Sydney City Council's plan to limit free speech

Issue 

The City of Sydney Council wants to limit the distribution of printed material, something that Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCLL), believes may violate the constitutionally implied right to freedom of political communication.

Murphy said that the new proposal, "Distribution of Printed Matter or Other Material on Footways", would "severely limit freedom of political communication and freedom of speech". He told Green Left Weekly that the NSWCLL believes that if the policy goes through as is, the organisation would seek to challenge it in the courts.

The policy would prohibit individuals and organisations from handing out leaflets without first obtaining a permit — for each item — securing a minimum in $10 million in public liability insurance and paying a fee for the permit.

Under the council's proposed policy, asking someone to sign a petition would be banned as the policy contains a "no spruiking" clause.

If adopted, the policy would also prohibit the distribution of publications such as the Big Issue, sold by homeless and unemployed people, and non-profit papers such as GLW.

Murphy said the problem is that the proposed policy "doesn't distinguish between large transnational media corporations and small locally based community media", arguing that it is unreasonable to place the same conditions on both.

Dale Mills from Legal Observers, a group that collects evidence of misbehaviour and illegal activity by the police at protests, told GLW that if the policy was implemented "it will be a recipe for running conflicts between activists and the police or council rangers".

The new policy is being discussed in the wake of the council renewing a deal with Rupert Murdoch to allow the MX newspaper exclusive distribution rights in Sydney train stations and other selected locations. In 2005, the council agreed to give distribution rights to the tabloid for a reported annual fee of $360,000.

Council will take submissions on the draft policy until June 4. It can be viewed at .