Western Australia’s (WA) government has come under fire over its policy of denying the right for opposition political and religious groups to make meetings bookings in state-funded venues.
The Perth Theatre Trust (PTT), a management organisation that runs Western Australian state-funded venues, had refused to take bookings from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), a Canberra-based and religion-focused political advocacy group.
The trust’s decision to deny the group a venue platform for freedom of speech was based on a policy announced by the Western Australian Labor party just after their re-election in March. The policy requested state-owned facilities do not accept events “where the content of the event does not represent the views of the West Australian government or the vast majority of Western Australians”.
PTT later reversed its decision in the face of legal action from the lobby group.
The trust controls state-funded venues including His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth Concert Hall, Subiaco Arts Centre, and the State Theatre Centre of WA.
In the 2020 financial year, the trust was awarded AUD$14.76m from the state government, accounting for the majority of its funding.
Local media has reported that a number of state-funded venues in WA had hosted Labor representatives and their events.
Albany Entertainment Centre, a venue in Albany, around five hours outside of Perth, had refused to take an event booking from ACL on the basis that the event had “politically motivated objectives”, according to local media reports. However, Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said the event would have be an economic boost for the people of the region and asked for an explanation from PTT, describing the state policy “draconian, discriminatory and financially irresponsible”’. Wellington added that the city of Albany pays AUD$400,000 (USD$548,336) a year to maintain the entertainment centre.
“[The ACL] are not illegal, they have a right to their opinion, and I cannot see a reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to use the damn thing,” he said.
Peter Abetz, the WA state director of the ACL, described the policy as a serious example of government censorship.
The ACL had threatened to take the case to the Equal Opportunities Commission which ahas appeared to have forced a climbdown by the Perth Theatre Trust which subsequently announced that their policy would be reviewed, and that the ACL events will now be welcomed at their venues.