Free speech under attack in Brunswick

[Green Left Weekly, #828, March 3, 2010]

MELBOURNE — Green Left Weekly is currently involved in a free-speech fight in the inner-city suburb of Brunswick. At the end of November, the management of the busy Barkly Square Shopping Centre stopped GLW from operating our regular Saturday morning card table stalls.

They tried this before in 2005 but after a vigorous public campaign they agreed that the stalls could continue. For the next four years everything proceeded smoothly. But now they want to restrict us to one stall in a completely dead location and impose oppressive insurance conditions to boot.

On February 20 we returned to campaign for our rights. Many shoppers were supportive and in an hour and a half we collected about 80 signatures on a petition. Management called police who shut the stalls and threatened to charge the operators.

The action of Barkly Square management is an attack on freedom of speech. Their attack on us is also an attack on the right of any community group to set up a stall and hand out material to shoppers.

Stalls a part of Brunswick life

Green Left Weekly’s stalls distribute the alternative press and leaflets supporting a range of progressive causes. They are part of the varied community activities which make multicultural Brunswick such an interesting place in which to live.

From our stalls shoppers can obtain material supporting rights for workers, women and refugees; real action on climate change; opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and so on. Obviously not everyone agrees with our political views but we hassle nobody and many people appreciate our presence.

Public space is being taken away from us

Barkly Square management’s attack on us is part of a disturbing pattern around the country. Public space is being shrunk and privatised.

Today’s big shopping centres are really public spaces — we are all have to go there and many people do so simply for social contacts — but they are owned by big business whose only concern is making a profit.

A prime example of this attitude is the Barkly Square carpark. Once completely free, like many others around Melbourne it has been handed over to a gang of sharp operators who make money by "fining" people for not displaying their parking tickets.

More and more, the right to free speech is being restricted. Alternative views are marginalised. A non-profit newspaper like GLW is not like the huge Fairfax and Murdoch corporate press. It is sold by volunteers on the streets, at shopping centres and markets, at demonstrations and other public places.

Recently mall owners have even said they want to ban handing out election material in shopping centres during the next federal elections — it distracts shoppers from making their purchases!

Defend free speech

Green Left Weekly is asking that Barkly Square management return to our earlier agreement and allow our weekly card table stalls to continue as before on Saturdays at the front and back of the complex.

Protests can be sent to: Maureen Vercoe, Centre Manager, Level 1, 90-106 Sydney Road, Brunswick 3056; call the centre office on 9387 8411 to register your opposition; or send an email to Centre Management (please cc us at GLW Melbourne).

For further information or to help the campaign, call Green Left Weekly on 9639 8622.