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Public gagged at Bush rallies.

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Senator Andrew Bartlett Leader of the Australian Democrats October 21, 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/763

Public Gagged at Bush Rallies

The Australian Democrats today condemned a Government decision to gag a peaceful rally outside Parliament House in Canberra for the visit of US President George W Bush.

Democrats’ Leader, Senator Andrew Bartlett, said the Go vernment had banned any broadcast equipment or loudspeakers at the rally, effectively silencing public speeches.

The Government’s silence order was on the grounds that noise levels at the Bush rally could be “offensive, harmful or unreasonably interfere with the activities of other people” on such a ceremonial occasion

“Banning broadcast equipment is a ban on public speech. It is about silencing people attending a peaceful rally,” Senator Bartlett said.

“This ban is completely unnecessary. It sends a clear signal that the Australian Government is not interested in listening to or enabling the expression of dissenting views.

“Importantly, it also throws up real safety concerns. Thousands of people will attend Thursday’s rally, but no directions will be able to be given to the crowd - by organisers, by public speakers, or even by police.”

Senator Bartlett, in a letter to Australian Federal Police chief Mick Keelty, Justice Minister Chris Ellison and President of the Senate Paul Calvert, requested the decision be overturned.

“My first concern relates to the right to peaceful assembly and the opportunity for speakers to address the rally. My understanding is that the organisers are planning a peaceful rally and wish to make their point in a public manner. My second concern is for the safety of those attending the rally. It is important that the organisers are able to communicate with the participants in the rally, particularly if there are any lawful directives from the police or other urgent matters that could arise,” Senator Bartlett wrote.

Senator Calvert responded to Senator Bartlett’s letter by stating that the rally would be banned from using any amplification equipment.

For interview with Senator Bartlett, please call Katrina Beikoff on 0419 867 649