Rally demands Federation Square stay a public space

Protesting at Federation Square on September 19. Photo: Felix Dance

More than 200 people attended a rally at Melbourne’s Federation Square on September 19 to protest the Victorian government’s decision to allow Apple to take over a part of the public space for its corporate retail centre.

The crowd chanted “Our City, Our Square!” and heard from a number of speakers who condemned the appropration of the square for retail space.

Apple, one of the world’s biggest companies, has been given provisional approval to have the Yarra Building demolished and replaced with an Apple Store.

It has also been given a 20-year lease for a pittance. According to Forbes, its annual sales are US$285 billion, and makes US $88 billion in profits and $71 billion in cash.

Under the banner of “Save Our Square”, a number of community groups are fighting back against this encroachment of corporate interest into a civic area. They include architects, planners and heritage groups.

Federation Square, built in 2002 to commemorate Australia’s federation, has had a mixed reception. However, it is one of the few places left in the city for people to gather for sporting and cultural events and, indeed, to hold protests and demonstrations.

Tanya Davidge, an architect and president of Save Our Cities, spoke about how the Victorian Labor government must reverse its decision to put corporate products before profits.

The group will be distributing how-to-vote cards, threatening planning minister Richard Wynne’s hold on the seat of Richmond.

Town planner Colleen Peterson also decried the decision, saying it was the privatisation of public space which should be owned by the people.  She suggested the already retail-oriented Docklands as a much more suitable location for the store.

Even though the public backlash against this decision seems to have taken the Victorian government by surprise it seems to be doubling down on its decision, with final sign-off expected shortly.

“The Labor solution is to hand over space to Apple for free. Victorian Socialists say let’s turn the place into a hub for new and emerging artists and the like with peppercorn rents. Let’s have day and night markets. Federation Square should be for people, not tax dodging multinationals,” Jolly concluded.