was set up after recommendations to the Crime & Justice Commissioner held a public hearing presided over by Acting Chairperson, Mr Lou Wyvill QC. The Queensland Police Service submission to the inquiry included a commitment to implement beat policing throughout the West End Police Division
PShift: You are aware that Homer was threatened with an armed taser by Senior Constable PELECANOS.
Wesener: I am not aware of that.
PShift: You are not aware that the dog widely known as Homer was threatened by Senior Constable Alexandra PELECANOS who armed her taser, pointing it towards Homer’s head and torso, walking towards Homer and barking orders at him as if to indicate that the dog should leave Musgrave Park.
Wesener: No I am not aware of that, sir.
PShift: You are not aware of that despite the fact that Senior Constable PELECANOS works in the West End Beat, the very unit that you helped establish back in the 1990s after Daniel Yock’s death?
Wesener: The unit is called West End Police Beat and no sir I am not aware of what you allege.
PShift: What are the goals of the West End Police Beat?
Wesener: The objectives of the pilot that I helped set up were to ‘promote feelings of community safety’.
PShift: Did you just say ‘promote feelings of community safety’?
PShift: How did you propose to achieve that?
Wesener: By increasing the level of community satisfaction with policing strategies in the West End beat area.
Pshift: Did you achieve your objectives?
Wesener: Well, yes. Representatives of the Aboriginal and Vietnamese communities in West End felt that the project provided them with a point of contact with police and a valuable source of information.
PShift: Did you encounter any problems in the implementation of the West End Police Beat.
Wesener: Some police managers or supervisors tried to divert beat officers into a more reactive style of policing.
PShift: Why was that?
Wesener: I think our budget was bigger than what the station’s budget was … it was very user friendly.
PShift: I don’t understand? User friendly?
Wesener: Well, it was impossible for us to utilise the overtime budget that we had, I mean short of both of us working ourselves into the ground we couldn’t use it, we had such a big budget.
Supervisors in charge of general policing were envious of our budget.
PShift: So the level of job satisfaction for beat officers was higher than that of police assigned to general duties.
Wesener: Well, yes. It took a long time for other police to accept beat policing.
PShift: Did West End Police Beat improve relations with the Aboriginal community after Daniel Yock was killed by police?
Wesener: I resent the implication of that question. The fact is during the evaluation of our unit; a representative of the Murri Mura Aboriginal Corporation was interviewed to determine the level of support for the West End Police Beat by the West End Aboriginal community. According to this person, the general feeling is that most members of West End’s Aboriginal community believe that the unit has been a great success. In particular, some members of the Aboriginal community feel that the beat officers are a point of contact with the police and a valuable source of information. The community also believes that the beat officers are going out of their way to improve relations between the police and the Aboriginal community and, as a result are well respected and trusted.
PShift: Yet hundreds of police broke up the Aboriginal tent embassy in Musgrave Park.
Wesener: I couldn’t comment on that.
PShift: How will you deal independently and fairly with Homer’s appeal against the thousands of dollars of fines for maintaining the sacred fire?
Wesener: I won’t be.
Wesener. I won’t be dealing with that matter because there is no appeal to the Disputes Commissioner for a fine issued under the Health Safety and Amenity Local Law Act of 2009.
PShift: So what you are telling me is that if Homer received a fine for littering he would have more rights than for maintaining the sacred fire?
Wesener: I couldn’t comment on that.
PShift: I think we should leave it there with a short poem by Kevin Gilbert:
Kill the legend
With your sophistry
Your baseless rhetoric
Your lusting material concepts
Your groundless condescension