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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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jakez jakez 9:49 am 23 Feb 09

Business supports the Liberals now? They’ll be relieved.

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 9:56 am 23 Feb 09

An early version of may article about what I think of people who post their blog posts to other blogs is on my blog.

jakez jakez 10:32 am 23 Feb 09

Woody Mann-Caruso said :

An early version of may article about what I think of people who post their blog posts to other blogs is on my blog.

I actually clicked. Personally I would have appreciated the deliberate irony.

poptop poptop 10:43 am 23 Feb 09

Since when has Civic had a population of 310,000?

Pommy bastard Pommy bastard 11:04 am 23 Feb 09

Surely less postering is good for RiotAct revenue?

johnboy johnboy 11:16 am 23 Feb 09

Pommy bastard said :

Surely less postering is good for RiotAct revenue?

Indeed, but it’s not free speech.

On the other hand our ads don’t clog up drains and poison the planet.

jakez jakez 11:21 am 23 Feb 09

johnboy said :

Pommy bastard said :

Surely less postering is good for RiotAct revenue?

Indeed, but it’s not free speech.

On the other hand our ads don’t clog up drains and poison the planet.

Poison the planet literally or metaphorically?

Passy Passy 11:24 am 23 Feb 09

Let me deal with the nonsense first.

Civic doesn’t have a population of 310,000. But it is a commercial and work centre of Canberra, which has a population of around that. 2 notice boards for a major work and commerce centre! And guess what? 2 may be wrong. There might be 4. I don’t care. There aren’t enough.

As a general rule business supports the Libs and Labor. (Labor is probably the second eleven of capital but that’s another story). Some business groups and the Libs have had a lover’s tiff here in the ACT. Big deal. Once the particular personalities move on, die, disappear into the dustbin of history etc, they’ll get back together again. Their class interests will force them to.

What about the argument that this anti-postering Bill is an attack on free speech. Agreement? Rebuttals, disagreements etc?

proofpositive proofpositive 11:27 am 23 Feb 09

I support the proposed law so long as it is modified so to permanently lock up people like Passy who insist on defacing public and private places with their postering.

Jim Jones Jim Jones 11:31 am 23 Feb 09

proofpositive said :

I support the proposed law so long as it is modified so to permanently lock up people like Passy who insist on defacing public and private places with their postering.

What are you, some sort of sad internet stalker or something?

I thought your comment in the other thread about North Korea was pretty moronic, but you’ve really one-upped yourself here.

Seriously dude, I don’t agree with a lot of what Passy is saying, but replying like some sort of retarded teenager only serves to make him look good and you like a super-ultra-mega-uber-tool. Why don’t you try using your brain before you start tapping the keyboard.

jakez jakez 12:19 pm 23 Feb 09

Passy said :

As a general rule business supports the Libs and Labor. (Labor is probably the second eleven of capital but that’s another story). Some business groups and the Libs have had a lover’s tiff here in the ACT. Big deal. Once the particular personalities move on, die, disappear into the dustbin of history etc, they’ll get back together again. Their class interests will force them to.

I resent having my insular Liberal party joke being referred to as nonsense. I assure you it was the height of nerdy wit.

I absolutely agree though with what you have said above, as classical liberals have warned for centuries, if you create a powerful and centralised big Government, those who want that power will invariably get their hands on it. This is why I argue for small Government and individual freedom.

I don’t like this bill. People vandalising others private property is certainly a problem however the punitive measures prescribed are hardly based on restitution. Personally, I have no problem with the aesthetics of postering. I would also probably agree that there aren’t enough community noticeboards (although I think the internet has largely solved the problem of not being able to get your message out).

Tonka Tonka 12:30 pm 23 Feb 09

I don’t know if Academy or any other club advertising a their latest event really qualitifies as free speech does it? That pretty much covers the extent of most of the posters I see these days.

As a member of a band that has used postering in the past (particularly in the 90’s) I’m pretty sure event postering has passed its use by date anyway.

There are so many other ways to let people know about an event it’s really not neccesary anyway. I’m not even sure people pay much attention to posters these days, though I may be wrong.

As far as I’m aware, non-profit/charity groups are still able to post roadside signs etc and most shops have a community noticeboard of some type.

Given that the internet alone provides so many options for free speech and so on, I don’t think that limiting postering is really going to damage our ability to publicly express an opinion or notify people about an event.

There are plenty of options for free speech and I don’t think less posters will make an iota of difference really.

My two cents.

mutley mutley 12:47 pm 23 Feb 09

There’d probably be plenty of space on those advertising pillars if people only stuck one of their posters on instead of covering the whole bloody thing.

Passy Passy 12:52 pm 23 Feb 09

Thanks tonka.

Actually, when I read Hansard, all Stanhope talked about was some event organiser who had plastered every switch box and anything they could find with posters for a particular event. Jon said they were from the top to bottom of Canberra and when the relevant department approached the organiser their response was words to the effect that they had hired the posting out to someone else and were shocked they had broken the law.

I think that is where Stanhope is coming from, and I suspect he hasn’t really thought through the freedom of speech aspects.

That’s why I try to draw a distinction between community and political organisations (not for profit) and commercial profit organisations. For the first named groups it is a free speech issue. For the second group it is ending an avenue for free postering. They could then advertise their gigs etc on RiotACT, although some ‘reviews’ seem to do that for them for free anyway.

As to the internet, you don’t have passing trade/readers there, do you? And Civic at lunchtime is full of people, many of whom may not use the internet, or read RiotACT if they do, or even worse(!!), not read my blog or that of Socialist Alternative.
So unless you had already met me or SA, you’d never look at the website in all probability to, for example, find out what our talks are to be on over the coming weeks in Canberra.

And even on RA the charges can be quite steep for most community and political organisations (which is why they always try to run articles of interest, isn’t it?).

And for political organisations, the act of postering (in prescribed areas) is a political act; helping to put their views out to a wider audience, often through shared labour. I don’t think that is the same as posting on a website.

Tonka Tonka 1:32 pm 23 Feb 09

I’m not really disagreeing or arguing… I just think as a medium it’s passed its use by date, and as I said, there are plenty of alternative options.

By not postering, we’ve reduced the band’s carbon footprint significantly (because we’re not driving all around the city for days on end putting the damn things up…, and we’re not responsible for polluting/littering the city.

I get what you’re saying about postering being a political act, but we stopped postering because it was plainly not effective for our purposes.

How do i put this… um… these days I send an email out or post on RA etc or a myspace bulletin and if people are interested they send it on, and if not, they don’t. I guess horses for courses though.

I would argue that a lot of people who do pass the poster pillars have a computer at work or home and do use the net to find what they’re looking for in terms of event advertising and or political messages. I don’t even look at those things anymore anyway because the majority of stuff on there isn’t my cup of tea. The groups I like don’t use them anymore.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m all for community/political organisations being able to communicate to the public, I just think times have changed since posters were an effective medium. I’m probably wrong as always ha ha, but that’s what I think.

Passy Passy 1:48 pm 23 Feb 09

Thanks tonka. Don’t put yourself down. What you said makes a lot of sense. I wouldn’t be blogging if it didn’t!

But I think there is probably a difference between bands and fairly small political organisations with only a handful of members in Canberra.

And community groups – who is going to look up what the Salvos or Vinnies or Red Cross are up to on the net? But if we see on a poster an event they are organising, we might then look it up on the net.

On market day at ANU for example Socialist Alternative had a stall, spruikers, magazine sellers, and a talk. The posters advertised the talk. I doubt the net in these circumstances would have caught the eye of 18 year old students new to campus. And bands? There are still posters everywhere at the ANU for them.

By the way, we walk around to poster – the ANU mainly.

trevar trevar 2:24 pm 23 Feb 09

Is the ANU campus included in the prohibition? That would be an intensive job for police!

We should also consider the distinction between ‘freedom of expression’, as our Bill of Rights words it, and ‘free speech’. Obviously a poster is not ‘speech’, which is why the word ‘expression’ is used, but I’m more interested in ‘freedom’ versus ‘free’. The former implies that it is legal and acceptable, whereas there is the possibility of imferring that by ‘free’ we mean “without cost”. The ACT Bill of Rights does not entitle us to free expression without cost, only the capacity to express our thoughts/beliefs/opinions regardless of what they are. And more pointedly, this right is intended to give individuals the right to speak freely, not to cause individuals to hear what other individuals are saying.

I think I prefer the argument that more modern strategies–such as web, email, etc–for getting your point across be used in place of allowing people to paste things on pillars, but my main reason is that I don’t always want to hear what these groups want to say. I belong to a few minority groups, and agree that they should be allowed to make their point, but I don’t want to hear what everyone is saying, and would prefer that they say it in a forum like this where I can choose to hear (read) it or ignore it. Unfortunately this makes me sound like I would also approve of a law to prohibit people from spruiking in public places, but I probably would only support a law if it came to a point where you couldn’t move without being accosted.

While everyone does have the right to freedom of expression, no one has been given the ‘right’ to have the ideas they express heard by others.

And although I never thought it incredibly unsightly, if there are a significant number of individuals who prefer the streets without posters, it seems a relatively small loss to free (in the monetary sense) ways to promote an event or idea. What is necessary is a creative approach, and I think those with the best ideas are likely to be more creative, so there’s some natural selection at work.

jakez jakez 2:35 pm 23 Feb 09

Passy said :

But I think there is probably a difference between bands and fairly small political organisations with only a handful of members in Canberra.

Ah yes, the self exception.

And community groups – who is going to look up what the Salvos or Vinnies or Red Cross are up to on the net? But if we see on a poster an event they are organising, we might then look it up on the net.

Me, all the time.

On market day at ANU for example Socialist Alternative had a stall, spruikers, magazine sellers, and a talk. The posters advertised the talk. I doubt the net in these circumstances would have caught the eye of 18 year old students new to campus. And bands? There are still posters everywhere at the ANU for them.

I think you guys had a noticeably less visible presence than in previous years. I don’t think there was much that you could do about it though with the placing you had. The upside would be that everyone most likely went past your stall though and from my own experience that gets a better result.

By the way, we walk around to poster – the ANU mainly.

I always used to read SA posters I have to say. I’m a little annoyed I never went to a meeting when it was more convenient. Oh well, I have your blog now (Swans? You are evil).

tom-tom tom-tom 2:44 pm 23 Feb 09

hyperbole anyone?

this isn’t about freedom of speech at all passy its about stopping people from defacing public property and stopping the waste of money that follows from cleaning up after them, and you are drawing a very long bow to suggest it does.

this doesn’t stop you at all from advocating a socialist agenda, it doesn’t stop you from putting your opinions out in the public domain at all. It certainly doesn’t stop you from writing your blog, posting on riotact, giving lectures or writing to the canberra times, you have plenty of oppurtunities to have your opinion heard.

i’ll maybe buy into the idea that the laws will stop community groups from publicising events as much but even then there are still places to put up posters and the opinions above from people in the know (tonka for example) suggests that there is little point in postering anyway.

an attack on your freedom of speech? came of the grass and get a little bit of perspective.

(and before you respond i’ve read and understand your arguments; i just dont buy them and think you are drawing a very long bow)

Passy Passy 2:48 pm 23 Feb 09

Good points trevar. I am perhaps too loose with my words. Free expression is what I mean, but in any event the written word is encompassed within the term free speech, I think.

Freedom from others speeches, written words, spruiking etc? How do we enforce that? I don’t want to hear racist sprouting their filth but I can’t avoid it.
I don’t want to watch interminable ads during the cricket for example, but how do i avoid that. (And do the free to air stations time their ads so that if you switch between them you get other ads?0 Anyway, sometimes ABC and SBS (between ads) are not alternatives.

But I digress. I see the net as an adjunct to, not replacement for, posters and fliers. But then again I have used the same argument in relation to newspapers, and that doesn’t seem such a convincing idea now.

In fact the net may be a return to the days of yore in the sense that many of us are like 17 th or 18 th century pamphleteers. (Lavartus Prodeo mentions this and I quite like it since an old journo friend described me in exactly those terms a few months ago. Not quite the Tom Paine of the net, but you get the idea.)

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