War memorial activist regains right to work with children

A student activist convicted of desecrating a war memorial and breaking into a top-secret military base has won a bid to overturn a ruling that banned him from working with children.

Franz James Dowling, 23, succeeded in his application against a decision by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General to issue a ‘negative notice’ which prevented him from holding a blue card under Queensland’s Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000 in March last year.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) found the Government’s decision to issue the notice, based on the grounds that his criminal past was serious enough to make his an ‘exceptional case’, was unfounded.

QCAT member Amanda McDonnell, in a 13-page decision, said Dowling had been the holder of a blue card that allowed him to do volunteer work with children in conjunction with his university studies between 2015 and 2018.

However, Ms McDonnell said a negative notice was issued against Dowling – effectively banning him from working with children – in the wake of subsequent criminal convictions in Brisbane and the Northern Territory.

Dowling, along with three other men, was found guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court in July 2017 of the wilful damage of a war memorial at Toowong Cemetery on Ash Wednesday almost four months earlier.

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Then presiding Chief Magistrate Ray Rinaudo was told that Dowling “played the guitar and sang songs” while his co-offenders, including his father James Dowling, removed a sword attached to a sandstone crucifix on an Australian war memorial using an anvil and hammer.

Dowling, in his submissions to QCAT, said he was “simply a bystander” during the act of vandalism and his only participation was by way of a “peaceful and reflective prayer service”.

Judge Rinaudo fined Dowling $1000 for his role and ordered no conviction be recorded against him.

Dowling was again convicted and fined $1250 in the Northern Territory Supreme Court in December 2017 for breaking into the joint Australia-United States military intelligence base at Pine Gap – where he again played music, this time to protest drone strikes and bombing raids in the Middle East and Asia.

NT Supreme Court Justice John Reeves found Dowling, his father and three others had been proven guilty of scaling a fence and crossing into the prohibited area of the defence base on 29 September 2016.

Ms McDonnell said the State Government refused Dowling’s application to renew his blue card by issuing a negative notice on 27 March last year, based on its assessment that his offending was of a serious nature.

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During a hearing on 12 August (2020), Dowling appealed the decision, arguing that it infringed on his human rights.

Ms McDonnell, in her finding, said: “(Dowling) submitted the decision to issue a negative notice infringed on his human rights, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief; freedom of expression; peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and (taking) part in public life.

“The Tribunal accepts that it is (Dowling’s) right to hold and to express his personal opinions…(and) does not seek to interfere with (his) rights of freedom of expression, religion or peaceful assembly.

“Rather, the matter for consideration by the Tribunal is whether (Dowling’s) case is exceptional such that it would not be in the interests of children for a positive notice to be issued.

“After consideration of all of the evidence, the findings of fact, the risk and protective factors, and the relevant matters in the (Working with Children) Act…this is not an exceptional case.”

Read the full decision.

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