FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Concerns raised over overreaching local laws
Hundreds of concerned residents and dozens of community organisations have issued an Open Letter to the Mayor of Hepburn Shire Council, Cr Licia Kokocinski, her fellow councillors and council staff over the failure to engage in a proper community consultation process regarding overreaching Local Laws.
The letter calls for Hepburn Shire Council to form a working group with residents to redraft the law – General Local Law No.2: Community Amenity & Municipal Places (draft), and to take seriously the concerns raised in over 100 submissions the council has received on the matter.
Spokesperson for the concerned residents of the shire, Dr Patrick Jones, said, “The process of drafting these laws has been in the hands of council officers, and lawyers from Melbourne. Council has effectively sidelined our repeated requests for them to work with the broader community to create bespoke laws that represent the unique culture of the shire.” Mayor Kokocinski recently stated on the shire’s Facebook page it is “not practical” to form a working group, but did not say why.
“When the council advertised the revision of Local Laws No.2 last year they made it appear as they were simply Dog and Cat laws,” said Dr Jones, a long-term resident of the shire. “A friend decided to read the draft law revisions, and it revealed a can of worms.”
Residents couldn’t believe the overreach. The new definitions for ‘a public place’ and ‘event,’ for example, mean that residents will be subject to ever increasing permits, regulations and penalties. A permit will be required, and potentially refused, for residents to clean up fuel loads in their neighbourhoods, and forage for mushrooms or blackberries or wild apples on public land. Horses and their riders won’t be able to ride into town, and the right to freely assemble to celebrate, protest or even sing in a public place as a group, just for the joy of it, could all be subject to permits and thus could be refused.
While Council said it may make some minor changes, it’s pushing to adopt these new laws fairly unchanged. If that happens, the volunteer fire safety work that goes on in the shire involving neighbours and livestock to keep fuel loads down on public land is also at risk of being prohibited. This could undermine the safety of residents, livestock and community amenity and assets.
“I believe the unique rural culture of the Hepburn Shire and its residents is at risk unless Council agrees to form a working party with residents to redraft these laws to better reflect community concern,” said Dr Jones.