Tuesday, July 08, 2008

World Youth Day Regulations are kind of but not really like regulations at sporting events

One of the justifications given by defenders of the World Youth Day regulations - for example by Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione towards the end of this news article - is that they're "no different to those used at sports stadiums and other large public arenas". I don't think many people are familiar with the regulations at sports stadiums. I wondered if this was actually true.

Sporting venues in New South Wales are governed by acts and legislation describing what actions can and can't be performed by the authority in charge of maintaining that venue (usually a private or state-run corporation that's given permission to manage the land). For example, Sydney Olympic Park would be governed by a regulation like, say the Sydney Olympic Park Authority Regulation 2007 - REG 17:
(1) A person who contravenes any provision of this Regulation while at a sportsground, or who trespasses or causes annoyance or inconvenience [emphasis added] on any part of a sportsground, may be removed from the sportsground or the relevant part of the sportsground by a person authorised by the Authority or a police officer.

(2) A person authorised by the Authority or a police officer acting in accordance with this clause may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances for the purpose of discharging his or her functions under this clause.

So people are actually telling the truth that restrictions on "annoying and inconveniencing" people have already existed in some type of NSW legislation. But calling the WYD regulations "no different" from something like what goes on at sporting events is really stretching it.

First, sporting venue regulations apply only to sporting venues. This seems fair to me: a person is paying money to enter that space, and should reasonably expect to find their behaviour restricted should they choose to pay for permission to access it. World Youth Day regulations prohibiting "annoyance" and "inconvenience", while they do not apply to the whole city, apply to some pretty important public parts of it. Issue 75 of the Government Gazette of the State of NSW has the complete list starting on page 5822. It includes the Domain, The University of Sydney, Hyde Park, The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Jewish Museum (wtf?), the list goes on. The worst part, and a part which NEVER applies to my knowledge during, say, State of Origin matches, is that the regulations governing the event also apply to transport sites: all the inner city railway stations, Liverpool and Campbelltown stations for crying out loud, as well as various other stations and bus interchanges. This is hardly "no different" from what happens during major sporting events. It's unprecedented.

Also unprecedented is the existence of a $5500 fine rather than merely, as the Sydney Olympic Park Authority Regulation above says, removal from the grounds. Looking at the Government Gazette's reprinting of the regulations, a fine would be incurred for disobeying an instruction to cease engaging in "annoying or inconveniencing" activity rather than for the activity itself. This is less problematic than it could be. But even so, giving civil authorities this much arbitrary power to censor public speech is still asking for trouble. I'm very glad that the State Emergency Service and Rural Fire Service have indicated that they're going to refuse to use these powers.

I actually feel slightly less concerned about the regulations now I've had an opportunity to study them thoroughly, but I still view them as an unwarranted attack on the public expression of freedom of speech. Describing them as similar to those regulations that are in place at sporting venues is misleading in my opinion, as they go quite a bit further than anything that's ever been in place before.

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