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Ban on bill posters an “attack on free speech”

The City of Sydney has banned bill posters from the inner city. Offending organisations will now face fines of up to $1,500 per poster, and individuals charged $750 for putting up posters. Commercial, political and community organisations will be targeted, as Sydney City Council promises to follow through with prosecuting illegal postering under the NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act. Greens Councillors, Irene Doutney and Chris Harris, have expressed their disappointment, claiming the Council's new campaign is a “gross attack on freedom of speech” reports Phillip Fernandez in the South Sydney Herald of December 2008.

The City of Sydney’s director of city services, Garry Harding, said posters wrapped around telegraph poles and plastered on walls was one of the most significant urban pollution problems faced by the Council. "Last financial year, we removed more than 340,000 bill posters, approximately five tonnes of paper. In the past four years removing bill posters has cost City of Sydney ratepayers more than $6 million."

According to the NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act, bill posting is considered an illegal form of pollution, giving councils the power to issue fines directly to the venue responsible for producing the poster. Fines include a "prevention notice" of $320 once Council seizes the bill posters, with subsequent offences attracting fines of $750 for individuals and $1,500 for organisations.

The City of Sydney has installed eight poster pillars on popular city streets as part of a year-long trial to provide a legitimate site for notices and posters, which will be removed weekly. Irene Doutney and Chris Harris believe the eight dedicated poles are completely inadequate for the free dissemination of political and community information. "This penalises those groups who do not have the resources to take out paid advertising. It is unbelievable that there are only eight small display poles for the whole city, none of which are south of Surry Hills," said Cr Doutney.

The Council claims that the main targets of the new campaign are large-scale commercial operations such as those promoting bands and other events. However, the NSW Greens, activist groups such as Resistance, and most small political and human rights groups featured among the 130 organisations sent warning letters by Council in October.

King Street, Newtown, and Glebe Point Road in Glebe will not be targeted in the initial campaign as poster pillars are not in those precincts. Only posters put up for garage sales, lost pets and community fetes will continue to be safe from prosecution.

Photo: Neil Whitfield - Caption: Protesters at Town Hall

Source: South Sydney Herald December 2008