The last ordinary council meeting was held yesterday, December 6, and the subject of democracy, human rights and election signs were the hot topic of discussion.
In the City Lifestyle committee meeting held last month, the ever-burning subject of election signs was once again brought to the table.
A report by council officers, by request of the councillors, was tabled to change the local law on the length of time before an election a candidate or incumbent can display a sign on public and private property.
The result was that campaign signs could not be erected any earlier than 60-days prior to the date of the election. This stirred some emotions within the group.
“Councillors considered a report regarding proposed amendments to local law 9.2 which relates to election signs,” said Lifestyle Committee chair and councillor for division 6 Tony Hall.
“Logan City Council regulates the display of election signage to uphold safety, amenity, and environment of the city. Following the finalisation of community engagement on the proposed changes, the report sort to finalise the amendments to the local law.”
Votes in the committee meeting on the report was passed with enough numbers for it to be voted on in the ordinary session yesterday. But it was not without a speech about human rights from Cr Jacob Heremaia as he appealed to his fellow councillors to change their votes.
“I rise to speak on a point of discussion regarding the proposed local law changes that we’re voting on,” said Cr Heremaia.
“The proposal is to introduce a 60-day rule that applies to all private property in the city and this rule would prohibit the exhibition of an election sign outside of the 60-day window preceding an election without a government approve license.
“Section four of that local law states that the exhibition is greater than the mere display of an election sign. In fact, that section defines the exhibition of an election sign as including the painting, writing, drawing, and transport of that election sign.
“So, who does the law apply to? Section 20 of local law nine puts an onus on all owners and occupiers of private property in our city to ensure compliance with the new proposed local law.”
The new proposal doesn’t in any way include any education to stakeholders that they are responsible for the signs in the new rule. It was discussed at a previous meeting a couple of years ago about running an education program for residents, however it was knocked back.
“So, if compliance isn’t achieved on private property, what is the penalties for a breach?” said Cr Heremaia.
“The new law grants council the remit to issue fines of up to 50 penalty units for breaches. Now that translates into a fine of $7,440.
“So, how did this law come about? The report states that Logan City Council officers consider that there are no human rights implications relevant to councils’ decision in this matter.”
“Council commissioned an independent human rights expert to author an assessment on the human rights implications and page two of that human rights assessment states that the amendment therefor limits, in a minor way, freedom of expression by limiting the period in which an election sign can be displayed without a license and section 21 of the Human Rights Act states that freedom of expression is a human right,” he said.
“So there appears to be a contradiction between the independent human rights assessment and what council officers have stated in the report.
“It’s clear that this proposed local law overreaches council remit, it’s legally dubious and I urge my colleagues not to support this proposal.”
Logan City Councils legal team joined the ordinary council meeting and advised that human rights were considered when preparing this amendment. However, they have acknowledged that the wording of that component of the report suggests that there was no limitation on human rights but agree there is a minor limitation on human rights.
The legal team concluded that despite there being human right limitations, that it was justifiable and appropriate in the circumstances.
Cr Hall was another councillor who was verbal with his opinion on the matter of changing the local law and went as far as abstaining from the vote on a democratic reason.
“I will be abstaining from this vote and the reasons for me are about what we represent as democratically elected leaders,” said Cr Hall.
“The reason that I am abstaining is I believe that it is undemocratic for elected members to change the process, that they themselves, were elected by.
“I believe that every candidate should be given the same or equal opportunity as the people they are running against and should have the same opportunity given to those sitting members who are now in government.”
The new amendment to the local law passed the ordinary council meeting seven votes to five.
Cr Lisa Bradley
Cr Teresa Lane
Cr Mindy Russell
Cr Jon Raven
Cr Jacob Here
Cr Laurie Koranski
Cr Tim Fraser
Cr Scott Bannan
Cr Miriam Stemp
Cr Karen Murphy
Cr Natalia Willcocks
Cr Darren Power
Cr Tony Hall