By Ray Fulcher
MELBOURNE — The "Free Speech Committee" was launched here on May 30 in the offices of Joan Coxsedge, Labor MLC for Melbourne West. A group of activists representing various left and progressive groups came together to start a campaign against draconian measures being adopted by various city councils to curtail freedom of speech.
Over the past few weeks, sellers of left-wing papers have come under increasing intimidation from city councils in Melbourne.
Green Left Weekly sellers have been harassed by Melbourne City Council inspectors. Names have been taken and people have been forced to move on.
In Preston, the International Socialist Organisation has come under fire for selling its paper, the Socialist, at Preston markets. Initially sellers were hassled by market management and security guards. The council refused to supply a permit to sell the paper. Council officers harassed sellers, and the police have been called and on-the-spot fines issued totalling hundreds of dollars.
Footscray council has banned the selling of Workers News (paper of the Socialist Labour League) anywhere in the Footscray area.
It is also a requirement to obtain council permission to speak in the Footscray mall. The council is seeking to give parking officers the power of arrest to enforce these measures.
The Free Speech Committee resolved to campaign around the right of free speech and free access for all citizens to political information.
Committee spokesperson John Tully said, in relation to the banning of Workers News, "The paper has been sold for the best part of 20 years in Footscray. Now these tin-pot dictators are trying to suppress it. This, coupled with arrest powers for by-laws officers, is an outrageous attack on democratic rights reminiscent of the worst excesses of Queensland ex-premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen."
Activities of the committee will include a public meeting in the near future, a public disobedience day in Footscray mall, petitions and leafleting. The committee also intends campaigning against Footscray councillors who supported the by-laws.
The Free Speech Committee hopes to spread the campaign as widely as possible, seeing these first attacks as the thin edge of the wedge of an attack on civil liberties. The committee can be contacted through Joan Coxsedge's office, 81 Irving St, Footscray, ph 689 6536. Its next meeting is at her office at 5.30 p.m., June 11.