Firstly, I would like to commend Patrick Jones’ considered response in his submission to Council on General Local Law No 2 of 2019 Community Amenity and Municipal Places, where he has made several suggested amendments to the proposed law.
For my own part, I find it difficult to be so measured. Rather than look at specific amendments, as I’m sure other correspondents have done, I would like to briefly speak to the philosophical, or ideological framework that permits such a document to be presented by Council.
In any community, local or international, there are necessary behaviours that permit us to live and work together. However, the over prescription of behaviour by various levels of governance, which in the most part are meant to serve their communities, has become a concerning contemporary practice. It is with sincere regret that I now witness this same tendency being played out in my own local community. Who prescribes how we each work towards a sustainable way of living; whose job is it to decide whose home is tidy or not; whose aesthetic is to be used; who is to say that this person’s rubbish may not be a way of enhancing another’s life; who gets to make these decisions? Who can tell my child they must not play in a billy cart we have made together, on the nature strip or foot path outside our home?
Often in these decisions it may not even be the actual law, but the intent that is to be questioned. Do we require external governance to behave in a reasonable manner toward each other? Do we need to legally regulate good relations? How could we even begin to think it possible to regulate for such relations? Surely it is a better and healthier situation to encourage an equitable and compassionate community, making for a positive and creative environment, than one in which over regulation stifles creativity and acts as a disincentive to community participation. The intent of the law could also be seen to be not for the local community, but for those who visit the area, who are perceived to have certain expectations about appearances and behaviour. And those businesses that depend on catering to those perceptions, perceptions that unfortunately may not be founded in the real diversity of ways of living that the Hepburn Shire is so famous for.
Can’t we take a breath and think what community we would like to live in?
To encourage a creative environment, we need tolerance and diversity, not a narrowing of possibilities of ways to be, or of being with each other. I know Council has people’s interest at heart, but this needs to come to the fore, rather than prioritising homogeneity and a risk adverse determination of our lives.
Dr Jeff Stewart
Art Historian and Archivist VSU