By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim
The Supreme Court found that a cannabis activist who posted ‘I would like to blog up parliament’ posed no real threat, and declined to make an extended supervision order.
George Dickson was on remand at the John Morony Correctional Centre in July 2018, when he was required to participate in a session with other inmates. And when introducing himself, the man in his forties told those gathered that he was a “political activist and member of the marijuana party”.
“I want to set fire to each police station in the state and country to teach the ‘state’ and country a lesson and hit them where it hurts financially,” the unsentenced detainee continued. “I would like to blow up Parliament House.”
Dickson was locked up after being found guilty of smashing the windows of two police vehicles in Nimbin in May 2018. It was the latest incident in a long series that for the most part saw him making written threats of violence against authorities in demonstration against the impacts of the drug war.
The anti-war on drugs campaign Dickson waged began after an initial cannabis possession conviction in his home state of SA in 2016. And ultimately, following appeal, he was sentenced over the police car window property damage to at least 9 months imprisonment, which ended in February 2019.
However, in breach of his parole requirements, Dickson took off and was subsequently located staying in a house in South Australia. He was then extradited to NSW, where he was sent back to prison to serve the full length of his sentence, which expired in late last November.
Assessing the threat
On 30 September last year, the state of NSW commenced civil proceedings in the Supreme Court, seeking both interim and final orders be imposed upon Dickson over his repeated threats in accordance with the Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Act 2017 (NSW) (“the Terror Act”).
Under section 20 of the Terror Act, an offender on release can be placed on an extended supervision order (ESO) if they’re assessed to pose an “unacceptable risk of committing a serious terrorism offence” without proper monitoring. NSW sought to place Dickson on a two year order.
NSW Supreme Court Justice Mark Ierace placed Dickson on an interim supervision order (ISO) on 7 November last year in lieu of the court’s decision on the ESO. And the ISO was renewed on a number of occasions leading up to the final hearing on the 14th of this month.
NSW attorney general Mark Speakman introduced the Terror Act into state parliament in November 2017, at a time when the Liberal Nationals government was on something of a terror legislating roll in the wake of the 2014 Lindt Café siege in Sydney’s Martin Place.
Satisfying the criteria
Section 20 requires that four prerequisites are met in relation to an ESO. These include that the proposed subject of the order be in custody or under an ISO, that an ESO application has been made, the subject must be a convicted terrorism offender and that the threat they pose be highly probable.
As Justice Ierace explained during his final findings last week, the first two preconditions had been met, and the imposition of the ESO rested on whether the final two prerequisites were.
The state of NSW put forth that Dickson met the definition of “a convicted NSW terrorism activity offender” contained under section 10 of the Terror Act. His Honour explained that he took the plaintiff to be arguing that Dickson had sought to actually achieve his agenda via violent means.
And in considering the evidence before him, Justice Ierace said that he was satisfied that in “having regard to the nature of the offending material, the defendant has made statements that advocate support for terrorist acts”. And therefore, Dickson had satisfied the third requirement.
The final precondition was whether the court was “satisfied to a high degree of probability that the offender poses an unacceptable risk of committing a serious terrorism offence if not kept under supervision”. To ascertain this, his Honour turned to two forensic reports.
Psychologist Chelsey Dewson administered tests to assess whether Dickson posed a terrorist threat post release. And she found him to be at “moderate to high risk of unlawfully using violence against person or property to attempt to intimidate, coerce or influence government agencies”.
The justice then considered the assessment of psychiatrist Dr Anthony Samuels, who reasoned that Dickson hadn’t really engaged in any acts of terror or extremism, that he wasn’t associated with any terror organisations, and the man, who showed signs of mental illness, only posed a moderate threat.
The doctor further recommended that rather than he be placed under an ESO in NSW – where he’d be on his own and may become more resentful under the restrictions placed on him – it would be best to send him back to SA where he’d be provided with support from his immediate family.
No terrorist threat
In his consideration, Justice Ierace noted that the defendant’s legal team asserted that Dickson’s intention in making the threats was an attempt to draw attention to his political cause. And this was supported by Dr Samuel’s assessment of the attention seeking nature of the bomb threat.
His Honour further set out that he was not satisfied that at the time Dickson made his threats of violence that he had any intention of actually carrying them out. And he further posited that any future such threats would be in the same vein.
“Accordingly, I am not satisfied to a high degree of probability that the defendant poses an unacceptable risk of committing a serious terrorism offence if not kept under supervision under an ESO,” the justice outlined.
And his Honour went onto find that the best way to ensure “the least risk to the community of a serious terrorist act being committed” was that Mr Dickson return to South Australia “at the earliest opportunity”.
On 20 February this year, Justice Ierace dismissed the state’s submission, ordered that no further consideration be given to imposing an ESO, and because of this, the interim order no longer applied to Dickson.