A packed-out meeting at Byron Community Centre last night voted unanimously to send the council’s proposed markets plan back to the drawing board after a rejigged version cobbled together by Council staff was roundly condemned by almost every speaker in the room.
The meeting was ably held together by ABC 4 Corners anchor Kerry O’Brien, with a panel consisting of Byron mayor Jan Barham, deputy mayor and plan proponent Cr Basil Cameron, CEO of Byron Community Centre (which runs the current markets) Paul Spooner and Farmers Market (stallholder) Association representative Anthony Hodson.
Of all the people in the room, only the mayor (who was not present when the motion to put it on exhibition was passed) and deputy mayor (who used his casting vote to pass it) attempted to defend the policy. But as the meeting drew on even they abandoned any pretence of liking it.
Cr Cameron said he had spent 18 months lovingly crafting the original policy with full community consultation, only to have it knocked back by the state government, whose bidding the council is finding itself doing because some of the markets are held on Crown land.
Both Cr Cameron and mayor Barham said there was a very real possibility that if Council failed to put the markets out to tender its control of the Crown land would be taken away by the state. (They used the example of the state resumption of council-run caravan parks to make their point.)
The new plan would see all the council’s markets put out to public tender based on a pro-forma tender document.
The only thing standing between the existing culture of Byron markets and an event run by big agribusiness was a shambolic list of ‘assessment criteria’ developed by council officers that gave revenue to council a 40 per cent weighting and community values a mere 10 per cent.
In perhaps the most ironic moment of the night, even Cr Cameron said he would not vote for the assessment criteria in their current form, even though he had previously used his casting vote to place it on exhibition.
From the floor, Cr Richardson condemned the council voting process, saying it was ‘not good leadership to put a poor document on public exhibition and then watch the community turn cartwheels trying to redraft it’.
He said that the Greens had attempted to amend the assessment criteria but the meeting had rejected it.
Defending his position Cr Cameron said he was concerned moving the amendment would delay a vote on the policy. ‘It often happens that councillors vote on the amendment and then vote down the policy,’ he said.
This provoked Kerry O’Brien to ask the question, ‘Are you saying you felt if you led a change in criteria without a demonstration of public support you’d have been knocked down by Crown Lands. So you’re asking people to support a significant change so you can take that back to Crown Lands?’
Cr Cameron: ‘That’s exactly what I’m saying’.
After an hour of Q&A between Kerry and the panel and another hour of debate from the floor, a motion was finally moved by Paul Spooner and seconded by Mungo MacCallum.
‘This meeting supports the inclusion of assessment criteria that support local residents/product, community benefit, and continued support of local farmers and producers.
‘We call on Council to reject draft policy as it stands and to convene a working group of stakeholders (including market managers, stallholders group and council) to explore
• assessment criteria
• a cost benefit analysis
• a local procurement policy
• alternative legal and Crown Lands advice.’
The group is scheduled to meet by the end of February.
Image: Jacquelyn Atkins at last weekend’s market adds her colourful handprint to a banner, and her signature to a petition protesting the proposed changes to the Byron’s community and farmers markets. Photo Jeff ‘Market Stalled’ Dawson