Police drop charges against RSP demonstrators

Melbourne police have dropped charges against two Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) activists involved in a dramatic protest against Australian racism on January 26 last year. The protest received extensive media coverage in Australia and around the world, especially in India.

Van Rudd and Sam King participated in a peaceful anti-racism protest in a public park outside the National Tennis Centre during the Australian Open tournament, dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes and holding signs saying “Racism - Made in Australia”.

Rudd and King were forced into a police car and then driven into the CBD and left there. Each was issued fines of $234 for “offensive behaviour”. They then walked back to Federation Square to field media interviews.

Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre contested the fine, arguing against its legality on the grounds of freedom of speech and the right to protest. Police informing officers then failed to begin proceedings. Because the alleged charge was a summary offence, the police will now be “statutorily barred from commencing proceedings in this matter”, wrote Tamar Hopkins on behalf of the community legal centre. Hopkins wrote that the “excellent outcome” may “reflect the Crown’s concern that their case was not strong”.

The Crown was not the only organisation to threaten legal action against members of the RSP in the aftermath of the January 26 protest. EKM, a commercial and intellectual property law firm acting on behalf of Australian Made Campaign Ltd, wrote to the RSP demanding a written undertaking not to use the Australian Made logo, because “the association of the logo with the form of protest of which you were a part could substantially damage its reputation”. Rudd had prepared costumes for the protest that read “Racism - Made in Australia”.

EKM took no further action after it was publicly rebuked in an open letter from the RSP which began: “The request made by your client amounts to demanding that we, and by implication any other community member who has a protest to register, forfeit our freedom of speech. While the right to free speech is not constitutionally guaranteed in Australia, the High Court has noted and defended this as an important implied right. Such a right does not and cannot preclude the use of any symbols, signs or logos, whether they are registered trade marks or not.”