Arts & Entertainment

THE NAKED CITY – TURNING A BLIND EYE

Back in the 1800s in Sydney you could go to the beach during the day as long as you didn’t leave the sand. Daylight bathing in the harbour or surf was effectively banned and it was until the start of the 20th century that local councils amended the law. In 1902 for example Randwick Council, in all their wisdom, believed allowing bathing would help conserve water in the community, passing a by law that stated:

“It shall be lawful for all persons, whether male or female, to bathe in the sea at all times and at all hours of the day… within the municipality of Randwick.”

Council regulation and at times deregulation has been with us for decades and their list of punishable offences supplements the basic laws of the land. Look back through time and you will find many now ludicrous Council edicts as to how we live, work and enjoy ourselves within the various municipalities. It’s called ‘compliance’ and the rule book is often enforced with a degree of officiousness that leaves residents shell shocked.

If much of Council compliance was an ‘ass’ back in the 1800s, there are numerous episodes today where it appears similarly idiotic. Last week City Hub reported on the City of Sydney’s targeting of the much loved Old Fitzroy Hotel in Woolloomooloo, informing the publican that he now “had to employ a security guard four nights a week at a cost of $1000 to meet the condition of the original consent” – one that applied to a DA application that had been dormant for some some 18 years.

If the Council have their way one of the quietest and friendliest neighbourhood hotels in Sydney will need to be fronted by a menacing man mountain, no doubt judiciously checking the IDs of the laid back locals who have been drinking and socialising there for years. In the meantime they have done nothing to alleviate the plight of the numerous homeless men who bed down nightly in the squalor of Tom Uren Square.

One of the big problems with modern day Council compliance is the random and sporadic nature of the way it is enforced by the bureaucrats employed as its compliance officers. As has been the case with the Old Fitz, you can be carrying on a business for years, happily serving the community in an honest and law abiding way. Then one day there’s a knock at the door and you are greeted by the fourth horseman of the apocalypse.

Obviously it would be impossible for Councils to act on every infraction of their rule books, unless they employed a veritable army of investigators and door knockers. In many cases they only act after somebody has made a complaint or dobbed a potential rule breaker in. There’s also a long list of instances whereby Councils have essentially turned a blind eye to various acts of non-compliance, until an over zealous compliance section sniffs out the offender and sends in the storm troopers.

A good example are the warehouse style venues, often people’s homes, that operated throughout the inner city during the past two or three decades as performance spaces for live music and film screenings. Most of the local Councils knew of their existence and turned the proverbial blind eye, conscious of their cultural contribution to the community. Somewhere along the line the compliance department stepped in and many of them have now been forced to cease operations.

Surely some common sense and ‘peaceful’ resolution needs to take place, as in cases such as that of the Old Fitz. Yes, go after the really bad offenders, the dodgy developers, the boarding house sharks, the blood house hotels and the environmental vandals but also be prepared to turn the blind eye. After all the City Of Sydney has been doing that for years in Woolloomooloo when it comes to the ‘crime’ of sleeping rough.