‘Minister for barbecues’ argues he has right to stop traffic, magistrate considers ‘significant’ human rights issue
A climate change protester who declared himself the “minister for barbecues” in the middle of a busy Brisbane street is arguing he was not “disorderly”, but exercising his right to peaceful assembly under Queensland’s new Human Rights Act.
- Byron Lawrie is charged with public nuisance for blocking Alice Street in an act of protest
- His lawyer argues he is allowed to protest under the Human Rights Act
- Magistrate Suzette Coates says the court has been expecting such an argument
Byron Lawrie, 40, was arrested on October 7, 2019, outside Parliament House, at the beginning of a week-long campaign of disruption by the climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion.
Mr Lawrie was charged with public nuisance and has pleaded not guilty.
The Brisbane Magistrates Court was yesterday shown vision from police body-worn cameras in which officers warned Mr Lawrie to get off Alice Street, before physically pushing him onto the footpath.
The vision showed officers repeatedly asking Mr Lawrie for his name.
He repeatedly replied: “I’m the minister for barbecues. You can’t arrest the minister for barbecues.”
Police used bolt cutters to remove a barbecue that was chained to his wrist.
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Acting Sergeant Duncan Hill told the court that when he arrived at the scene, traffic was at a standstill.
“I’ve seen approximately 10 vehicles on the road, a green light displayed. None of the vehicles were moving,” he said.
Sergeant Hill said he repeatedly asked the protester, dressed in a wig, cap, board shorts and black suit jacket, to stay off the road.
“He’s then continued to push, and I pushed him back and said, ‘That’s it, you’re under arrest’,” he said.
Vision of Mr Lawrie’s arrest has been posted on social media as part of a video in which “the minister for barbecues” burns the globe on top of his coal-fired barbecue.
Mr Lawrie’s defence is arguing there is no case to answer because the prosecution had not established Mr Lawrie’s conduct was disorderly.
‘A significant issue’
Outside court, special counsel Benedict Coyne said the case was about the fundamental right to protest and provisions in Queensland’s new Human Rights Act, which came into force on January 1.
“The laws need to be interpreted in a way that is compatible with the Human Rights Act, particularly the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association, ” Mr Coyne said.
Magistrate Suzette Coates adjourned the case for several weeks to give the prosecution time to make a written submission.
“This is quite a significant issue,” she told the court.
“The court’s been well expecting an argument such as this … so I need to properly consider it.
“It’s not something that should be considered lightly.”
The maximum penalty for a public nuisance conviction is six months’ jail.