An activist citing freedom of speech to defend gluing a poster to a prominent statue of former NSW governor Lachlan Macquarie has been cleared of a related charge.
But Stephen John Langford will wait until the new year to find out if a court accepts his argument that posting an A4-sized sheet of paper with text on an Aboriginal massacre is covered by Australia’s implied freedom of political communication.
The Paddington man, 52 this month, was arrested soon after posting the paper to the statue in Hyde Park on June 18.
A later search of his backpack uncovered scissors, glue and more posters also referencing Governor Macquarie’s orders that led to the 1816 Appin massacre.
Langford spent a night in custody before pleading not guilty to damaging property and being a convicted person found with intent to commit an indictable offence.
Sydney magistrate Vivien Swain cleared him of the second charge after a hearing on Tuesday.
She wasn’t satisfied beyond reasonable doubt possessing “seven pieces of paper on the same terms with a pot of glue” proved Langford was intending to commit a serious offence, she said.
Defending the first charge, lawyer Mark Davis had argued his client’s glue hadn’t damaged the statue and the poster was more like a wheel clamp on a tyre, altering the statue but not harming it.
Ms Swain dismissed that argument and said she intended to find the first offence proved – subject to hearing from all sides in full about the implied freedom of political communication in the Australian constitution.
“It is not a personal right that you can carry with you and invoke to otherwise valid charges,” barrister Myles Pulsford, acting for the NSW attorney-general, told Ms Swain on Tuesday.
The poster contained a quote attributed to Governor Macquarie in 1816 that all Indigenous people “from Sydney onwards are to be made prisoners of war and if they resist, they are to be shot and their bodies hung from trees in the most conspicuous places near where they fall, so as to strike terror into the hearts of the surviving natives”, police prosecutor Amin Assaad said.
Langford’s poster also stated: “for public education, please do not remove.”
The court heard the incident came amid a series of protests in Sydney and worldwide for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Langford had previously been convicted for spray-painting then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s electorate office in 2016 over immigration detention issues, the court heard.