Marches and rallies

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Marches and rallies are an extremely common and useful form of political protest. They are used to mobilise, educate, show support and to clearly demonstrate community feeling about an issue.

The number and frequency of marches and rallies held in Australia is in line with community expectations of the right to freedom of political expression and assembly. However, in the process of obtaining permission to hold a march or a rally in a particular place, these rights need to be continually asserted.

For possible offences and charges relating to marches and rallies see Unlawful assembly and Riot and Obstruction sections.


Getting ‘permission’

The choice of whether to obtain permission to hold a march or rally is often a difficult one. The decision to seek permission from the local Council or the police needs to be weighed against the basic right of freedom of political expression and assembly.

Before you ask for permission, discuss with your group:

  • who will be the contact people?
  • what will you do if you ask for permission, and they say “no”?
  • where are you willing to negotiate?
  • what information are you willing to share?
  • are there alternative sites or routes you would be happy to use?

Most marches and rallies in Australia are held without any prior permission or authorisation from authorities. They are simply political gatherings of people held on the streets or in public space.

If the march or rally is part of a long term campaign, or expected to be very large, it may be necessary and worthwhile to maintain good relationships with local councils and police.

In these cases it may be well worth obtaining the appropriate permits and permissions from the relevant authority prior to the event.

There are many things that may be difficult to do without specific permission such as erecting fixed structures, having stalls, tables, marquees, displays, vehicle access and access to power and public address (PA) systems.

Getting the appropriate permissions can take considerable time, so plan well in advance of the event.

If you are trying to get permission, it is common that you will need to repeatedly assert your right to freedom of political expression (protest). Councils and police will often try to pressure you to change your plans and make the march/rally smaller or less “intrusive” on the public.

Most of the conditions that you will need to meet to get permission to use a space are logical and appropriate conditions for well-planned public events such as first aid, toilets and crowd access etc.

Other conditions, such as public liability insurance, may be more difficult.

To ask about getting permission contact your local council or your local police station.


Initial organisation for a march or rally

  • Which organisation(s) is calling the march or rally?
  • Which organisation(s) will be responsible in the case of any legal repercussions?
  • Whose name will be on the form to seek permission to use a space?

It is important to designate clear responsibility for particular roles such as, marshalling, first aid, event management, hazard and risk assessment.

Initial planning decisions should include start and end points of the march, events along the way, and planning for:

  • first aid,
  • toilets,
  • stalls and speakers,
  • banners,
  • marshals, 
  • acoustics and visibility of the area – whether people will be able to see or hear speakers and AUSLAN interpreters etc
  • safety and access of vehicles,
  • disability access, and
  • crowd dispersal after the event.

Other things to plan and organise may be:

  • Provision of first aid and allowing ambulance access
  • Use of stages and raised platforms health and safety issues
  • Use of electrical equipment
  • Performers
  • Using candles
  • Stunts
  • Street theatre
  • Disrupting traffic


Whose jurisdiction?

The jurisdiction of a particular area, park or piece of land can sometimes be confusing; even police, security and local council can be unclear at times.

Finding out the jurisdiction of the land or area where you plan to hold the march or rally is an important first step.

You can consult the Victorian government website for title searches or zoning maps.

Otherwise, contact your local council for zoning information.

Essentially there are geographical jurisdictions that determine the authority overseeing that land or building.

Most areas in Victoria have four possible authorities:

  • Private property and landowners:

shopping malls and precincts, corporate buildings and foyers, private farms and even places such as Federation Square;

  • Land, parks and buildings controlled by councils and their by-laws:

footpaths, malls municipal/local government facilities such as parks, reserves etc. The powers of council officials are very limited. In most cases they will have to call the police to enforce their directions;

  • State government:

most streets and roads, state government buildings such as Parliament House Victoria Police have jurisdiction;

  • Commonwealth areas:

Defence facilities, detention centres, premises under Defence (Special Undertakings Act) 1952, national parks, embassies and consulates The Australian Federal Police (AFP), or Australian Protective Services (APS) have jurisdiction over these areas.


Using Federation Square

Federation Square Management Pty Ltd (FSM) is a private company wholly-owned by the State Government of Victoria and managing the operation of Federation Square on a commercial basis.

FSM has a process and forms for obtaining permission to hire or use parts of the square on its website:

FSM advises demonstration organisers that they can choose one of the following options for demonstration at Federation Square (after checking availability of the Square with Federation Square Management):

Option 1

Make use of the space for the gathering of people. No charges will apply, public liability insurance is not requested and no venue agreement need be instigated.

The protest organisers, however, will not be able to make use of Federation Square’s event infrastructure (i.e. power, screen access) and may not install any temporary infrastructure of their own.

Option 2

Make an application to book the Square (as per application form on the website). Pay a venue hire fee appropriate to the use of the space requested and meet all the regular event management requirements to run an event in the Square.

These include: signing a venue hire agreement; providing proof of public liability insurance; and providing appropriate event documentation. Use of power, existing sound systems and the large outdoor screen may also be negotiated under this arrangement.


Public liability insurance

Many organisations in Victoria don’t deal with the issue of public liability unless it is particularly mandated as a condition of permission to use a facility or space.

Authorities can use not having public liability insurance as a justification for not giving permission to hold an event. It does not necessarily mean that you cannot hold the event.

For information see Civil liability protection section.


Police liaison

For a large march or rally some organisers contact the police to inform them the rally is happening.

The police may contact you if promotion has already occurred.

Whether you chose to engage with police before the event is up to you and your group. Each option has its benefits and downsides.

Usually, the purpose for speaking with police early is to get them to facilitate your march. This means, giving them the information they need to be able to do that. Consider outlining to police: 

  • estimated number of people,
  • proposed route,
  • any planned events on route such as sit-downs or speeches,
  • marshalling and crowd control etc.

If police know there is a planned sit-down at an intersection and that the march will continue, they are less likely to start making arrests for obstructing the road.

What the police will tolerate is often related to the size of the march or rally. For a generally peaceful march, the bigger it is, the more likely police are to facilitate it – mass arrests are difficult and labour intensive for police.

Police will also liaise with other authorities such as the public transport authorities and local councils. Organisers can also do this.

For a guide to conducting police liaison see facing police at protests.


Informing unions

It is well worth contacting unions whose members are likely to be directly affected by the march or rally.

Unions and the wider activist community have long history of cooperation.

To contact a particular union go to the Victorian Trades Hall Council.

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Marches and rallies

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