Community Heritage Advocate’s Clash with Cairns Council Heads to Court

Veteran 400 year old Melaleuca tree, Palm Cove, Cairns

Cairns community advocate Geoff Holland will appear in Cairns Magistrates Court tomorrow 9am, Tuesday 23 February 2021, to face charges of Wilful Damage and Police Obstruct.  

THE charges relate to an incident on 13 June 2020 when Mr Holland removed mulch from the base of a veteran Melaleuca tree in Palm  Cove, Cairns, believed to be 400 years old. The action occurred early in the morning, after the tree had been cut down by Cairns Regional Council the previous day.  

Mr Holland’s arrest by police received national media coverage, including via ABC at the time. 

“We suspected that the base of the Melaleuca was not “80 per cent mush” as Council claimed.

“We were  particularly suspicious because Council covered up the base of the tree straight away and wouldn’t let us have a look” said Mr Holland, Coordinator of community group, CHARM – Community Heritage Action,  Register and Monitoring

Mr Holland said he had not damaged anything. He had merely temporarily removed a layer of mulch which he was planning to put back after inspection. As a peaceful protestor Mr Holland claims he had a right to be  in a public place under the Queensland Peaceful Assembly Act 1992 and Police had violated this right. 

“The charge of Wilful Damage suggests I damaged something. As that can only be the mulch, damaging mulch requires a heroic stretch of the imagination” said Mr Holland. 

Mr Holland said he tried to negotiate with police and Council to allow the base of the tree to remain  uncovered until an independent expert arborist coming from Port Douglas could inspect it. By the time the arborist arrived, Mr Holland had been arrested, handcuffed, and taken away in a police van, and Council had already dumped another load of mulch on the base of the tree. 

After Mr Holland’s second arrest five days later, when he spent the night in custody, another protestor was able to convince Police and Council to wait for the arborist to arrive to inspect the base of the tree before yet another load of mulch was dumped on top.

This court hearing is not about me… it is about a lack of transparency and community consultation, and an unhelpful cavalier culture within Council, for example, when dealing with veteran Heritage trees of exceptionally high value. It is also about the heavy-handed behaviour by police and arbitrary  use of police move-on powers, and the failure of police to use their discretion. It is also pretty clear now that Council got it wrong on the tree. 

Paul Holland

Mr Holland urges concerned citizens to attend tomorrow’s Public Gallery to bear witness to his issues with the Council’s lack of transparency and community consultation at 9.00am, Magistrates Court, 5D Sheridan St, Cairns, Tuesday 23 February, 2021.

Update 23 February 2021 /

Mr Holland appeared in the Cairns Magistrates court today pleading not guilty to the above charges before Magistrate Jacqui Payne. He represented himself and argued that he did not cause damage to the Council flower bed because there was only mulch in the bed, with no plants. Magistrate Jacqui Payne will deliver her decision at a date yet to be determined.

Image Source / Facebook