Political speech practice in Australia: a study in local government powers

Australian Journal of Human Rights 11 (1):203-231 (2005)
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Abstract

This paper seeks to remedy in part the lack of empirical studies on practices of.political speech in Australia by investigating local governments’ powers and perceptions of their role in regulating practices of political speech. It reports on the results of an empirical study conducted in 2003–04 of local government regulation of political speech within the public space constituted by pedestrian malls. Regulatory provisions are considered in the context of attitudes towards, and experiences of, practices of political speech within these arenas. I argue that local governments possess wide ranging powers to regulate political speech in pedestrian malls, but further and more importantly that those powers are mediated via their inconsistent and at times arbitrary application, combined with a cultural hostility to political speech. We therefore see a precarious level of protection of opportunities for political communication, as well as an important politico-cultural component in determining the fate of political speech in Australia. I conclude by outlining an alternative ‘enabling principle’ against which local governments may reconsider and reconfigure their regulatory practices in relation to this important political freedom.

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