A small group of activists from the Climate Emergency Action Network South Australia (CLEAN SA) were threatened with ejection from the Art Gallery of SA grounds, during the recent Adelaide Festival of Ideas, for handing out flyers.
The flyers advertised a CLEAN forum, "100% Renewables by 2020", and were being offered to those leaving a session where Richard Denniss, from the Australia Institute, had delivered a scathing attack on the federal government's climate change policy.
The activists were polite to those they approached, many of whom accepted a flyer or sought more information. It was a positive, friendly exchange. But Festival staff were hostile and threatened to have the group removed by security because the Festival was an "organised space".
Defending their right to free speech, the activists stood their ground and continued to hand out the flyers. On subsequent Festival days they returned to distribute more. There were no further confrontations with the staff.
It's alarming that the Festival of Ideas can claim jurisdiction over an area of public land and seek to violate people's democratic rights. This is especially so because the Festival is supposedly about the open dissemination of ideas and raising public awareness of important issues.
It is hard to imagine an issue of greater public interest and importance than the fight against global warming. It was the central theme of many of the Festival's sessions, yet the organisers sought to ban its public airing outside venue walls.
The activists have complained in writing to Festival chair Robert Phiddian, who has not yet responded.
Clearly this Festival is not a forum for authentic democratic debate. It is nothing more than highly stage-managed intellectual theatre, where pre-approved, regulated and rehearsed ideas are delivered to passive spectators.
It may be popular entertainment, but it is questionable how much it contributes to public engagement with important issues. And with its black-shirted officials restricting the public exchange of ideas, "Festival of Ideas" takes on quite Orwellian overtones.