Free speech campaign planned as activist fined for displaying sign

Rangers seize stall materials. Photo: Zeb Parkes

Independent filmmaker and anti-fracking activist Zeb Parkes has been fined $500 by the City of Perth for taking part in a rally against gas fracking on April 21. Parkes intends to defend the matter in court rather than pay the fines.

City of Perth rangers took the controversial step of trying to suppress the whole protest. They seized the stall table erected by the organising group No Fracking WAy, they ripped placards and banners out of people's hands and called police who issued "move on" notices to two participants.

Kamala Emanuel, who was an organiser of the protest and one of the people to receive a move on notice, told Green Left Weekly that the police said they were acting on the council rangers' instructions to "disperse" the protest.

One of the infringement notices received by Parkes, which carries a $100 penalty, was for "displaying a sign without a licence". The City of Perth "signs local law" purports to prohibit the "display [of] a hand held sign on ... a public place". This bylaw is explicitly against free speech and needs to be struck down by the Perth City Council.

The second infringement notice, which carries a $400 penalty, was for "trading without a permit". The stall contained petitions and information leaflets. None of the material on the No Fracking Way stall was for sale.

This begs the question: if council rangers were concerned about "trading without a permit", why did they seize the No Fracking Way stall in the first place? What is the council's objection to people collecting signatures on petitions and handing out information leaflets on important issues like gas fracking in WA?

A second stall - for Socialist Alliance - was also seized by council rangers. The Socialist Alliance stall included a range of political literature - including Green Left Weekly - and a badge display board as well as leaflets and contact lists. In other words, it was the usual kind of stall from a campaign group that you could find at any rally in Perth, not a commercial enterprise. Whatever the pretext, any attempt to seize or disrupt such a stall is a violation of ordinary people's rights to express themselves and to organise for change.

These latest developments have prompted activists from a range of campaigns including No Fracking WAy, Occupy Perth and Refugee Rights Action Network (among others) to make initial plans to establish a free speech campaign in Perth.

[Phone Alex Bainbridge on 0413 976 638 if you want to take part in the Defend Free Speech campaign.]

Material seized (and returned) by Perth Rangers from the April 21, 2012 rally

Comments

Its clear that the by-law is in breach of the Human Rights Convention, Article 19 because, it fails the third test of responsibility, which is about using the least amount of restrictions necessary to protect public safety. There's no way such a by-law can hold up in a court of law and pass our international obligations. Its clear the by-law is excessive. Furthermore, this does seem like political repression. If not solved by a court, you can actually ask the UN to investigate and make a report. I'm extremely concerned that a Western so called Liberal Democracy, is no longer being liberal or pluralist in its tolerance of political expression.

I was at that rally. It wasn't just these tables, there were at least 2 more others. The socialist alternative tables were ransacked and the material shoved to the floor too! Shame on Perth city council, shame!

You're right there were four tables in total at the rally. And the other tables were ransacked and forcibly removed.

To the best of my knowledge, they other tables were not seized by council rangers but were packed up by the activists involved (under duress of course). Certainly, when the material was returned by Perth Council it was only the No Fracking Way material and the Socialist Alliance material that was returned.

So if you know about other material that was seized and not returned, let us know so we can pressure the council on it and make it part of the campaign.

Alex B

What the fucks going on in this town. Back in my socialist days (I identify more as an anarchist these days) in the ISO in the 90s, we'd never cop this sort of guff from cops. If we where standing around selling socialist-workers or whatever, at worst we might get told off by the council, but never arrested.

Sure sometimes things went a bit haywire at some of the angrier rallies (one nation, some of the RTS's, pre-iraq-war) , but at least you could point to to a scuffle or whatever and at least gain an understanding of what the cops motivation was , even if you disagreed with it.

But I'm hearing more and more of really peaceable affairs getting smashed up by cops, and the greenies are copping it even worse. Prior to CHOGM police beat the living shit out of a bunch of guys and gals who visited some mining company and where already leaving. When they asked the cops "why?" they where told "training".

This is bullshit. There USED to be an understanding some of the wiser cops had, that beating up activists just triggered more agro and bullshit, but now it seems that cops are reaching for the battern FIRST and asking questions LATER.

I mean what the hell is up with the violence directed at Nyungah activists on Herrison island. Since when have nyungah activists been anything other than peacable dudes.

Its repressive bullshit and it needs to stop if this so-called democracy we are supposed to live in is worth shit.

I think our first course of action is to raise the alarm about what is going on and pressure the council to back off.

I think there is a good chance of success for this campaign.

Of course, if they don't get the message, we'll be looking at all avenues to win free speech rights.

Alex B

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.