Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thank God The Killer Was No Racist

ANYONE who knocked around Fitzroy some four decades ago might remember Cr Paul Coghlan, who wore the mayoral chain in 1975. An activist and reformer, Coghlan was the local face of what Gough Whitlam purported to represent in Canberra – enlightened government with a social conscience and an eye for fashionable causes. In Fitzroy, where it was writ somewhat smaller, the philosophy translated as a vehement opposition to the further construction of the Housing Commission’s high-rise slums, which had earlier marred the view from the front steps of the VD clinic on Gertrude Street. He was also opposed, and loudly, to the construction of the F19 freeway (now built and called the Eastern Freeway), a project pushed by the Bolte and Hamer governments. As Coghlan was a member not just of the Labor Party but also of a reformist faction much given to branch stacking, that was both understandable and predictable.

It was the Age of Gough and the old Labor of kit bags and calloused hands was being swept aside by people like Coghlan and his council pal Barry Pullen, who rose to warm a series of ministerial benches in the Cain and Kirner governments. Today, the descendants of those enlightened inner-city rebels vote for the Greens and Adam Runt, who is Fitzroy's local federal member. But in those innocent days, if your passion was for closing streets, installing speed humps, blocking arterial traffic to make life difficult for outer suburban bogans, revering trees and passing bylaws against the deployment of nuclear weapons in Fitzroy, the Labor Party was your vehicle for engineering a better world.

Like Pullen, Coghlan also rose in his chosen career, which was at the bar. Soon after the Bracks government took office, the former Labor mayor was elevated  to the post of Director of Public Prosecutions, and six more years saw him installed on the Supreme Court bench by the former and unlamented Attorney General Rob Hulls. You will find no one in or around the courts with a bad word to say of Mr Justice Coghlan, who is admired especially for a devotion to his daughters which often sees him picking through antique stores and stalls for the little items of jewellery that are said to be their delight.

Today from the bench Coghlan delivered another gem – a 13-year sentence for the teenager who took the life of Indian student Nitin Garg in a Yarraville park. The young killer will likely be out after just eight years – by the time he is 25, in other words – which must make him rather envious of the teenage friend who was with him on that night two years ago. His companion will pay his debt to society by serving 18 months probation.

Coghlan avowed that he saw no racial element in the attack, which the thinking in places like Fitzroy understands would have made the taking of an innocent life a serious offence indeed. We cannot have murderers shouting racial abuse while they drive home the knife. Good heavens, never that! In this instance, according to Coghlan, it was just that the unfortunate Mr Garg, who will spend a lot more than eight years in a pine box, happened to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Just one of those things that happen, with the easy availability of knives also being named by the judge as one of the culprits in the case.

In legal circles Coghlan also is known with a smile as a man whose chambers are magnets for clutter. Today, with the case over, one wonders if the judge returned to his office and dug out from amidst those piles of documents and transcripts some little Christmas baubles he had put away for his daughters.

One also wonders if, should they ever be murdered for no good reason, he would consider eight years behind bars sufficient punishment.

UPDATE: Another of Mr Justice Coghlan's memorable rulings.


  1. When its someone you love, it is very different. Witness one Mark David Chapman, convicted of murdering John Lennon and refused parole 6 times. Others who unimportant people(unimportant to the parole board anyway) at the same time were released long ago.

  2. "It was the Age of Gough ..."

    Reading that phrase literally sent a shiver up my spine.

    Here's hoping he's enjoying his kerosene baths.

  3. PhillipGeorge(c)2011December 22, 2011 at 9:49 PM

    Knives are very easy to get a hold of - no licensing requirements at all. House bricks are also potential weapons. Rocks, fingernails, pointy fingers. Amputees are no where near as dangerous. DHS just needs more resources. Bigger department, bigger budget, more taxes well spent on important social services.
    Diversity awareness outreach consultants to work with potential victims of the class divide. That's the ticket. When the carbon tax is bedded down we can get back to core business. Thanks Prof, in only eight odd years this parolee could be a young father in need of support services/ paternity leave entitlements etc. to break the vicious cycle that his deregulated community is. Spending big now could be a wise investment.
    What an economic boom a social services lead economy could bring; Australia could lead the rest of the World yet again.

  4. PhillipGeorge(c)2011December 23, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    I should add something. Someone could read the above and take it literally. It is hard to argue with moralists of the hard core left. Like how do you argue with someone who finds a concrete wall offensive because it is unn,nnn,nnn,natural?
    The left are a church where the only thing missing is God. Yet the only thing they cannot succeed without is God.
    I became a Christian after exhausting every possible intellectual possibility [see! the logic had to be self referential/ circular - it is the irreducible complexity in information/ language theory].
    When you eliminate the impossible what ever remains, no matter how improbable it is, stands as the truth. A living thing.
    God didn't just "do" Jesus to leave us with the World's greatest unsolved mysteries. He is what confounds the "wise in their own eyes".
    What's missing from a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, or Martin Amis, or more urbanely Robert Manne or Phillip Adams - the only thing missing - is the Gospel Truth.

    You can be laughing all the way to the metaphorical bank when a 6 year old prays something perfectly pure, uncluttered, irrationally sweat. It's the aesthetics of beauty that also confounds the reductionist- biological absolutist.

    [a Christmas Card from the middle outer suburbs - or a fanfare for the Common Man, object of God's Desiring: The anagram of Bach's ode to "Joy"]

  5. Yes, I was one who knocked around Fitzroy in the late 70s. My go was largely as a volunteer lawyer at the Fitzroy Legal Service, which in those days operated out of a basement in the Town Hall. We did little posturing about pro bono human rights. I remember the F19 blockade well, but given the freeway was built I thought the barricade of old beds etc was fatuous. It was also a fine example of nimbyism. For while the likes of roly-poly Coghlan opposed the freeway, I recall that the Council also opposed the Universal Factory. This was a refurbished warehouse located in a street close to Alexandra Parade, the site of the barricade. The concept was that the Factory would be a venue for offices and spaces for use by fun people. The opening night was a blast, the main event being a gig by a mock-CW band fronted by the inimitable Tracey Harvey. A leggy blonde played bass, and announced that she would put the **** back into country music.

    But opening night also featured disruptive activity by a local councillor and disgruntled residents who objected to patrons parking cars in the nearby streets. It was parking restrictions that helped to kill off the Factory.

  6. Groan, another sermon on the Gospel Truth from someone who has obviously never read them thoroughly. Clearly, Jesus would regard the above person as a gibbering idiot.

  7. Anonymous,
    this is a blog....
    but would you prefer raca or raka as the better transliteration?
    Read much of the talmud have we?
    we should explore the topic of fools more closely then.....
    Matthew 5.22, not that you will "get it" - but someone else might.
    Lots of Love. or LOL. whichever the acronym really stands for?

  8. seems my isp is clogged or something, anyway anonymous, I'll try this just once more, is Raca or Raka the better/ preferred transliteration of matthew 5.22.
    hope the masons have an opinion on it?
    bro Phillip