A short video posted on YouTube last week appears to show a woman from the land down under recording a cop on a motorcycle from across the street, obviously far enough away to not be interfering in any way with his official duties.
However, as we’ve seen happen so many times in this country, the Australian police officer from the Queensland Police Department halts what he is doing, stops traffic both ways to cross the street and approaches the woman.
The audio is a bit garbled and the officer is talking quickly but he appears to identify himself as Dan O’Brien. More on that in a moment) and orders her to “get on your scooter and get out of here or you’ll find yourself arrested.”
He then snaps at the woman to “get out of my face” (even though he was the one who closed the distance between the two) and proceeds to physically grab the woman and push her, presumably towards her scooter, all the while berating her to get going and leave the area.
The officer’s actions would clearly be unlawful in America, and apparently are in Australia as well.
Queensland criminal attorney Kurt Fowler states in this article on profiling motorcycle riders in Australia that one is legally able to record conversations with police and there is no need to inform them that the recording is being made.
That would certainly seem to cover the woman’s actions in this video as she isn’t interacting with the officer at all, and in fact is approximately 40 to 50 feet away, across a busy roadway from the officer before he crosses the street to confront her.
Contacted by PINAC, Mr. Fowler states that he found the footage “concerning” and that in his opinion, the cop was relying on the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act (Queensland) to justify his apparent assault on the woman.
The Queensland Police were contacted about this incident and responded with a statement which included the following:
“In general, filming an officer in a public place in Queensland is not an offence, however, there may be circumstances where an offence may be committed, such as obstruct, where the officer may be hindered in the performance of their duty or a lawful function.
Inquiries are being conducted into the circumstances that led up to and took place as depicted on the footage. An assessment will then be made as to whether there has been any breach of discipline or misconduct by the officer.
It would be improper to prejudge the officer’s actions without proper context as to the circumstances the officer was dealing with.”
In other words, they don’t seem too terribly concerned about how their organization is being represented by this officer. The department also refused to confirm the identity of the officer in the video, stating that
“The officer identifies himself on the footage. There is no requirement to provide the registered number of the officer in the footage. Given the nature of the inquiry sufficient information has been given in the footage to identify the officer.”
One major difference between Australia and the U.S. is that citizens of the latter have a Bill of Rights in their Constitution, while there is no such provision in Australia. That means that the Australian government does not have specific enumerated checks on its power, allowing it more room to violate the rights of its population.
One such example of this intrusion is the previously mentioned Police Powers Responsibilities Act of 2000. This act is the legislation that establishes police authority in that state, giving law enforcement a frightening amount of power to detain and search people without warrants, based on nothing more than a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity based on the judgment of the officer.
A cursory reading of the relevant sections of the legislation, however, reveals no specific justification for the officer’s actions in this incident.
Another difference in the laws between the United States and Australia is that the U.S. government and most of the states (at least in theory) have strong freedom of information laws that allow citizens to request most documents and other pieces of information, usually without required identification and for minimal or no fees or costs besides those required to access the information.
That means that barring abuse of the legislation from government officials, unclassified or nonexempt information is usually easily obtained. At least in theory because we have seen many cases where records were not easily obtained.
Australia, on the other hand, pays lip service to freely accessing information but in reality makes it quite difficult for a citizen to obtain it.
For example, to make a formal government document request in Queensland, one is required to submit the request in an “approved form,” including whether the information requested “is sought for the benefit of, or use of the document by” the requester or another party.
Under Australian law, the identity of the citizen requesting the records MUST be revealed, requiring the citizen to submit proof of identity by providing a photocopy of a birth certificate, passport or driver’s license.
As if that weren’t enough, that photocopy must also be “certified by a qualified witness”, listed as a lawyer, notary public, commissioner for declarations or a justice of the peace.
Finally, each application for information must be accompanied by a mandatory fee of $44.85 (about $33 American dollars), which “cannot be waived and must be paid before the application can be processed”. Assuming the application is approved, there is then a fee of .25 for each page that is photocopied. Or if one simply wishes to view the documents, they are required to pay $6.95 per 15 minutes of viewing time.
This onerous process hardly screams “open access” to citizens wishing to obtain information from the Australian authorities.
The United States definitely is not alone in the world when it comes to government employees failing to understand the right of citizens to record them doing their jobs in public, as well as unlawfully restricting the obtaining of publicly available information. Hopefully the residents of those nations will also fight to keep those rights unrestricted.