By Bill Mason
BRISBANE — The Labor-controlled Brisbane City Council has massively increased fines for breaches of the repressive Queen Street Mall Act, introduced by the Bjelke-Petersen government in 1983.
Fines under the act have been raised to $1000. Other council fines have been increased by up to 1000% — the maximum possible under the City of Brisbane Act.
Ignoring civil libertarians, the council has retained the maximum $500 fine for public speaking in the mall. Although Lord Mayor Jim Soorley says the council is moving to set up a "speakers' corner", possibly in the mall, opponents of the restrictive law are sceptical that a such an area will be permitted anywhere that large numbers of people congregate.
Recently increased fines include penalties for selling without a permit, disobeying a lawful order and displaying an illegal sign. The increases were passed by council on August 13 without opposition or debate following pressure from mall traders.
While in opposition, the council health and recreation committee chairperson, Alderman David Hinchcliffe, branded the Mall Act "a legacy of the dark days of the Bjelke-Petersen government". Now Hinchcliffe has tightened it even further. A particular target of the restrictions is the sales of alternative newspapers and distribution of political literature.
After about two years under the previous Liberal City Council in which progressive newspapers were able to sell in the mall with only occasional harassment from police and council officers, it seems that papers like Green Left Weekly and the Socialist might now be banned from the mall.
Such a move would be a "serious attack on free speech in this city", says Jim McIlroy, a representative of GLW. "At a time, in the aftermath of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, when public pressure is strong for an expansion of democratic rights and freedom of expression, this latest threat by the ALP-run council to prevent alternative viewpoints being publicly available in a non-disruptive manner is a disgrace.
"We and other progressive groups are prepared to launch a major campaign to demand reasonable access to the mall for GLW and other alternative publications."