Moreland draft local law: Remove clauses targeting homeless & democratic rights

[The following is the text of a leaflet being distributed in Moreland by Socialist Alliance. A protest will take place before the council meeting on Wednesday, July 12 at 6pm, Coburg Town Hall, Bell St, Coburg.]

At its July 12 meeting, Moreland Council will vote on adopting for public discussion a new General Local Law to replace two existing local laws. The draft law will be definitively voted on in August or September. Some of the clauses in the draft law simply repeat what is in the existing laws while others are new.

But whether old or new, a number of clauses could well be used to restrict legitimate political activity or target the homeless and poor. Now is the time to remove them or unambiguously clarify their intent.

Threat to homeless & destitute
The ban on camping or leaving items in a public place puts the homeless at risk. While clause (§2.8) exempts the homeless or mentally ill people, they will first need to prove their situation. Despite this exemption, the law exposes them to potential harassment by council officers.

Homelessness is distressing both to experience and to witness but the only realistic solution is to build quality public housing — an idea to which our neoliberal state and federal governments, whether Labor or Liberal, are completely opposed. The proposed new law will do nothing to alleviate the misery of the homeless and may well add to it.

Clause §7.1 allows begging to be targeted. Begging might also be distressing to see but let’s deal with the social causes, not harass the poor and sweep it under the carpet.

Democracy — if you’ve got a permit!
A number of clauses in the draft law can be used to attack basic democratic rights.

§7.4 (handbills) appears to exclude political leaflets but then says this waiver only applies during a formal election period. This clearly needs to be clarified.

Other clauses (§7.1 and §7.8) could be used to prohibit card-table stalls operated by community campaigns or political groups.

§7.8 could be used to ban protest gatherings. A rally might be banned on the grounds that it would interfere with pedestrian or road traffic. This was the line pursued by the corrupt, right-wing Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen when he banned street protests in Brisbane in the 1970s.

Furthermore, nothing in the draft law says that the council will grant all permits. If the council doesn’t like something it can refuse to grant a permit or can delay it, etc. Then there is the matter of the permit fee — up to $300 in some cases.

If the Local Law with these clauses is passed it will be a serious threat to the homeless and poor and to our democratic rights.

We should oppose it as it stands. It needs to be redrafted to address these concerns.

Some of Moreland’s proposed laws restricting democracy & the homeless

[These are some of the most problematic and antidemocratic clauses in Moreland Council’s new draft Local Law.]

Camping in public places — Anti-homeless clause
2.7 Unless in accordance with a permit, a person must not camp in or on any public place in a vehicle, tent, caravan or any type of temporary or provisional form of accommodation.
2.8 A person must not leave any item in a public place.
2.9. A person is not guilty of an offence under clause 2.7 and 2.8 where that person establishes that he or she:
(a) is homeless or is in need of secure accommodation; or
(b) has complex needs or is in need of additional assistance because of a mental or physical disability or illness.

Authorisation required for goods in a public place — Could be used against homeless people & community campaigns
6.4 A person must not without a permit hang, pile or place any goods or allow that to occur on any shopfront, footpath, outside wall, roof or veranda.

Permit required for the soliciting of money — Anti-begging clause
7.1 Unless in accordance with a permit, a person must not solicit or collect a gift of money or subscription or sell a raffle ticket in or on a public place.

Permit required for handbills — Unclear if political leaflets exempted
7.4. Unless in accordance with a permit, a person must not display or distribute to any person any handbill in or on a public place or allow that to occur.

Causing obstruction — Anti-democratic clause, could be used against stalls or protests
7.8. A person must not without a permit:
(a) unreasonably obstruct or interfere with the passage of pedestrian or vehicular traffic in or on a public place; or
(b) invite encourage or allow the congregation of persons so as to unreasonably obstruct or interfere with the passage of pedestrian or vehicular traffic in or on a public place.

Furniture in a public place — Could be used against homeless or against stalls
7.8 A person must not without a permit, place or cause to be placed any item of furniture in or on a public place.