Priest Denounces Heavy-Handed 'Annoyance' Code

The Australian
July 3, 2008,25197,23960584-2702,00.html

WORLD Youth Day organisers and the NSW Government yesterday defended legislation aimed at quelling disruptive protests during the event.

However, Jesuit priest Frank Brennan said the laws were contrary to Catholic teaching on human rights and barristers argued it was a "disproportionate response".

World Youth Day 2008 chief operating officer Danny Casey said controversial "annoyance" laws that would be in force in NSW were not unique.

Mr Casey conceded the church had asked for pilgrims to be protected but noted the "annoyance" laws already existed in 15 statutes. "We asked for and we discussed having legislation consistent with other events to ensure the efficient running of the event," he said.

The laws include fines of up to $5500 for those who cause "annoyance" at WYD events.

Mr Casey said he was concerned an act might interfere with the "efficient running of the event". "If someone decided to stage a protest on the middle of the Harbour Bridge during the pilgrimage walk ... that would probably be annoying," he said.

In addition to "declared areas" the regulations - passed by decree last week without any parliamentary debate - cover the sale of goods and outdoor advertising within 500m of more than 550 WYD sites.

Goods protected included 17 types of clothing and accessories and 16 items of giftware, such as sunglasses, stickers and key rings.

However, the Outdoor Advertising Association said the advertising restrictions - which refer to obscene, offensive or inappropriate material - were aimed at protesters.

The association's chief executive officer Helen Willoughby said that the Olympic Games had been concerned only with protecting sponsor revenues.

There were no such outdoor advertising controls for last year's APEC meeting in Sydney.

The ministerial spokeswoman for World Youth Day, Kristina Keneally, said: "There's nothing in this event that is different from other events." She denied as false reports that police were insisting protesters submit placard messages and the like.

The clause in the NSW World Youth Day regulations permitting the penalising of those who caused "annoyance and inconvenience" was already in 15 acts and regulations covering venue management, Ms Keneally said.

Father Brennan, a champion of human rights, quoted a papal encyclical in his criticism of the regulations.

"As an Australian Catholic lawyer, I am saddened that the state has seen fit to curtail civil liberties further in this instance than they have for other significant international events hosted in Sydney," he said.

NSW Bar Association president Anna Katzmann SC said the regulations were "totally unnecessary".

"It is true that similar powers may be found in other regulations, but two wrongs don't make a right," Ms Katzmann said.

"The World Youth Day regulations ... strike at our basic civil rights."


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