Waverley Council will review its events policy in a response to claims the wording is ambiguous and allows for considerable misinterpretation.
The move was sparked by an incident on January 24, when Greens MLC David Shoebridge was approached by Waverley Council rangers for not having a permit for his Beachsaver campaign at Bondi Beach. Mr Shoebridge was handing out flyers together with a group of campaigners on the beachfront.
Last revised in January of 2013, the Policy defines an event as an organised gathering within the Waverley LGA where “people assemble at a given time for entertainment, recreation or community purpose…organised by Waverley Council or an external person, group or organisation”. It requires such events to apply for prior approval.
Mr Shoebridge said his campaign, organised online via social media, involved raising awareness about the impact of rising sea levels on local beaches like Bondi by handing out pamphlets to residents and beachgoers.
“Council should recognise the fact this is 2014, not 1950, and people need to be free to put a call to their friends and family on social media to catch up at the beach, without getting a permit,” he said.
Mr Shoebridge said his group was threatened with a $220 fine but argued the community should have the right to participate in local campaigns.
“It’s deeply unfortunate the mayor is so threatened by her own community and I think that’s what is driving this policy. The community might have a different view about how their local areas should be run …no council should think they can change this.”
Waverley Mayor Sally Betts responded by drawing a distinction between a social gathering and mobilising a large concentration of people for the promotion of personal campaigns.
“We have this policy for events so we can control and preserve our beach, [so] we haven’t got too many events at the same time,” she said.
“Obviously we welcome everybody to the beach and we are happy for people to invite their friends [via] social media – we can’t control that.”
But Labor councillor John Wakefield said he would have allowed the protest to occur if he were mayor, as long as it didn’t impact adversely on passers by. He questioned whether council or the police have the right to stop a public event of a political nature.
“The fact remains that people have a right to political protest,” Mr Wakefield said.
“Bondi Beach is frequently crowded, [it] often hosts events of a political nature and in previous mayoralties, this was never an issue. We encouraged open debate about political and social issues, we never suppressed them.”
But Ms Betts stressed the importance of safety, with the policy ensuring there were adequate provisions for any large-scale events that may take place.
“The problem with [organising a campaign via] social media is it’s something that is not invitation only,” she said.
“You have not defined the group of people that are going to be advised about it.”
Ms Betts told the Bondi View she is open to a revision of the policy wording, arguing the policy was first introduced to prevent over-crowding in Waverley’s public spaces.
“We have never had a problem with our policy, we think it is sensible and of course we don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea.”