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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
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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

Granny

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.

Granny Granny 4:28 pm 24 Feb 09

Hmmmmm … *spots new commercial opportunity to sell poster space* … tick, tick, *tic* How do y’all like my lascivious leer?

; )

Jim Jones Jim Jones 3:50 pm 24 Feb 09

Poptop – the ‘designated poster areas’ in civic, ANU, UC and other joints about Canberra are regularly cleared and cleaned at least once a month.

The only debris and litter I’ve seen around these areas has been caused by d1ckheads ripping down poster (mostly drunk, sometimes as retribution for having their own posters overposted).

poptop poptop 3:42 pm 24 Feb 09

I’m sure far fewer people would be concerned about the horrors of bill postering if the free speakers came and took the posters down when the even/protest/whatever was over.

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

Jim Jones Jim Jones 9:37 am 24 Feb 09

Agreed – I’m a big fan of the Greens in many respects. But it’s perhaps their moderating influence that most endears me to them.

Passy Passy 5:44 am 24 Feb 09

Jim

I think the real issue will be whether Stanhope pushes ahead with teh Bill as is or accepts that it goes too far and is really in part an attack on freedom of expression.

I know the numbers are against him at the moment so he is likely to compromise. But he could reach a deal with the Liberals that is less than adequate.

The Greens seem to think that sending the bill to one of the Assembly’s standing committee has fixed the issue. I’m more interested in keeping the outside pressure up right now. Come August when the standing committee reports back it may be too late.

jakez jakez 6:34 pm 23 Feb 09

Passy said :

Thanks cicrusmind.

It may be generational, but nothing gets the blood running like a good demo with thousands of others united over a [particular issue and wanting something done about it. Or a union meeting with ideas and arguments flashing like lightning across the room.Somehow face book doesn’t do that for me.

Of course, however I suppose I am more interested in spreading the ideas rather than getting a blood rush (and that is not a dig at you at all). Plus, a demo of the nature you are talking about is unlikely to happen in Australia, at least for issues that I would support. I can see the appeal though and am not opposed to the idea of going to a protest march. I was going to go to the anti-China protest back when the Olympic Torch was here but I CHOSE to work (I was going to say had to work but I couldn’t give you such an easy target ;-)).

I think it was jakez who said he became a libertarian through the internet (or maybe found out about that philosophy through the internet.) But presumably something immediate prompted him to search.

I don’t specifically remember what I was doing but I really did just stumble upon it. It was certainly nothing outside of the internet beyond my own natural inclinations.

And to sidetrack a little, Marx of course is the ultimate libertarian, believing in the withering away of the state as class differences disappear. Capitlaist libertarianism seems to still leaves workers in chains, the chains of exploitation, while ostensibly freeing the bosses.

HAHA cheeky bastard.

Passy Passy 5:54 pm 23 Feb 09

Thanks cicrusmind.

It may be generational, but nothing gets the blood running like a good demo with thousands of others united over a [particular issue and wanting something done about it. Or a union meeting with ideas and arguments flashing like lightning across the room.Somehow face book doesn’t do that for me.

The last inspiring demo was against the Iraq invasion, but that was like a shooting star.

The last good union meeting? Hmm… 1986? Or maybe earlier in 81-82.

I think it was jakez who said he became a libertarian through the internet (or maybe found out about that philosophy through the internet.) But presumably something immediate prompted him to search.

And to sidetrack a little, Marx of course is the ultimate libertarian, believing in the withering away of the state as class differences disappear. Capitlaist libertarianism seems to still leaves workers in chains, the chains of exploitation, while ostensibly freeing the bosses.

I take the point Jim makes about possibly being seen as a conspiracy nutter. I will try to be less expansive if I can. I’ve always been a bit left field. As a particular type of Myers Briggs personality, I often can’t help myself. I can’t avoid linking areas that may not be linked in other people’s minds. Even if the links may only be tenuous. Sometimes the links grow and become more obvious to others, sometimes they don’t (or in fact don’t exist or only exist in my mind.)

But if needed I can always plead the elephant waving defence on this.

Why are you waving your arms around feverishly in the room?

To keep the elephants away.

But there are no elephants here.

See, it works.

circusmind circusmind 4:51 pm 23 Feb 09

This legislation is obviously flawed–though I would say it is flawed in its excessiveness and poor drafting, rather than in terms of human rights issues.

Passy, you have a fair point, if a stretched one. I would point out that even the SA is prone to excess in bill posting at the ANU. I often read your posters, but I feel that given the campus left’s penchant for environmental issues, they should probably stop plastering the Amazon’s remains all over the campus. Obviously there is a balance to be struck, and the Bill has not struck that balance. Not even close.

I also think, respectfully, that you are overstating the case for posters vis a vis online activism. You are a member of a generation which did a lot of its politicking on the streets. For better or for worse, though, politically active youngsters such as jakez and myself engage in a lot of our activities online. Facebook and blogs are my first port of call for finding out about political goings on, and the couple of protests I have gone to (internet censorship, mainly), I have found out about online.

Jim Jones Jim Jones 3:42 pm 23 Feb 09

Passy said :

I was saying that the trend over the last number of years, especially with the war on terror, has been increasing state surveillance and control.

Agree with you completely on that score. Britain in particularly has devolved into some nasty police-state policy that even the police don’t like (for example, legislation making it illegal to photograph police officers).

But viewing the ACT gummint policy on bill posters as part of a state conspiracy against free speech really is terribly paranoid behavior.

It’s dodgy policy, perhaps. But even then the intent seems fairly legitimate, you seem to admit as much yourself. Using the ‘attack on free speech’ language and going for the state vs. the people rhetoric really does leave you open to being lampooned for being a conspiracy nut.

Passy Passy 3:34 pm 23 Feb 09

Jim

I was saying that the trend over the last number of years, especially with the war on terror, has been increasing state surveillance and control. maybe the Bill posters Bill is back door way for Stanhope to do that here, although i still think it is probably just a badly worded Bill.

Nevertheless seeing trends and putting current events into that context is an important part of any debate even if people like me get it wrong sometimes, or often ,or have to adjust our analysis or guesses over time.

Oh dear, if this sounds too much like management speak or MBTI, shoot me immediately.

Working out the distinction between what is commercial and what is political and community is something for the drafters to do. I think (and this is from memory) there is a political exclusion from the criminal activity of postering (it would be more nuanced than that) in one of the states.

PM PM 3:34 pm 23 Feb 09

Well, at least you’re a St George supporter, Passy… my favourite team too.

Jim Jones Jim Jones 3:24 pm 23 Feb 09

Passy said :

tom-tom, I thought I drew a distinction between commercial advertising and community and political notices. Does that (sort of?) address what you are saying?

Not really – the distinction between ‘commercial advertising’ and ‘community and political notices’ is so thin that at times its more semantic than anything else.

Posters advertising a local band playing a benefit gig (non-profit), is that ‘commercial advertising’ or ‘community/political notice’?

If you put up posters that inform people about, for example, a socialist forum, isn’t that ‘advertising’ an event as much as it is a ‘community notice’?

Yes, there are limited avenues for free advertising (whether the advertising is done altruistically or not), but characterising this as part of “ongoing State attacks on free speech” really is ludicrous.

You’d probably find that people would be less aggressive towards these sort of posts if you turned the stereotypical rhetoric down a notch or two.

Passy Passy 3:24 pm 23 Feb 09

I thought by drawing a distinction between commercial postering and political and community organisation postering I was addressing these free speech versus commercialisation issues.

And I agree that Stanhope probably did only want to stop this full scale commercial abuse of public spaces. Certainly that is his focus in Hansard. But the legislation doesn’t draw that distinction, and if you add that together with the growing influence and interference of the State, often in quite dictatorial fashion, there may be a trend here.

And why would you criminalise lost dog notices on posts? Or at least put yourself in the political position of appearing to do so?

If the choice is between a stuff up and a conspiracy, choose the stuff up. Most times that is true but not always. Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after me.

jakez jakez 3:20 pm 23 Feb 09

Passy – I profoundly apologise for my mistake. I’m probably the one non Pies fan that doesn’t hate the Pies so you’ve gone up in my book.

I think you profoundly underestimate the value of the internet. To be honest I hope you continue to do so. The more you guys stay off the internet, the better chance that true freedom (not so subtle dig :-P) has of a resurgence.

I didn’t find libertarianism at a Liberal Party meeting (that’s for sure), on a poster, or from a guy handing out pamphlets. I found it dicking around on the net, and I was hooked.

Passy Passy 3:14 pm 23 Feb 09

jakez

Pies actually. That’s a St George scarf. (I was born in Wollongong,my Dad and his family came from Caringbah, my uncle played thirds for St George and I went to my first game when I was two. (Or rather was taken there.) I was going to play for them but then found wine, women and song. And I became radicalised by the Vietnam war and discovered politics at 16.

But St George is ingrained into me. It is me. Oh well.

tom-tom, I thought I drew a distinction between commercial advertising and community and political notices. Does that (sort of?) address what you are saying?

I take the point about other avenues. But why are they not complementary to rather than exclusive of posters, fliers, spruiking, meetings etc.

Interestingly the Canberra Times hasn’t published an article of mine since I had a contretemps with them 6 years ago. It was my fault, but you get more for manslaughter.

And they have tightened up their fridge door section. In the past they used to accept my notices for our Socialist Alternative Thursday night meetings. Now they don’t.

Advertising on your own website preaches to the converted. What about those who don’t know you exist? Most probably don’t care, but there may be a few interested, and they’d only come across you through direct contact like fliers, posters, stalls etc. And in times of political uncertainty and action the ebst place to be is at its centre, not on teh net. oh for those days..

In fact the economic crisis means they mightn’t be too far away as recession sparks rebellion, (or political turmoil anyway) at least in parts of Europe.

Actually there’s an interesting piece in the Sunday Times Online about how Sarkozy is running scared and trying to buy of rioters in Guadeloupe and other places and also the the union movement. Olivier Besancenot is a trotskyist and he is rated in rench polls of the French as the most effective opposition to to the President.

His new party is the New Anti-Capitalist party (Nouvelle Parti Anti-capitaliste or NPA). I think the new party is actually a step back, but nevertheless his personal support has gone up 12 per cent since it was formed and I think the NPA’s support is over twenty per cent. I’ll have to check. He wants a new May ’68, but this time for it to be successful. Watch out for this red postman!

Another digression! Sorry. But it does sort of address all those naysayers who tell me my ideas belong in the 1850s or are irrelevant or whatever.

trevar trevar 3:04 pm 23 Feb 09

Jim Jones said :

The proposed bill seems excessive, but it’s not really an example of censorship.

I think if our 2004 Bill of Rights and the current bill are read in tandem, this is unquestionable.

I wonder, though, where it will stop. Passy’s reference to pamphleteers makes me wonder if the prohibition of poster posting will lead to an increase in pamphleteering, which would likely create an equivalent litter problem, negating any positive change…

Thumper Thumper 2:58 pm 23 Feb 09

I never really included band posters or advertising as freedom of speech, so yeah, I agree with tom tom and Mr Jones.

Jim Jones Jim Jones 2:51 pm 23 Feb 09

I tend to agree with tom-tom (although perhaps not as vociferously).

I really don’t know if you can classify postering as ‘freedom of speech’. Realistically, most of the time postering is more about free advertising than free speech.

I do band poster runs fairly often, and the lack of places to stick posters up can be a tad frustrating (not to mention the competition with such limited space), but there are other venues to get information out there.

The proposed bill seems excessive, but it’s not really an example of censorship.

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