Anti-poster laws come unstuck

Issue 

By Andy Gianniotis

A proposal by the NSW government to fine people or organisations that engage in street advertising has been shelved. The proposed amendment was part of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 1999.

Had it been passed, it would have made it illegal to put up any form of street advertising, including pole posters. Anyone who printed, distributed or put up posters could have been fined $300 per poster by local councils.

Who was the minister driving this attack on democratic rights? Labor "left" minister for planning Dr Andrew Refshauge. Speaking on Triple J's morning show on November 15, Refshauge defended the proposed laws, saying that councils had asked him to give council street cleaners more powers to solve the problem of "unsightly" advertising.

Callers to the program responded angrily to Refshauge's comments, stating their opposition to the presence of ugly commercial billboards.

Most callers linked the proposed new laws to the tightening up of "security" for the upcoming Olympics. One caller reminded listeners of the police state that was imposed on the residents of Atlanta four years ago, while another described how some of the poorer parts of Barcelona were bulldozed in 1992 to ensure tourists were not subjected to the reality of squalid living conditions facing the poorer residents of the city.

Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon, who had sent out an action alert on hearing of the amendment, congratulated members of the Australian music industry for speaking out strongly against the proposal. The Greens are calling for a management plan for street advertising in Sydney that consults with all of the stakeholders, including the community and local councils.

"Street advertising supports not only the music industry but a whole range of cultural and community events and is a major way that people communicate in Sydney", said Rhiannon. "Under this new legislation everything from a poster for the Big Day Out, Reclaim the Streets, a garage sale and, ironically, even election material would have incurred a $300 fine from council."

Behind the proposed new laws is the issue of class. They represented an attack on the democratic rights of ordinary people to disseminate information through one of the only means available to the majority. Multinational companies can afford billboards and are unlikely to engage in street postering.

The proposal shows the increasing push to make the streets a place for consumers and not for ordinary people. Its defeat is a small victory.