Secret plan to hit free speech in Brisbane

Issue 

By Bill Mason

BRISBANE - "Cameras perched on poles monitor the movement of thousands of passers-by.

"Speaking your mind here can cost you dearly, as much as a week's wage.

"Only the select few can express themselves here, with the permission of the ruling politicians.

"There are heavy fines for handing out pamphlets without permission, selling without a licence, disobeying lawful directions or failing to clean a wall.

"If it was up to the Brisbane City Council, freedom of speech in the [Queen Street Mall] would be traded for the commercial interests of the shop-owners, and a speakers' corner would be built in King George Square."

This summary of secret plans for the Brisbane Mall was revealed in an article in the April 21 Courier-Mail by local government reporter John McCarthy, headed, "Shush! The mall minders might hear you".

The plan is contained in a discussion paper arising from a draft Peaceful Assembly Bill drawn up by state attorney-general Deane Wells and distributed to a restricted circle of organisations, which have been instructed to keep strict secrecy about its provisions.

The Goss government reportedly wants the planned legislation kept quiet until the draft stage is completed and a white paper is drawn up.

Public knowledge of the bill and discussion paper has come about only because Lord Mayor Jim Soorley announced to the media that free speech will be severely restricted in the mall, and a "speakers' corner" set up in King George Square.

The mall is the central gathering place for the people of Brisbane, while a speakers' corner in the square would be nearly as isolated as the traditional meeting place at Roma Street Forum.

Abolition of the infamous Mall Act, introduced in 1983, and establishment of the right of assembly and free speech in Queensland have been posed since the days of the struggle against Joh Bjelke-Petersen's ban on street marches in the late 1970s.

Before the ALP won the last City Council elections, Labor councillor David Hinchcliffe called the suppression of free speech under the Mall Act "a legacy of the dark days of the Bjelke-Petersen government".

Now Hinchcliffe is chair of the council's health and recreation committee, which is responsible for the mall.

"It remains to be seen whether the ALP administration will honour its commitment to open the mall to the people", Maurice Sibelle, Democratic Socialist Party Brisbane organiser, told Green Left Weekly.

"The right of progressive papers like GLW to be sold in the mall is one of the issues which must be addressed, together with the issue of public speaking and assembly."

A rally for free speech will be held in the Queen Street Mall on Wednesday, May 1, at 7 p.m.

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