ACT Govt subpoenas community groups’ details

The ACT Government has issued a subpoena against two Flynn community groups, ordering them to hand over private membership lists and three years of bank records.  The ACT Government solicitor has also written to the groups, demanding a $40,000 security bond to cover potential legal costs that could be awarded against the groups if they lose a Supreme Court appeal against the ACT Heritage Council.

Members of the John Flynn Community Group and the Flynn Primary School Parents and Citizens Association say the demand for bank records and membership lists is an invasion of privacy and sets a dangerous precedent for all Canberra community groups seeking to challenge government policy decisions. Spokeswoman Shirley Pipitone said, “It is a brutal attack on a community’s right to freedom of speech and free assembly.”

The ACT’s new Heritage Minister Simon Corbel did not respond yesterday to requests for comment. The solicitor’s letter claims Flynn resident Roger Nicoll and his wife Cathy “are the driving force” behind both community groups, and “the associations themselves have few members”.

Heritage protection of the Flynn open-plan school, designed in the 1970s by leading
Australian architect Enrico Taglietti, is the subject of a Supreme Court appeal by the two community groups. They are challenging a ruling by the ACT Administrative Tribunal to uphold an ACT Heritage Council decision to reject heritage for the school. Flynn primary school, closed by the ACT Government in 2006 as part of an education overhaul, was one of the first schools in Australia designed specifically to create a more progressive learning environment. A draft conservation strategy for the site, commissioned by the ACT Government, describes the school as having outstanding aesthetic and cultural values.

Members of community groups fighting to protect the school have accused the ACT
Government of using financial pressure to bully and intimidate residents. “This is the third time for the Flynn community that the ACT Government has tried to block legal action with demands for a massive security lodgement,” spokeswoman Shirley Pipitone said. During the Supreme Court challenge to [ACT Government] school closures in 2007, the Flynn community successfully posted ‘the $50,000 security demanded but was finally blocked by a threat for a further $50,000 to $100,000 in 2009. “This unreasonable government behaviour is the latest in a long saga of scurrilous actions belittling the Flynn community and our strong attachment to the former Flynn primary school. We have called on the Legislative Assembly for a full and independent inquiry.”

Opposition heritage spokesman Alistair Coe said it was important for Canberra’s community groups to be encouraged to “take part in a vibrant, active and robust engagement” with government. We want to see the community take a keen interest in issues, and we would not support actions that stifle that interest,” he said.

Greens heritage spokeswoman Caroline Le Couteur said asking community groups to post large security bonds to cover potential legal costs was “ clearly a barrier” to challenging government policy. Ms Le Couteur said in the assignment of portfolios following the resignation of former ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope, “Heritage seems to have disappeared, and it is becoming harder to find out and understand what is going on.”

By Rosslyn Beeby
The Canberra Times Wednesday 25 May 2011

Note: copyright of the material in this clipping resides with Fairfax Media. Usage permitted in accordance with the Australian Copyright Act 1968, Section 42: Fair dealing for purpose of reporting news. Source: The Canberra Times – 25 May 2011
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