Friday, February 8, 2013

Anti-fracking activists versus Stirling Council

Local activist Trish McAuliffe has had a run-in with the Stirling City Council in Perth's northern suburbs over a banner on her property advertising a public meeting about gas fracking.

McAuliffe is a member of grassroots campaign group No Fracking Way and put up a hand-painted banner on her own property that said “Fracking = pollution”. The sign also gave details for a public meeting organised by the Clean Water Healthy Land alliance featuring a speaker from the Lock the Gate Alliance.

A representative of the Stirling City Council told Green Left that their action was taken in response to a complaint. “The City is required to follow up any complaints made by residents,” she said.

Further, the council representative told Green Left that the sign may fall under the category of “Community Service Signs” in which case it may not need a development approval. However, if development approval were required, a $139 fee would have to be paid and a turn around time – which could be as long as 20 days – could not be guaranteed.

The banner was put up eight days before the public meeting it was advertising. It is not clear that the banner would meet the definition of a Community Service Sign and the council could not point to another remedy within their bylaws.

McAuliffe has complained that this is an example of “bureaucracy gone mad” and “an attack on freedom of speech” saying that she's had three different stories from the ranger, a planning officer and the senior ranger that she has dealt with.

McAuliffe has re-erected her banner because she believes that people have a right to know about the dangers of gas fracking.

This incident follows the free speech campaign waged last year in Perth against Perth City Council by-laws that make it an offence to hold a hand-held sign without approval of the Council. While the by-laws were not changed and one court case is still outstanding, activists have won the right in practice to organise speak-out protests, hold signs and set up campaign stalls without interference by the Council.

The meeting about gas fracking is on 7pm, February 13, Lotteries House, City West.

[This article by Alex Bainbridge was written for Green Left Weekly #953.]

How The Post reported the issue: