David Risstrom - Greens Melbourne City Councillor 1999-2004
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PROTECTING FREEDOM OF POLITICAL EXPRESSION FOR PEOPLE IN THE CITY OF MELBOURNE
 
 

ACHIEVEMENT: Freedom of political expression is both protected and encouraged in the Council's action it takes on behalf of its community.

TARGET DATE: December 2002 PROGRESS: Achieved.

DESCRIPTION: This is a recognition and reminder that political freedom needs to be gained, maintained and re-gained.

The events as described below meant the right to freedom of political expression was again under threat by a new interpretation of existing rules and a regressive exercise of Council power at the behest of Victoria Police officers. Left unchallenged, Melbourne City Council's interpretation meant it would require administrative bureaucratic approval for demonstrations, speeches, pamphlets, stalls and many other forms of public information dissemination. This achievement was to secure the City of Melbourne's support for a guarantee of political freedom of expression within the bounds of the City of Melbourne.

On May 1 2001, two individuals were given $500 fines by Melbourne City Council officers, who had acted at the request of Victoria Police. The two individuals were alleged to have been handing out printed information outside the Swanston St. Nike store that was critical of the alleged work practices of Nike and/or its suppliers. No other misconduct was alleged. The incident occurred late in the afternoon on a day of protest focussing on globalisation. I was not present at the protest, but was made aware of it subsequently.

After being contacted by one of the fine recipients, I quickly formed the view that the administration of the MCC bylaw requiring permits to be issued before leaflets could be distributed was an undue constraint on people's need for political expression. Following meetings with the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Leigh Hubbard of Trades Hall, Pamela Curr of Fairwear, the MCC CEO Michael Malouf and others, agreement was reached by Council on my third attempt to achieve majority support for the change. The fines were subsequently withdrawn, and the requirement for permits removed from activities furthering political discussion.

An MCC media release issued on 6 May 2002 describes the public statement made following the changes initiated by me:

PERMITS NOT REQUIRED FOR POLITICAL HANDBILLS - MCC media Release 6 May 2002.

The City of Melbourne has agreed to amend its Activities Local Law 1999 to allow leaflets of a political nature to be distributed without a permit. The amendment will come into place once the necessary community consultation has been completed.

Deputy Chair of the Environment, Community and Cultural Development Committee Cr David Risstrom said the amendment on handbills was a fine tuning of the local law to ensure there was no unnecessary barriers to freedom of speech or the airing of political beliefs in Melbourne. "This amendment is simply about excluding political handbills from the need for a permit," said Cr Risstrom. This change is to the wording of the Activities Local Law 1999 in clause 1.13, which is proposed to be amended as follows: Handbill includes a placard, notice, book, pamphlet, paper and advertisement other than an advertisement affixed to any building abutting any road or public highway, but does not include a newspaper, magazine or book sold by a news vendor or other person authorised by the Council, nor any handbill.

FURTHER INFORMATION: An interesting corollary to this story arose when I was acting Deputy Mayor of Melbourne. I sent an email from my home containing an article written in Green Left Weekly written on the events described above. When trying to retrieve the email in the Deputy Mayor's office where I was working. the following events arose, which I detailed in my 'News and Views' and have reproduced below.


12 JANUARY 2003

TWO CENSORSHIPS DON'T MAKE A RIGHT!

Melbourne City Council has appeared to produce the most ironic doubling-up of censorship I have experienced since that old scoundrel Goebbles was up to his old tricks during WWII.

The Council is intending to use a new software filtering system to screen outgoing and incoming e-mail someone deems as being unacceptable on the basis of a range of grounds including harassment.

As soon as I saw the notification about the filtering system, I sought clarification from the MCC Governance Department as to exactly what criteria would be applied to deem a communication from within or directed towards our democratic organisation to be unacceptable. I didn't receive a reply, but being a Friday afternoon I decided the issue could wait until Monday.

Following a successful local government training day, I decided to return to the Deputy Lord Mayor's office to do more work on Sunday afternoon. A Google search brought up an old Green Left Weekly story on my stand against two individuals being issued fine notices by council officers under police instruction on 1 May 2001. Although it took three Council meetings, and meetings with very senior police, Council executives, Leigh Hubbard and others to changes Melbourne City Council's by-laws to allow leaflets of a political nature to be distributed without requiring council permits and approval, the changes were finally made. About one year later I think.

Even though those of us bleeding hearts who believe in old fashioned principles such as freedom of speech and the need to maintain democracy know that each victory awaits the next clumsy, and sometimes well-meaning, suppression of ideas, I'd expect you would be surprised by the following.

When I forwarded the GreenLeft article "Anti-sweatshop activists vow to defy crackdown" the following e-mail message came on my computer:

To promote a harassment free workplace and in compliance with the City of Melbourne Internet and E-mail Policy, a new e-mail filter with expanded capabilities has been introduced.

You have sent an e-mail that has been flagged as possibly containing inappropriate images or text. E-mails flagged will continue to be released until 9 February 2003, to allow staff time to adjust to the new filter.

Details of the e-mail are as follows:

Sent to: risstrom@labyrinth.net.au

Subject: Anti-sweatshop activists vow to defy crackdown.html

** This is a preliminary warning email notification only ***

If you have any questions or require further information, please forward this e-mail to hradministrator@melbourne.vic.gov.au stating your question.

Beyond 10 February 2003, all e-mails flagged will be withheld for 21 days and then destroyed.

E-mails will be released if requested and deemed to be work related.

If anyone can tell me what it is about this e-mail that justifies in any way it being deemed 'possibly containing inappropriate images or text' please contact me at: Rosa@davidrisstrom.org. I'll pass it onto David.

Luckily for David, the Governor of Illinois, USA, has allowed for the commuting of sentences of over 300 inmates awaiting execution on death row. As long as David doesn't say anything to offend anyone, he'll live another day and we can all go an and live happily ever after. Not.


13 JANUARY 2003

TWO CENSORSHIPS STILL DON'T MAKE A RIGHT [BUT YOU ARE NOT AUTHORISED TO TELL ANYONE]!

Yesterday I wrote about David's interaction with the Melbourne City Council's new information filtering system. With a little more prodding, it appears the system has more filtering capacity than a baleen whale in a swirl of krill.

David sent a copy of a web page article from 2001 by Sarah Peart about two anti-Nike activists being pinged with a $500 on the spot fine for peacefully handing out leaflets without a permit. His email from the Town Hall to his home met with a message that said 'You have sent an e-mail that has been flagged as possibly containing inappropriate images or text.' On further investigation, it appears the e-mail was intercepted because it contained the word 'war'. Machines being machines, the fact that the word 'war' was used in the clauses 'anti-war' and 'against the Vietnam War' didn't seem to matter.

The irony continues, in that David's motion last December for 'Peaceful Alternatives to a War on Iraq' [which was lost 6:3 - see my entries below for 19 and 20 December 2002] would never have made it from my home to the Town Hall and anything said about it would not have got out again from the Town Hall's filters!

On a similar note, when David was going through customs in Zimbabwe last year, customs officials asked him if they could check any books he had to see if they that contained anything that was banned. Despite being surprised by the request, David had the good sense to refuse on principle. Next time someone asks him, I expect he will have grown a little more used to an increasingly paranoid and conservative world. I also expect he will still refuse, but be a little less surprised.


 
 
 

Cool Green Tip Of The Week -

23 April 2017: Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918 -1956.

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