A TIDY little square under the jacarandas in front of Parliament House is marked out as Speaker’s Corner, a place for Queenslanders to have their say.
The Queensland Parliament emblem is at its centre, and an accompanying plaque announces it is “a space devoted to encouraging Queenslanders to speak and engage in open and vigorous debate”.
Although it’s not quite in the free spirit of London’s Hyde Park in its heyday, the space would fit a couple of soapboxes.
It is hard to imagine, though, that George Orwell or Karl Marx, or any other speaker for that matter, would be excited about such a formal arrangement and being confined to a precise spot to exercise freedoms.
Unlike public spaces claimed for the purpose, it appears to represent controlled freedom – but it’s the thought that counts.
And it’s a nice spot in the George Street forecourt outside Parliament House at the entrance to the Queensland University of Technology Gardens Point campus.
Speakers’ Corner was opened in 2010, to mark the 150thanniversary of the Queensland Parliament.
There is also an attached message quoting Gilbert Eliott, the first speaker of the Legislative Assembly in the colony of Queensland, in his first speech on May 22, 1860:
“I would urge on honourable members mutual forbearance and self-control, and the necessity of not taking exception to words and expressions which might bear a very different interpretation to that which at the time they might be disposed to attach to them”.
This area in front of Parliament House has often been, and still is, the scene for protests and gatherings, so Speakers’ Corner was established to “acknowledge this history and encourage peaceful gatherings in that area”.
The only problem is that if you plan to hold a protest, it’s necessary to advise Queensland Police in advance and register it!
Complete a “Notice of Intention to hold a Public Assembly” form and deliver it to a police station or the nearest Magistrates Court giving at least five days’ notice. Not a lot of room for spontaneity.
Oh dear, so it doesn’t really appear to be in the spirit of the accepted definition of a speakers’ corner as a place for “open-air public speaking, debate and discussion as a demonstration of freedom of speech”.
Neither does it encourage anyone to turn up unannounced and talk on almost any subject at the risk of being heckled by others who turn up just for that purpose.
From 1962 until the mid-1970s, Centenary Place was the local equivalent of the northeast corner of London’s Hyde Park, where those with a point to make turned up with their soapbox to spruik their cause each Sunday.
Hundreds of people turned up there to hear speakers holding forth on all manner of issues. Aboriginal rights was a hot topic during this period.
That came to a halt in the mid-’70s, a time when the Bjelke-Petersen government was not at all keen on people power and free speech.
Finally, in 1990, Brisbane City Council officially made space available for the purpose at King George Square.
But now it’s all official.
Have your say outside Parliament House at Brisbane’s Speaker’s Corner.