A GROUP   of us went to court today, to support Clive Stott who had been charged with creating a public nuisance.

To sum up the story, Clive suffered horrendous health problems, with multiple hospitalizations, blood clots in leg and both lungs, and permanent impairment, after a prolonged asthma attack brought on by forestry burns carried out this autumn which blanketed the state with smoke for several weeks.

A lifetime asthma sufferer,  the 60 year old former health engineer had made numerous attempts to meet with Michelle O’Byrne, his elected representative, Clive has become a clean air campaigner and de facto advocate for the 40,000 asthma sufferers around the state.  Tasmania has 30% higher asthma rates than any other state.

The Magistrates court was an education.  Lawyers murmured arcanely and shuffled papers,  while a parade of miscreants came in and out, often within seconds.

Had you been expecting that Launceston’s offenders were the cruel and cunning, you would have been saddened and surprised,

They were more the damaged and desperate.  Poor, not very bright, some in fact bordering on mental retardation, they looked like people who needed a mother,  rather than a judge.

You had to wonder if their encounters with the law were having any effect against their life conditions and the lack of wisdom or example that put them there.

Clive of course was a whole different kettle of fish.  The judge acknowledged his lifetime of public service.  That his situation had been one of acute distress and frustration.

But “the law must prevail, and there are other ways to protest”, and fined him $320.

Was Clive right or wrong to let off a non-toxic, harmless smoke flare in the offices of Michelle O’Byrne, when for the third time she had failed to agree to meet with him ?  For someone who had suffered weeks of painful and frightening hospital admissionsand desperate medical procedures to pull him back from the brink (see Clive’s website http://www.cleanairtas.com for more details)  I wouldn’t want to judge.

The resulting fire alarm shut down a large government office building for about an hour, emergency services attended, there was a police investigation.  It probably cost the taxpayer quite a bit.  If O’Byrne had been doing her job,  this would never have happened.  If we had a responsive and investigative media, then this issue could have been explored without recourse to protest.  If we lived in a state where forestry was not priveleged,  above health, planning, safety and other laws, then it would never have arisen.


(I think O’Byrne, already famous for being the most invisible representative Bass has ever elected, should pay Clive’s fine, and apologize for putting him in such acute distress. She is fulsomely paid to represent Launceston.  As someone who voted for the Pulp Mill Assessment Act,  so widely condemned in legal and community circles for corrupting normal planning and therefore democratic process itself,  she is morally and ethically tainted forever.)

The judge argued that there are better ways to protest.  Perhaps. If you have time, patience, support, and resources.  Clive was desperate and despairing.  But he is in a great tradition. Democracy depends on people respecting the law, but being prepared to break those laws that stand in the way of just and ethical action.  Without this careful and selective willingness to transgress, we would still have the laws of the 17th century. 

Progress depends on civil disobedience at crucial moments, and when all else has been tried and failed.

In the tradition of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and back to Christ himself, standing up to the abuse of power, and being willing to take the consequences, is our responsibility as
citizens and as human beings.

Thanks to fellow Tappers for being there.  Clive’s fine was paid by some of us so as to express our support and appreciation.  Perhaps we should write to Michelle O’Byrne to ask her to contribute?

Steve Biddulph

Steve Biddulph
(I think O’Byrne, already famous for being the most invisible representative Bass has ever elected, should pay Clive’s fine, and apologize for putting him in such acute distress. She is fulsomely paid to represent Launceston.  As someone who voted for the Pulp Mill Assessment Act,  so widely condemned in legal and community circles for corrupting normal planning and therefore democratic process itself,  she is morally and ethically tainted forever.)