Tweed Shire Council is cracking down on unauthorised election signs on public and private properties after receiving repeated complaints about a number of large signs promoting the National Party’s Richmond candidate Matthew Fraser throughout the shire.
Owners of private properties with unauthorised signs face hundreds of dollars in fines for each day they are in place.
Two large and highly visible signs for the Nationals’ candidate on a gated entry to a cane farm on Tweed Valley Way near Tumbulgum, which had sparked some of the complaints, were removed this week after they were found to be unauthorised.
The signs, which had been there for at least six months and alleged to have been a ‘serious distraction’ to motorists on the busy road, were the subject of further complaints that no action had been taken about them for some time.
Another longstanding large sign in a vacant shopfront in Murwillumbah’s main street was still there earlier this week.
Both signs were the subject of a council report at last month’s meeting.
It was also an issue that rankled Cr Gary Bagnall, who had complained about the issue since late last year and whose own legal election sign in his front yard during last year’s council election campaign was ripped out by council rangers who entered his property unannounced.
Council’s then general manager David Keenan, who was sacked earlier this year, was forced to apologise to Cr Bagnall who said he had been unfairly targeted, as the sign on a raised garden bed was legal and should not have been removed.
Ironically, Cr Bagnall was later hit by a code of conduct charge by Mr Keenan when he and another councillor entered a council quarry to inspect pollution impacts on a waterway, without permission. The code of conduct charge was later quietly downgraded to a misdemeanour.
The unauthorised signs issue prompted a ‘signage compliance and enforcement audit’ by council in December, but large political signs on private properties such as those promoting the Nationals’ Mr Fraser, continued to annoy residents and political opponents alike.
Cr Bagnall said ‘why should Fraser get away with it after we copped it?’
He said Mr Fraser’s campaign manager, former state MP Don Beck, had told council it couldn’t enforce the policy when the shire was ‘full of illegal signs’.
One resident recently emailed all councillors and staff saying ‘If you guys aren’t going to enforce your own policy then is it OK not to register my dog, microchip my moggie, or can I put my stormwater into the sewer because the Council appears weak on enforcement going off the political signs?’
Cr Bagnall told Echonetaily that when he called for action on unauthorised signs on private property some time ago, he was told council could not ‘just walk onto a private property’ to remove signs, to which he retorted ‘why not? You did on my property’.
Council management told councillors that staff would begin compliance action this week over unauthorised political signage in accordance with last month’s council resolution.
A spokesperson told Echonetdaily that staff would start removing and impounding signs found on any road reserves or public land and a $60 fee charged for their retrieval.
Owners of unauthorised signs on private property will be advised to remove them or face a fine of $1,500 for an individual and $3,000 for a corporation for each day they are in place.
The spokesperson said some notices of removal had already been issued to private owners as well as federal candidate Mr Fraser.
Mr Fraser did not respond to a request by Echonetdaily to comment on the signs.
Council last month resolved to impose a time restraint on electoral signage, with signs permitted without consent 28 days before an election, but must be removed within 14 days of the election ending.
A development application (DA) will now be needed for anyone wanting to put up signs outside these times.
The council resolution means no signs will be allowed in council’s road reserves, either freestanding pole signs, or those affixed to trees or street furniture.
A maximum of one sign per property will be allowed without development consent on a temporary basis, provided they are ‘no greater in area than 8,000 square centimetres, are located on private property, are non-illuminated or flashing, and are erected within 28 days before, and removed 14 days after the day of a federal, state or local government election’.
All other promotional activities of candidates on council controlled land are to comply with the Parliamentary Electorate and Election Act 1912.