EAST FREMANTLE council may be about to stumble into another constitutional battle over the right to political speech.
Seven years after clashing with former WA Liberal state director Ben Morton – now Federal Tangney MP and a confidante of prime minister Scott Morrison – over his party colleague Dean Nalder’s massive campaign balloon on the roof of a corner shop on Petra Street and Canning Highway, the council has potentially violated a “citizen’s freedom to political communication”.
The latest issue erupted when the council sent a letter to Anneke de Rooij threatening her with legal action if she didn’t remove a very large pink sign from the front wall of her unit on the corner of Canning Highway and Alexandra Road. It promoted a protest by climate activists Extinction Rebellion (XR) earlier this month.
In response, Ms de Rooij painted over the dates and venue of the protest but left the rest of the sign intact, including the words “extinction rebellion”.
When social media went nuts supporting Ms de Rooij, mayor Jim O’Neill stepped in and organised a pause in proceedings so he and staff could meet with her on Thursday (October 24).
At that meeting, Ms de Rooij said the council’s planner told her painting over the dates had turned the wall from “temporary signage” to an “advertising logo” and she could submit a retrospective planning application to get it approved.
They backtracked on the legal threat somewhat, saying it would only be used as a last resort.
But that may be unlikely given that XR isn’t a business or even an incorporated entity. It’s simply a huge international grassroots political movement powered by the young and growing by the day.
Another way of viewing Ms de Rooij’s removal of the dates is that she’s turned her wall into a political statement in support of XR.
When Mr Morton and East Freo clashed, Murdoch uni senior lecturer in constitutional law, Augusto Zimmerman warned the council risked trampling on Australia’s constitution, saying “the courts should find any such ban to ultimately comprise a violation of the citizen’s freedom to political communication as a democratic right derived from our system of representative government and impliedly affirmed in the Commonwealth Constitution.”
The council beat a hasty retreat.
Ms de Rooij told the Herald she was considering her options.
“Nothing has been agreed to, and I’m certainly not going to make changes simply because the council wants me to,” she said.
by STEVE GRANT