Gold Coast free speech campaign scores a win

After a vibrant protest on May 26, the Gold Coast Bulletin and Channel Nine news reported that "people power" had won out over a new council policy that banned protests in almost all public parks in the Gold Coast.

The May 26 protest outside Council Chambers was called by the Socialist Alliance and supported by the Greens, Amnesty International, Falun Gong and environment groups. Protesters, holding signs such as "Dictators' Paradise — Very GC" and "Free Speech Now", confronted Mayor Ron Clark and councillors as they arrived for a meeting.

The new council policy would have only allowed peaceful protests in two areas, well away from public view, and banned protests in all other parks. The unelected council CEO would have had the final say on approving protests.

Those supporting the attack on free speech argued that protests "did not fit in with the Gold Coast image", and criticised organisations such as Amnesty and Falun Gong as being "too confrontational".

Southport councillor Dawn Crichlow, who has been involved in many protests, apologised to the protestors for passing the council legislation without "fully understanding" the policy. "Good on you for being here", Crichlow told the demonstration. She also said she would seek to overturn the ban.

A flustered mayor told the protest that there had been a "misunderstanding", and added, "you can protest anywhere, anytime, any place".

Under public pressure, the council unanimously passed a motion supporting free speech. However, Clark's amendment that protests would only be acceptable to council if they were "free from images that may be unsuitable for children" was viewed by protesters as a backdoor attack on free speech. The new council policy came after alleged complaints relating to a Vegan Society stall with images of battery hens.

"If the unelected council CEO decides that an image of a dead Iraqi is unsuitable for children, does that mean we can't protest against the immoral Iraq war?", protest organiser Amelia Taylor asked.

Taylor, a Socialist Alliance activist, told the Channel Nine news, "If he decides that an image of a starving child in the Third World is unsuitable, does that mean we can't protest on the Gold Coast about the fact that the majority of the world's population don't have enough to eat?"

Steve Dalton, coordinator of the Northern Gold Coast Greens, noted that this is not the council's first attack on free speech. "Council has erected a glass wall around their meetings, completely silencing the public gallery. It's become known as the 'cone of silence'", Dalton told Green Left Weekly.

"What happens when the community wants to stop a high-rise development in the future, and the council is controlled by pro-development interests?", Taylor asked. "Can we allow them to have the power to determine when protests are acceptable or not?"

Protesters vowed to "push the boundaries" to ensure that their right to free speech is not stifled. To help out call Amelia on 0417 062 844.

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