Victory for free speech in the mall

Issue 

Victory for free speech in the mall

By Susan Price

BRISBANE — Brisbane City Council agreed to acknowledge the right of free speech and political activity in the Queen Street Mall on May 26. A meeting between the Lord Mayor Jim Soorley and Alderman David Hinchcliffe, and representatives of the Free Speech in the Mall committee, agreed to a two-month trial of new regulations which will allow limited public speaking and distribution of literature.

Two zones have been set aside for public speaking, leaflet distribution and one stall each. Another zone was allowed for an additional stall. Non-profit newspapers will now be sold in a further three zones.

The compromise was reached after four months of weekly Friday night mobilisations. Some 6000 to 10,000 signatures were collected on a petition, more than 50 people were arrested, and support began pouring in from a wide range of groups. Trade Unions, prominent academics, small parties (Greens, Democrats, Democratic Socialists, International Socialists) community organisations and even some branches of the Labor Party moved motions in support of the campaign.

The negotiating committee consisted of Ian Dearden, Queensland Council for Civil liberties; Jean O'Connor, Australian Peace Committee; Senator-elect Rev John Woodley, Australian Democrats; Drew Hutton, Queensland Greens; Willy Bach, mall small trader; Ian Rintoul, International Socialists; Frank Malone, Free Speech in the Mall Committee; Alan Leatch, Watchdog Committee; Maurice Sibelle, Democratic Socialist Party; Brian O'Halloran, Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice; and the Rev Noel Preston.

"We are not going to thank the council for granting us concessions that are rightfully ours", explained Maurice Sibelle. "We have accepted that the mall will be regulated. But the council has tried to regulate all political activity out of the mall. That we do not accept. Our demands have been and continue to be for reasonable access. When this two-month trial period is over, we expect a longer term arrangement which guarantees reasonable access to the mall."