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How Pine Gap protester won back his right to work with Qld children

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A Christian folk singer arrested for anti-war protests was barred from working with children. He argued his personal convictions should outweigh the consequences of criminal convictions.

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Brisbane man Franz Dowling, 23, last year sought to renew his blue card to work with children through volunteer work and his university studies.

But his application was rejected by the Queensland Government, threatening Dowling’s future plans. A bureaucrat felt that that even though Dowling’s previous run-ins with the law were not violent, he might not be the best influence on children.

Despite his young age, Dowling had criminal convictions for entering a prohibited area and, separately, wilful damage at a cemetery.

Dowling appealed the blue card rejection through the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, where Member Amanda McDonnell had to consider the relevant legislation and the two incidents from Dowling’s past.

The first incident involved Dowling joining a 2016 protest at Pine Gap “spy base” in central Australia, which was allegedly being used for drone strikes and bombing raids in the Middle East and in Asia. The protestors who broke into the site became known as The Pine Gap Six.

“They crossed the perimeter fence, entering the prohibited area,” McDonnell wrote in her decision.

“Once there they played musical instruments they had with them.”

The second incident involved Dowling and activists from the Catholic Worker Movement entering Toowong cemetery for a protest, where a war memorial was damaged. Dowling felt he should not have been convicted of wilful damage.

“One of the co-defendants climbed a ladder and removed a sword attached to the sandstone crucifix on the memorial, damaging the sandstone,” McDonnell wrote.

“Using an anvil and hammer another co-defendant reshaped the sword into a ploughshare. During this time the applicant played the guitar and sang.”

In his defence, Dowling – the son of pro-life Christian activists – wrote his life story and also presented an ethics and values document to QCAT, as well as numerous character references, and called evidence from witnesses with expertise in ethics.

While Dowling argued that he posed no threat to children, and would not encourage a young person to break the law, he held on to his right to “fight against the forces of violence and hatred that are present in our society”.

McDonnell found Dowling showed “limited insight into the consequences of his actions for others, including that members of the public might be offended or upset by the actions taken at the war memorial”.

However, McDonnell found the Government was wrong to refuse to renew his blue card under the legislation having considered the two incidents in context.

“The applicant presented as an honest and reliable witness and a young man with strong convictions, who seeks to make the world a better place,” McDonnell wrote.

“The applicant said his actions were undertaken with the intention of attracting attention to his causes, with a view to making the world a better place, now and in the future, consistent with his personal beliefs. The right to protest is accepted in society and recognised, and indeed protected, by law.”

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