David Marler

David Marler

Queensland reporter at No Fibs
David is a full time Queensland carer for his son and in quiet times contributes to NoFibs.
David Marler

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David Marler

Queensland Greens deny any involvement in the Extinction Rebellion disruption to state parliament. The intrusion could have criminal consequences for those partaking. In Queensland, disturbing the Legislative Assembly is an offence. How this law came into being dates back to 1939.

“I have a right to be a rebel,” declared the man in charge.

“If you are a rebel, you will have to take the consequences of being one,” replied the Queensland Premier.

The Mackay Daily Mercury reported that on the morning of August 4, 1939 the Labor caucas of Premier William Forgan Smith was meeting to elect a new minister when 37 men entered the parliamentary grounds through various doors. They were armed with knuckle-dusters, batons, coils of barbed wire, staples, hammers and files.

Brisbane Sensation - Caucus Room Invaded,The Mackay Daily Mercury, August 5, 1939
Brisbane Sensation – Caucus Room Invaded. The Mackay Daily Mercury, August 5, 1939.

Upon finding the government, the League of Social Justice as they called themselves, demanded a number of changes including the stabilising of primary production prices, a 40 hour week and taxation reduction. The invasion took place against the backdrop of the rise of fascism in Europe and a month before the outbreak of World War II. Their leader declared himself a descendent of those that had fought at the Battle of Culloden in Scotland in 1746 and that he was exercising his right to rebellion.

Arriving in 1912 from Scotland, Premier Forgan Smith was aware of the battle but was emphatic about the behaviour of the men.

“There is a constitution and method of approaching me – a deputation. This is a display of Fascism and I will not countenance such an outrage in Queensland. We refuse to be intimidated by you, individually or collectively, and I ask you to withdraw.”

As the premier kept them talking, the health minister ducked out another door to telephone the constabulary. All thirty-seven were later arrested and charged.

During the 150th anniversary of the opening of Parliament House, Clerk of the Parliament Neil Laurie reflected on the incident and the changes to the Queensland criminal code that ensued.

“Thirty-seven people were charged and nobody was convicted,” Mr Laurie told 7 News Brisbane’s Ben Murphy in an interview.

“The premier of the day was so furious he introduced a new provision in the criminal code which is there to this day which makes it an offence to make a disturbance in the parliament.”

November 30, 2022 intrusion into the public gallery by Extinction Rebellion Brisbane.

During a Wednesday session of parliament, protestors took advantage of the lack of metal detectors at the disability access point to smuggle props and recording devices inside. Matt Dennien from the Brisbane Times reported that the group unfurled “stop gas, stop coal” banners from the public gallery bringing a halt to parliamentary proceedings.

Queensland Criminal Code Act 1899

In the chamber was the Greens MP for Maiwar, Michael Berkman. He reacted to the disturbance by creating a Facebook post saying, “I wasn’t allowed to take photos from the chamber, but climate activists just staged an action in Queensland Parliament calling on the government to stop coal and gas”. Included was a picture of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk beneath a heading which read, “Live Qld coal exports omitted from climate plan”.

Another Facebook user responded in the comments section with a link which led to the live-stream activity by Extinction Rebellion Brisbane / Meanjin entitled, “HAPPENING NOW: Several people have dropped banners from the upper balcony of the Green Room at the Queensland Parliament during question time”.

At his post, Mr Berkman also expressed encouragement of the group.

“So to those who took a stand today, I just want to say: you are absolutely right. We need to stop coal and gas. And we need to keep saying it until the major parties start listening,” he wrote.

On Thursday morning Speaker Curtis Pitt condemned the incident and referenced Mr Berkman’s Facebook post.

“The protestors attempted to shout down democracy by being the loudest voice in the chamber and disrupting the assembly’s process,” he said.

“It is unacceptable for our members to participate, incite or encourage such protest.”

Mr Berkman was referred to the parliament’s Ethics Committee for possible contempt under standing order 266. Speaker Pitt reminded members that under standing order 271 there was to be no further reference to the matter inside the House.

Matt Dennien from the Brisbane Times later reported that Mr Berkman denied that the Queensland Greens “had anything to do with the protest”.

Later in the day, Mr Berkman returned to Facebook to confirm that he had been referred to ethics and inferred he’d been targeted by a parliamentary rule change.

I’ve just been referred to the Ethics Committee again,” he wrote. “This time, for a Facebook post about a climate protest in Parliament yesterday, under a new rule that prohibits MPs from encouraging protests at Parliament. I’ve been told the rule was created specifically for me.”

Excerpt from the Queensland Parliament Standing Rules and Orders of the Legislative Assembly, standing order 266, subsections (24), (25) and (26).

Mr Berkman was previously referred to the Ethics Committee in 2019 after standing on the parliamentary balcony in support of the March 15 School Strike 4 Climate protest. Lydia Lynch from the Brisbane Times reported that he was found in contempt of parliament on February 18, 2020,

“The (Ethics) Committee is entitled to make their finding, but I’ll leave Queenslanders to make up their own minds about what is fair,” he said after the decision.

Investigation into the November Extinction Rebellion disturbance by both the Ethics Committee and Queensland Police remains ongoing.

Update – Wednesday February 1, 2023

The Guardian Australia’s Joe Hinchliffe reported that fourteen people appeared in court charged with disrupting the Queensland Parliament last November.

“The 14 were released on bail under the condition they not enter parliament and the case will resume in two weeks, when prosecutors are expected to hand over their brief of evidence.” – ‘Rather die in jail than a nursing home’: climate activists show stiff resolve as they face Queensland court.

The group accused the government of tactics similar to the government of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. “Are we going to see a slippery slide back to the days of Joh?” retired public servant Dave Tucker asked.

Update – Friday March 8, 2024