Barking Mad, Oxymorons and Dire Threats.
Barking Mad, Oxymorons and Dire Threats.
Eighteen months ago I got a dog from a rescue kennel.
Thought, by the vets to be about three years old, female, desexed and had a floppy left ear and deemed to be a Border Collie. I contend she was as much that as I am. I had a Border Collie for about ten years as I grew up. I reckon my dog is a Kelpie with something else thrown in – most likely Staffy. When she lays down on her belly she crosses her front legs. Several people have assured me that only Kelpies do that.
The only history known was that she had been found by Perth Rangers chained up in a bus stop. Whoever had her previously must have put in a lot of training. When we do our daily walks she always stops, sits and waits my instruction before joining me to cross the road. She will not go through a doorway in front of me – she always lets me go first. When I prepare her meals she always waits, often drooling dog slobber, until I indicate to her that she can eat – and she never needs any second invitations.
I named her Hanna and registered her with the local authority – self titled City of Mandurah– much to my later chagrin.
Hanna stands about knee high to me, is quite strong and can be impetuous. She loves kids, women who insist on spoiling her with treats, hugs and hand shakes and blokes who are kind enough to reward her existence with treats. She also seems to be enamoured of small dogs – dachshunds especially – but any dog will do for a playful game.
And so it was one fateful day when I was with a gathering of fellow dog lovers having a coffee in a park. I usually keep her on a leash held in my hand but this day, for some unknown reason. I let her run free – as were all the other dogs present. She suddenly rushed off to a small dog, on a leash, and initiated some sort of vigorous game. She was followed by several other small dogs. I immediately rushed after her, pulled her out of the game and attached her leash.
The man who owned the other small dog had picked it up and was using his mobile phone. I called out to him, “Is your dog hurt?”
“No. he replied. “I am reporting this as a dog attack.”
Then he proceeded to use his phone, to take photos of me and Hanna, before wandering off. As I walked home I noticed him following me at some distance. Then the Ranger’s ute pulled up alongside me.
The Ranger was a very professional, friendly young lady. She told me they had received a formal complaint about my dog’s behaviour and would I please give her my details including address and phone number. I complied without complaint. She checked Hanna’s registration tag. Later on, she delivered two Infringement Notices – one for letting my dog off its leash is a public place – under the Dog Act 1976 – penalty $200. 28 days to pay. Then another, describing an offence of “Dog attack/chase. No physical injury”. Dog Act 1976. Penalty $200. 28 days to pay.
The Ranger suggested I write to the Ranger’s office describing my version of the events and deliver it to the Council Offices – which I did. She said the complainant would do the same.
Now, this is where the oxymoron bit comes into play. While at the Council office I asked the lady at the counter if I could see the report the complainant had given them. “Oh no. I don’t think we can do that but please wait and I will get one of the Freedom of Information officers to talk to you.”
That resulted in me chatting with a personable but efficient young lady – one of the Freedom of Information Officers. She explained that the Act prevented them releasing any such information and/or the name of the complainant.
“But the anonymous person has charged me with some offence the details of which I do not know. How can I defend myself? He could have accused me of anything but you will not tell me what?”
“The nature of the offences was detailed on the fine notices.”
“So – the term “Freedom of Information” is, in fact, an oxymoron. The information I seek is anything but free.”
“I am sorry I cannot help you.”
And that was that – until I got home and sat at my desk fuming and fiddling with the fines notices and noticed, on the back, a whole lot of type headed “Information”. And this is where the barking mad bit comes into play. I reluctantly, but am compelled - repeat it verbatim:-
1. This infringement penalty must be paid by the due date (being 28 days from date of issue.) Failure to do so will result in a reminder notice, “Final Demand”, being sent which will incur a further cost.
2. If you do not pay the modified penalty within 28 days after the date of this notice, you may be prosecuted or enforcement action may be taken under the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994. Under that Act, some or all of the following actions may be taken – your driver’s licence may be suspended, your vehicle licence may be suspended or cancelled, you may be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence or vehicle licence, your vehicle may be immobilised or have its number plates removed, your details may be published on a website, your earnings or bank accounts may be garnished, and your property may be seized and sold.
3. If you need more time to pay the modified penalty, you can apply for an extension of time by writing to the Approved Officer at the address below.
4. You have the right to contest or query your infringement. Requests will only be acknowledged in writing or email to the address below.
5. If you want this matter to be dealt with by prosecution in court, sign here:
and post this notice to the CEO, City of Mandurah, to the address below within 28 days of this notice.
Direct all queries in writing to:
City of Mandurah
PO Box 210
Mandurah WA 6210
(08) 9550 3777
Supplementary Information NOT included on the Infringement notices:
Up until 8 April 1974 WA had a Labour Government with John Tonkin as Premier.
Tonkin was replaced by Liberal Charles Court.
The date on which the Act in question was “assented” was 23 December 1994 when Liberal Charles Court was Premier.
The thought crossed my mind that the penalties listed for non-compliance with the payment criteria were draconian – to say the very least. It is the sort of thing one might expect in totalitarian states such as China or Russia.
All or any of these penalties could result in citizens losing their jobs, being unable to move about their community, and/or being evicted – turfed out onto the street – if property was seized and sold and bankrupted by garnishment of bank accounts.
Would it not suffice to say and/or use “Further legal action will be taken.”
Item 4, in “Information” offered me the right to contest or query the infringements. Mind you, “Requests will only be acknowledged in writing or email to the address below.”
I rejected the offer to have the matter dealt with by prosecution in court. I considered it quite unnecessary and I resented that I would have to pay a lawyer to represent me in such a trivial matter. Several friends supported that decision adding that if I won the case the council would only appeal and, if necessary, appeal repeatedly.
I opted to send an e-mail to Ranger.email@example.com in which I basically conceded defeat but stated that I had learned from the experience and would ensure the offences would not be repeated. I asked that I be admonished but not fined. The Head Ranger rang me to say that the fines stood and would not be withdrawn. I waited until the last working day before the fines had to be paid and reluctantly went to the council offices and paid.
I have no idea if the Head Ranger holds a LL.B. (law degree) or any other qualification that entitles him/her to decide the guilt, innocence or waiving of punishment for any offence. It would appear certain he/she has no concept of the principles of Australian law in which a person charged with an offence is innocent until proven guilty. And in any such case the person charged would have a clear knowledge of the charges he/she faces, details of the alleged offences, the identity of any accuser and the right to defend oneself in a court of law. (Which was offered on the Fines notice and I declined.) Such trivia is, of course, of no concern to a Ranger.
I have no idea, and given the F of I Act, I doubt I will ever know or can find out if the complainant was informed that I paid up without contesting his charges.
That is where the matter rests. I have been branded as some sort of reprobate and my dog, Hanna, as an “attack dog”. Both of which are figments of some anonymous bureaucrat’s lurid imagination.