Chris Dobney – Editor
Last Saturday night’s meeting of concerned Byron residents attempting to seek a solution to the town’s twin problems of over-popularity and too much grog stopped short of being an exercise in futility – but not by much.
Thank goodness for Mandy Nolan and Mick O’Regan. Mandy injected the only humour of the night and effectively represented the audience: a community at the end of its tether. Mick just managed to stop the event from breaking out into an all-in brawl between the audience and the panel.
The panel of carefully chosen politicians and publicans effectively demonstrated how Byron has become a community of solidly entrenched positions: none was in the mood to compromise and all spent much of their time pointing their fingers at each other.
As an illustration of just how on the nose Byron’s liquor lobby has become, even the pro-business politicians advocated policies such as restraints on their trading hours and specially targeted rate increases.
Local MP and local government minister Don Page carefully sidestepped state responsibility by suggesting the solution lay in Council charging the liquor outlets and holiday rental premises higher rates. It was an offer that Byron mayor Simon Richardson immediately shot down, claiming ‘we pay enough taxes already’. It seemed strange that the council should be crying poor yet knocking back an opportunity to tax the very people who make the most out of tourism.
Don Page seemed happy to believe that Byron had enough police to go around, despite the fact that on New Years Eve not a single officer was stationed at Brunswick Heads and not nearly enough police were present in Byron to prevent a string of antisocial offences. But admission of our greater need would of course require a political commitment from him.
Conservative councillor Diane Woods asked from the floor why the Liquor Accord wouldn’t agree to an earlier lockout of time of midnight. Paul Waters representing Byron United and the Accord said that as the Beach Hotel closes at midnight ‘it would leave 1,500 people wandering around the town with nowhere to go’. One suspects that those 1,500 people represent a nice little earner as they move into the remaining members’ venues for a few more hours of drinking.
Greens MP and former Byron mayor Jan Barham was seated next to publican Tom Mooney, not an ideal table plan. Barham suggested a back-to-the-future solution along the lines of the old Byron Safety Committee. Mooney claimed the liquor fraternity were unfairly targeted given numbers were down at the venues and the majority of bad behaviour took place outside the venues and out of the view of security staff.
That the panel could not agree on anything was disappointing but not surprising.
One positive outcome of the evening was the announcement of an ongoing ‘Our Community’ committee, which will conduct a round of consultation sessions, starting with its first meeting at Byron Bay Community Centre on Thursday February 7 at 6pm.
So what is to be done? Clearly a number of the suggestions have merit but they would have to be implemented against considerable opposition.
The bed tax option is difficult to invoke when the bottom end tourists causing much of the problem arrive in vans that they also use as overnight accommodation.
But there is another way of effectively taxing most travellers without charging locals: selective pay parking. Locals are given a generous number (two or three) parking stickers per household. Anyone not displaying a sticker is charged metered parking rates that vary, based on time of day. Night-time rates could be higher than daytime rates and could be chargeable, say, every two hours, making the option of using council parking less inviting to vanpackers.
This stick would need to be coupled with a carrot: a van park at the Sports and Cultural Centre during the high season that would provide basic amenities, food stalls – and perhaps some entertainment – at a reasonable rate. It could be run on by or behalf of Council and the revenue would return to Council. There would be proper security – and it would provide the opportunity to easily identify troublemakers.
Don’t like my idea? That’s fine – bring your own to the inaugural meeting on February 7.
Eventually we must create a solution. Simply hoping these kinds of tourists don’t come any more defies logic. And the option of doing nothing has long passed.