Canberra Labor cans free speech

Passy 23 February 2009 58

A slightly earlier version of this article first appeared in En Passant.

$50,000 fines for postering. That’s what Labor’s A.C.T. Chief Minister and civil libertarian Jon Stanhope is proposing in a new Bill. The Bill is an attack on free speech.

The $50,000 would be for companies. If Stanhope gets his way, the fine will be $10,000 for individuals.

Police and rangers would get the power to issue $250 on-the-spot fines. This is unlikely to be used in practice since most postering occurs at times when cops and other officers of the state are not around.

In any event, $250 is a lot of money for political and community groups trying to get their message out to a wider public. A $10,000 fine will destroy most community and political organisations in the ACT (other than the pokie supported ALP and the business supported Liberals).

The new laws if passed will apply to all bill posters – from major event organisers who print off thousands of their advertisements and employ groups to splatter them everywhere to people sticky taping missing cat and dog notices on poles at the local shops.

In between are political and community groups whose members put notices up about forthcoming events.

Clearly there are not enough public notice outlets in Canberra. The architectural eyesore that is Civic has two, for a population of 310,000.

Part of the problem here is that most citizens are denied a voice or an outlet for their voice. Only the rich (or those who have backing from poker machine funding like Canberra Labor or from business like Canberra Labor and the Liberals) can own or participate in major media outlets.

So political and community groups which have little money need public spaces and other outlets in the media for their messages. Canberra Labor denies them this.

The laws are so bad that the Scrutiny of Bills committee quoted comments it had previously made on similar provisions and urged current Assembly members to use these comments as the basis for questions of the Government about the failure of the Bill to address Human Rights concerns. The Committee said in part:

    HRA subsection 16(2) provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression”. It is arguable that at least some of the acts that may constitute the physical elements of the offence (of affixing, etc) are each an exercise of the right to freedom of expression. That is, some such acts will amount to an attempt to convey or attempt to convey a meaning (footnotes omitted).
    The question then is whether the limitation of this right is in the circumstances justifiable under HRA section 28. In very general terms, section 28 requires that any limitation or restriction of rights must pursue a legitimate objective and there must be a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the objective sought to be realised.

    The Committee elaborated, and noted that in relation to both limbs of section 119, there was a question whether the provision was a disproportionate means of controlling the affixing of placards, etc. It noted in particular that some forms of such expression have a high value where they were directed to conveying a political message, and commented that this factor makes it more difficult to support a finding of proportionality.

Put simply, the proposed bill postering crimes may well infringe on the right to political free speech.

The proposed crimes would also be strict liability. This means intention is irrelevant. Again this raises human rights concerns.

The Greens and the Liberals (who have the numbers in the ACT Legislative Assembly) referred the Bill to a Standing Committee to investigate these issues.

Community and political groups are organising against the draconian nature of the Bill. I ‘d like to see the Greens organise public opposition to this Bill and call a demo against Stanhope’s attack on free speech.

Applying the law only to for profit organisations is one obvious response if you want to stop these rich and not so rich event organisers from putting thousands of their posters advertising dull DJs and drunken discos all over the city.

Markedly increasing the number of public spaces for community and political notices is another obvious response.

Imposing requirements on all media in the ACT to provide free outlets for community and other groups (including political groups) would be a more democratic response; one which Canberra labor would never consider let alone take.

With the ongoing State attacks on free speech, outlets like RiotACT, committed to community expression, become more vital.

So let’s organise and keep the pressure on our elected representatives to stop this attack on free speech.

Over to you Greens.

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58 Responses to Canberra Labor cans free speech
Furry Jesus Furry Jesus 4:12 pm 25 Feb 09

Is there something deliberately perverse about the rankings RiotACT gives to members of the Socialist Alternative?

Passy is an (Anarchist) – first against the wall in any successful socialist revolution because the Party likes to get rid of challengers to the leigitimacy of Party rule.

Thumper is a Demagogue…

Perhaps Socialist Alternative could offer some more politically suitable rankings? Novice Revolutionary; Class Struggle Cadet; Commando for the Utopian Future of Our Beloved Nation; Life Enhancer to the Great Leader; Bill Poster for the Ultimate Defeat of Capitalism…

Thumper Thumper 3:37 pm 25 Feb 09

I think your real fear is that we in Socialist Alternative might ‘deface’ or pollute people’s minds with our liberationist ideas of freedom and democracy.

You are kidding, aren’t you?


Jim Jones Jim Jones 3:20 pm 25 Feb 09

Pommy bastard said :

Cleaning up after free speech is one thing, cleaning up after free speech uising places dedicated to postering is another. Cleaning up after “Come and see DEATH-METAL DJ GORCHRIST play the Muckrakers Arms” is quite another.


Mr Evil Mr Evil 3:17 pm 25 Feb 09

Passy said :

……I think your real fear is that we in Socialist Alternative might ‘deface’ or pollute people’s minds with our liberationist ideas of freedom and democracy.

Are you for real????

Personally I don’t think you are having much sucess in “polluting people’s minds with liberationalist ideals or freedom and democracy” as capitalism just keeps on keeping on. Anyway, we’ve seen what happens when idealists try to build a socialist utopia – just look at China or the Soviet Union for two examples.

I wouldn’t have a problem with groups like Socialists Alternative and Resistance if you didn’t go around plastering 50 flyers in a 1m square space on a wall or a building.

Passy Passy 2:39 pm 25 Feb 09

I can’t speak for ISO or Resistance. But as a member of Socialist Alternative I can speak for them. (See We would lose an important way for us to let people know what we are talking about and therefore what our politics are. This is not defacing.

I think your real fear is that we in Socialist Alternative might ‘deface’ or pollute people’s minds with our liberationist ideas of freedom and democracy.

poptop poptop 2:24 pm 25 Feb 09

Passy, maybe there is.

I forsee problems in getting a clear distinction between “public good” and “commercial” postering. I also see problems in the intersect of the right of free expression (in this instance – postering) and the rights pertaining to private property ownership.

The issue in Canberra seems, if I can try to paraphrase your concerns, to be more around the extent of availability of public space specifically allowing the free posting of public notices, rather than the extinguishment of the right to free expression.

There is certainly nothing to prevent community and political organisations and individuals negotiating with building owners/lessees and similar to display their posters. Indeed practically every suburban shopping centre (and a number of fast food places and major centres)appears to have accessible community bulletin boards for just this purpose.

So what is the shortfall, in your view?

Mr Evil Mr Evil 2:10 pm 25 Feb 09

This is terrible – what will the ISO and Resistance do now if they aren’t allowed to deface half of Canberra with their boring bloody flyers about their next ‘big’ event to discuss how horrid capitalism is?????

Passy Passy 2:03 pm 25 Feb 09

PB and poptop. Maybe there is common ground here. Maybe, just maybe, the Bill should exclude political and community postering. Or only attack commercial postering. Certainly I made that point in comments on the article (and maybe in the article. Not sure.)

poptop poptop 1:57 pm 25 Feb 09

I have joined you on the Dark Side, PB?


Pommy bastard Pommy bastard 1:55 pm 25 Feb 09

Have to agree with you there poptop, this whole “free speech” is a distraction from the real subject which is advertising inappropriately.

poptop poptop 1:49 pm 25 Feb 09

So free speech postering is like Macca’s Trash? I agree – if you get sprung littering, you get fined; if you get caught postering, you get fined.

Postering does rather tend to be advertisments for events rather than some form of political treatise. I can’t recall the last time I saw an actual political poster.

Martin Luther would be ashamed of us all.

Pommy bastard Pommy bastard 10:27 am 25 Feb 09

Cleaning up after free speech is one thing, cleaning up after free speech uising places dedicated to postering is another. Cleaning up after “Come and see DEATH-METAL DJ GORCHRIST play the Muckrakers Arms” is quite another.

Jim Jones Jim Jones 9:52 am 25 Feb 09

Nice point Thumper.

And now that I think about it, I fail to see why the State shouldn’t have to clean up after free speech. The State is composed of all of its constituent individuals and exists solely for their benefit – surely cleaning up after things is one of the fundamental roles of the State. They take the trash away from the front of your house; where’s the big distinction between this and clearing a concrete pole once a month?

dexi dexi 9:49 am 25 Feb 09

Has anyone else noticed the piles of rubbish where bins used to be in our parks. The state does not want to clean them up either. Yet the rubbish still comes.

Thumper Thumper 9:35 am 25 Feb 09

The State should not have to clean up after free speech.

True, but the State/ Territory should not have to clean up after McDonalds either.

Jim Jones Jim Jones 9:16 am 25 Feb 09

poptop said :

I get that bit Jimbo. But why should the government, AKA taxpayer, pick up the tab for someone elses “right of free speech” through the medium of poster?

Think about it practically: which is going to be cheaper and actually work:

1) having a few designated poster sites cleaned by an urban services crew while doing their rounds about once a month or so.

2) attempting to keep tabs on everyone who puts up posters on designated areas and ensuring that they clean them up afterwards (despite the fact that said posters will have been covered up by other posters within a fortnight at the most and will hence be underneath posters for events that haven’t occurred yet).

I don’t want to be rude, but I think that your point about ‘my tax dollars’, ‘the responsibility of the individual’, etc., is – in this context – just as divorced from reality as Passy’s rhetoric about ‘the State’s continuing assault on freedom of speech via posters’.

It makes sense to do what works rather than be driven by ideology that ignores reality.

miz miz 9:09 am 25 Feb 09

Yet bus shelters can have ads. Personally I’d rather have community notices and (gasp!) timetable and bus route information!

Granny Granny 12:56 am 25 Feb 09

Passy said :

… But nothing lascivious in that.

And I was trying so hard, too …. *blows nose* … I’m just too naturally unlascivious, I guess.

poptop poptop 12:20 am 25 Feb 09

I get that bit Jimbo. But why should the government, AKA taxpayer, pick up the tab for someone elses “right of free speech” through the medium of poster?

The right carries a responsibility too; or it should.

For adults, there seems to be lots of jockeying about rights and very little of the other.

Passy Passy 6:17 pm 24 Feb 09


You’re not going to shave your head and rent it out for advertising? A woman in NZ has done that. But nothing lascivious in that.

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