Activists have planned a civil disobedience action in response to anti-democratic moves by the City of Sydney to crack down on bill posters. From November 10, putting up posters on street poles could result in fines ranging from $320 to $1500 per poster.
The Sydney Free Speech Alliance is planning a speak-out and poster run on that day, which will include participation by Greens members of the council.
The council has attempted to justify its actions by implying that the main targets will be commercial operations promoting bands and other attractions. However, activist groups such as Resistance and the NSW Greens feature prominently among the 130 organisations sent warning letters by the council in October.
The council is utilising the Protection of the Environment Act, claiming that the policy is motivated by a desire to stop posters "disintegrating and making their way into the storm water system".
However, the council itself puts out hundreds of thousands of leaflets per year — many of which also end up in the storm water system — and environmental problems will not be solved by cracking down on free speech.
Putting up posters is one of the main ways that community and activist groups distribute information about protests and meetings relating to important social and environmental issues.
The council decision to erect eight poster pillars in the Sydney local government area hardly makes up for the attack on free speech that the new policy represents.
Greens councillors Irene Doutney and Chris Harris have pledged to participate in the campaign, including by putting up posters on November 10. Their media release, issued on November 7, stated that "the councillors believe the eight dedicated poles are completely inadequate, in terms of their size, shape and location, for the free dissemination of political and community information".
"This is a gross attack on freedom of speech and penalises those groups [that] do not have the resources to take out paid advertising", Doutney said.
Harris has reportedly asked council staff to explain which posters will be targeted and which ones "overlooked". "I received vague and inadequate descriptions of what will and won't be allowed", he said.
"All sorts of campaigns, from the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations to movements for Aboriginal rights and the annual Walk Against Warming have been publicised by postering", said Free Speech Alliance spokesperson Diane Fieldes. "The ability to mobilise the public to express their political views at meetings or protests is an essential part of real democracy."
[To contact the Sydney Free Speech Alliance phone Alex on 0413 976 638 or Diane on 0413 003 148.]