Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open letter to Perth City Council

[The following open letter is being distributed by the newly formed Defend Free Speech Perth. Ph 9218 9608 if you or your organisation are able to endorse this letter.]

To Lisa Scaffidi and members of the Perth City Council,

We, the undersigned, note with concern that there is an emerging pattern of City of Perth local laws being used to curtail free speech rights in Perth.

Some recent examples of interference by City of Perth rangers include:
  • the seizure of a sign advertising the CHOGM Protest (21 September 2011)
  • the moving on of Occupy Perth (November 2011)
  • attempts to disrupt the speak-out for Bradley Manning (17 December 2011)
  • attempts to shut down the Nyoongar Tent Embassy (numerous times, including 22 March 2012)
  • the harassment of a refugee rights speak-out (23 March 2012 and at least one other occasion)
  • the attempt to disperse the rally against unconventional gas "fracking" and seizure of materials including placards and signed petitions (21 April 2012)

Every one of these actions represents a legitimate expression of a political point of view. Attempts by City rangers to prohibit or disrupt these actions have been overbearing and draconian – they are also attempts by the City of Perth to curtail or prohibit free speech.

In our view, there can be no excuse for local government authorities to use (or misuse) local laws in ways that violate the right to free speech.

Yet, we note with concern that the City of Perth "Signs Local Law 2005" explicitly prohibits the "display [of] a hand held sign on ... a public place [without approval]" (Section 4.5). That this local law has been used against people in a protest situation is unambiguous confirmation that the City of Perth must look at its own local laws and policies to ensure that democratic rights are not curtailed.

We assert that all people have the right to free expression that no government body can take away. These rights include:
  • the right to assemble and protest;
  • the right to hold up signs;
  • the right to set up stalls to collect signatures on petitions and distribute information; and
  • the right to put up posters to advertise community events.

People do not need the permission of local governments or other authorities to exercise these rights.

We call on the City of Perth to amend or rescind any and all local laws that interfere with these rights in any way.

Further, we call on the City of Perth to direct City rangers to take no action that interferes with the exercise of any of these rights.

[Sign the open letter here.]