Waverley Mayor Sally Betts has conceded council’s events policy needed to be reviewed in the face of criticism surrounding its application to social media events and gatherings of a political nature.
The issue was instigated by the ‘Beachsaver’ campaign incident on January 24, where Waverley Council rangers confronted Greens MLC David Shoebridge and his eleven volunteers for distributing pamphlets at Bondi Beach without a permit.
Pressed about the policy’s failure to distinguish between social gatherings and political campaigns, Cr Betts affirmed the policy wording needed to be amended.
“We can certainly fix that very easily, we have already got that in process to firm up the wording…just to avoid any future misunderstanding,” she said.
Outlining where the revised events policy would apply, Ms Betts emphasised the significance of an individual or group’s intentions, with the desire to amass a public audience of 50 or more classifying this gathering as an event and therefore requiring a permit.
“When you’re mobilising people who you’ve never met to come to something, to fulfill your own ambition, which in that [Beachsaver case] was to launch a political campaign then, that is an event, it is not a social gathering,” she said.
Heated debate over the legislation ensued at the March 18 council meeting, with Labor councillor John Wakefield arguing the use of the events policy against the ‘Beachsaver’ campaign was “counter to common law” and an attack on public democracy.
“The events policy has never applied to political events. This is an absolute loss of control, the old slippery slope to political fascism,” he said.
“There is a long-standing right within our country – the right of people to gather, talk and distribute materials on issues they are interested in. It is a pity [the Liberals] don’t have the grace to see what [they] are doing is undesirable.”
But Liberal councillor Leon Goltsman said council has a “duty of care” to its community in controlling crowds to prevent Bondi Beach being used continuously for publicity.
Cr Betts agreed, arguing management is important in preserving Waverley’s local spaces and avoiding any potential clashes between events, such as that which led to the January 24 incident.
But Greens councillor Dominic Wy Kanak questioned whether council has the right to control such events, particularly those facilitated by social media, as this could set a dangerous precedent for free speech.
“Sea level rise education should not be restricted by an onerous policy that ignores or penalises contemporary social media methods of gathering groups for environmental awareness,” he said.
A spokesperson for Waverley Council refuted claims the new policy will attempt to control events organised online, arguing any enforcement of restrictions on social media was impractical.
“In recent years, Waverley Council have never issued a fine to an event without a permit, however they have asked for relocation. No fine has ever been issued for events organised [via] social media, nor has it ever been considered,” she said.
The new changes will focus on allowing for conditions to be imposed regarding commercial promotions and the publicity of events.
“We are trying to protect our beaches from over-commercialisation. We don’t want Bondi Beach to be overrun by 20,000 people for a Pepsi promotion,” the spokesperson told the Bondi View.