(Original Article Source: ABC 7:30 – Jason Om)
The first moment Father Peter Murnane knew he was wanted by police was when two officers turned up on his doorstep.
“They presented me with an eight-page charge sheet accusing me of being at a protest in Sydney in June this year,” he told ABC’s 7.30.
That protest was one of two unauthorised demonstrations in late June when scores of climate demonstrators converged in Sydney’s CBD, causing morning peak-hour chaos.
“I was accused of blocking access to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, blocking George Street and other streets, and walking about throughout a long protest playing a drum.”
It came as a huge surprise to the 82-year-old Catholic priest who lives in Melbourne, and told 7.30 he was not in Sydney at the time. And he doesn’t own or play a drum.
“They said that I was seen on CCTV, public media, Facebook live streaming,” Father Murnane said. “That was quite amazing to me. I was in Melbourne all during those days and weeks so it was quite a puzzle to me.”
Father Murnane said he has not been involved in any Blockade Australia protests but is friends with a protester who has been charged under tough new anti-protest laws. Offenders face fines of up to $22,000 and up to two years in jail if they are found guilty of causing serious disruption to roads, rail, and ports.
Lawyer Mark Davis is acting for a group of Blockade Australia protesters and supporters. Mr Davis told 7.30 he has asked NSW Police to drop the charges against Peter Murnane, but they have not responded.
“It’s comical, what can I say?” Mr Davis said. “It’s a two-year jail offence they’ve landed on this poor bloke. It’s absurd.”
The head of the Dominican church community in Camberwell, Father Mark O’Brien, has vouched for Father Murnane in a statement to 7.30.
“I can confirm that this allegation is quite mistaken or false because Fr Peter Murnane was at St Dominic’s on 27th June and so could not have been in Sydney on the same day,” he said in a statement.
New South Wales Police would not comment on Father Murnane’s case, saying the matter is before the court. But Father Murnane says NSW Police “deserve to be called to account for this pretty horrendous mistake”.
NSW Metropolitan Roads Minister Natalie Ward declined to comment on Father Murnane’s case but expressed support for police.