Marrickville Council: Free speech triumphant

An attempt to stop a public debate on Anzac going ahead during Marrickville’s Gallipoli commemorative program in April 2015 was defeated at Marrickville Council’s meeting on 25 November.

Previously, on 15 July, Council had agreed to “provide in-kind assistance to the Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign for the use of the Petersham Town Hall on 21 or 22 April 2015 to host a debate relating to Anzac Day activities”. The vote in favour of this Mayoral Minute was unanimous.

By November, however, Clr Macri (Independent) had changed his mind. He now wanted to stop the debate occurring before Anzac Day in April. In his Notice of Motion, Clr Macri said that while he supported the right to free speech, holding the debate “between the Marrickville Council major celebration on the 19 April and Anzac Day on 25 April, is not appropriate timing for this debate”. Rather he, together with Council’s Gallipoli Centenary Committee which he chairs, felt the debate should be held “after Anzac Day 2015, and preferably in May 2015”.

At the council meeting on 25 November, both John Butcher and Jon Atkins from GCPC spoke against Clr Macri’s motion. Read John Butcher’s speech here. Access the full version Jon Atkins’ speech here.

In speaking for his motion, Clr Macri read out a letter from the Petersham RSL which claimed that the timing of the public debate would offend the commemoration of our war dead. Clr Tyler (Liberal) also expressed similar sentiments.

Former Mayor, Clr Haylen1 (Labor), said she had consulted with a range of parties before 15 July, including the Petersham RSL, and “reassured them that the debate was not an official part of the Council’s program”. Clr Haylen noted that “it was agreed that the debate did not undermine the other commemorations in anyway – in fact this is exactly what our men and women fought for 100 years ago – free speech!”

All four Greens councillors (Clr Ellsmore, Clr Brooks, Clr Leary and Clr Phillips) spoke strongly against the motion.

In addition, Mayor Gardiner (former Liberal, now Independent councillor) opposed the motion.  He also stressed that the public debate was not part of the Marrickville Remembers program and that Clr Macri’s motion was an attack on the right to free speech. As well, Mayor Gardiner considered Clr Macri’s use of the term ‘celebration’ inappropriate to describe the Marrickville Remembers program since it is dedicated to commemorating the tragic loss of over 61,000 Australian soldiers on the battlefields of WW1.

Labor councillors, led by Clr Woods, proposed an alternative motion. This motion read “That the in-kind assistance from Council be the use of Petersham Town Hall for one day on the 21 or 22 April 2015 and that all marketing materials related to the event contain the name of the ‘Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign’ only and that Marrickville Council name and logo are not to be used.” This motion was rejected, with only the three Labor councillors present (Clr Woods, Clr Iskander and Clr Barbar) lending it their support.2

In the end, only Clr Macri, Clr Tyler and Clr Hanna (Independent) voted to stop the public debate from occurring in April.  All other councillors opposed the motion. This means that the event will go ahead on Wednesday 22 April 2015 as planned by GCPC with Council making the Petersham Town Hall available for the occasion.

GCPC would like to sincerely thank all councillors who supported this outcome.

1. Clr Haylen was on maternity leave at the time of the 25 November meeting.
2. Refer to the Notice of Motion: Moving Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign to May 2015 (Clr Macri/Clr Tyler) as well as the Foreshadowed Motion (Clr Woods/Clr Barbar). Both motions were defeated. Council’s Mayoral Minute endorsed in July 2014 supporting an Anzac debate in April 2015 therefore stands.

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