Australian Made Campaign attempts to limit free political speech

On January 26 (“Australia Day”), two members of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Sam King and Van Rudd, demonstrated outside of the Australian Open Tennis Championships at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena to highlight Australia’s racism. The protest involved the pair dressing up in Klux Klux Klan outfits with the “Australian Made” logo and the slogan “racism made in Australia”.

The next day Australian Made Campaign Limited CEO Ian Harrison issued a media release claiming that King and Rudd had “illegally used the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo in their anti-racism demonstration”, and announcing that the “matter has been referred to the Campaign’s legal advisors”. The media release noted that the AMAG logo was introduced by the Australian government in 1986 and is a registered certification trade mark administered since 1999 by Australian Made Campaign Ltd, a “not-for profit organisation” set up by the. Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

King and Rudd were later sent a letter dated January 29 by the EKM commercial and intellectual property law firm on behalf of Australian Made Campaign Ltd which expressed the organisation’s “view that the association of the logo with the form of protest of which you were a part could substantially damage its reputation” The letter went on to say EKM’s “client abhors racism in any form, but equally it deplores any suggestion that the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo is in any way a racist symbol”. The letter concluded with a statement that EKM’s “client has asked that you provide us with an undertaking that you will not use the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo in the future without our client’s authorization”, adding: “We look forward to receiving this undertaking.” Below is King and Rudd’s response. It is taken from the RSP website:

The request made by your client amounts to demanding that we, and by implication any other community member who has a protest to register, forfeit our freedom of speech. While the right to free speech is not constitutionally guaranteed in Australia, the High Court has noted and defended this as an important implied right. Such a right does not and cannot preclude the use of any symbols, signs or logos, whether they are registered trade marks or not.

The request made by your client is a direct challenge to freedom of speech and will not be ceded to by us. Our opinion is that Australia has a racist history and continues to perpetrate this racism as an integral part of a social system which was established through the destruction of Aboriginal society and expanded through the economic exploitation of neighbouring countries.

222 years on from the initial dispossession of indigenous people, racism is only being further entrenched by government policies which violate the racial discrimination act in the Northern Territory, see refugees locked up or kept from Australian shores altogether and little to nothing is done to curb the racist violence against Indian students. It is our opinion.

The Australia-Made ‘Campaign’ is based on the racist assumption that it is better to support Australian corporations than foreign ones. It perpetuates the racist myth that Australian workers have more in common with their bosses than we do with fellow workers overseas.

We do not share this illusion. Only 2% of Australians own over 50% of company shares and while CEOs earn millions of dollars (regardless of the success of the corporation) workers get sacked in order to make the corporations ‘more competitive’. Workers in Australia, we think, do not benefit from buying into the racist assumptions peddled by ‘Australian-Made’ campaigns.

We also see the relevance of making a strong political statement using the combination and appropriation of symbols and texts. They are all composed (the white of the KKK costumes against the greenish hue of the Australian-Made logo and the ‘Racism’ text placed above the logo) in order to give an overall impression and impact. So, any claim of breach of copyright cannot be used against us. Van Thanh Rudd, as well as a plethora of respected Australian artists, have built much of their artistic practice, upon the appropriation of corporate logos that are excessively visible in the public domain.

We will stand firm in our right to freedom of speech and expression and to campaign against racist lies and ideas, whether they are perpetuated for direct political purposes by government, or by companies seeking to financially profit from such prejudice.

Yours sincerely,

Van Rudd and Sam King