This article was originally written by Chris Dawson, March 2011
Lobbying by Brisbane cemetery volunteer groups has finally paid off, with the Queensland Parliament recently passing amendments to the Criminal Code that will make it easier to prosecute cemetery vandals.* The Friends of Balmoral Cemetery (FOBC) and the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery (FOSBC) have long called for more legal protection for cemeteries, and the subject received massive publicity when vandals who caused extensive damage at Toowong Cemetery in 2009 got off scot-free because it could not be proved that they did not act without consent of the owners of the grave plots (most of whom are dead).
By coincidence, on the same day that the alleged vandals were acquitted, members of the FOBC were meeting with Attorney-General Cameron Dick, who flagged the changes that have now become law. The new laws have reversed the onus of proof regarding ‘unlawfulness’ and now require the defendant to prove that they acted with the consent of the owner or entity responsible for the site. Penalties have also been increased where damage is caused to a cemetery, gravestone, place of worship, or war memorial.
A new offence will address the issue of persons inappropriately interfering with graves (but where the conduct does not, in law, amount to ‘damage’) to allow for a prosecution for wilful damage. This one is of particular interest to the FOSBC, who have seen graves at the heritage-listed cemetery illegally restored (i.e., without permission from responsible heritage bodies), an act that may now constitute wilful damage.
Di Farmer, State Member for Bulimba, congratulated the the FOBC on their achievements in helping to push the change. She wrote that, ‘these particular amendments to the Criminal Code were widely applauded by both sides of politics, and I was really proud to be associated with the group who lobbied for it. Well done! Look forward to celebrating with you about it at some stage very soon.’
Kelvin Johnson, past president of the FOBC, wrote that, ‘This is real proof what a community group and alliances can do and how they can through effective organising, lobbying, leading the debate and for forming linkages and alliances… change the law for the greater good.’
Having worked with Kelvin and others on this matter through what have been some frequently frustrating times, I can only agree. Never again will we see cemetery vandals walk free from court because of a legal loophole. The cemetery groups will continue their efforts to defend our cemeteries as the Brisbane Cemetery Council still to need to improve their own laws in this area, and there is much work to be done combating the inappropriate use of cemeteries for parties and pseudo-Satanic stupidity. In the meantime, a big thanks to the state government for changing the old laws, which I know had caused considerable public outrage after the Toowong case, and hopefully we will never need to see the new laws in action.