Green Left Weekly has won a victory in its free speech struggle at Brunswick’s Barkly Square shopping centre. Management stopped our stalls in late November and offered us a completely unacceptable deal.
We began our defence campaign in late February and over the next three months it developed considerable momentum. The response from shoppers was warm and extremely heartening. About 1000 people signed our petition. People were clearly outraged at the ban and concerned at the ongoing privatisation of public space.
A number of people sent protest emails to management. We letterboxed thousands of residents in a broad area around the shopping centre. On May 8 we held a widely supported free speech protest that marched down Sydney Road, right through the shopping centre and rallied in the forecourt.
We received support from the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. Various union officials made phone calls to Industry Super Property Trust, which owns Barkly Square, on our behalf. ISPT and the shopping centre management clearly felt the pressure and wanted to get the issue settled.
The deal we have accepted allows us to go back to our regular Saturday morning stalls at the car park entrance. However, we had to increase our public liability insurance cover from $10 million to $20 million.
Also, we have had to apply to Moreland Council for a permit for our stall on MacDougall Street (a laneway that goes through the centre on the less busy side of the complex). This has been granted but will have to be renewed each month.
A related issue, which we raised in our campaign, is access by other progressive community groups to the centre. While we were not able to move forward on this and there remains no independent right of access, GLW campaigners will do what we can to accommodate local action groups through our stalls.
All in all, we have won an important victory. We didn't want to be banned; this situation was unexpectedly forced on us. Nevertheless, our campaign achieved some real gains: the corporate, anti-free speech forces have been beaten back (at least for now) and we have increased public awareness on a vital issue, which will be with us as long as we live under corporate capitalism.