A Tweed councillor has come under fire for demanding that all Lock the Gate signs around the shire, which express opposition to coal seam gas (CSG), should be pulled down.
Cr Carolyn Byrne made the call in the face of a council crackdown on illegal political signs, many promoting her political ally, the Nationals candidate for Richmond, Matthew Fraser.
Cr Byrne told council that if action were to be taken against Mr Fraser’s signs on private properties then the same should be done for the small Lock the Gate signs.
But the convener of Lock the Gate – Tweed, Michael McNamara, said Cr Byrne had voted in October last year with five other councillors to declare Tweed Shire ‘CSG Free’ and council ‘could, and should’ put up its own Lock the Gate type signs ‘to reflect the position it has adopted’.
‘She should, therefore, have no objection to this course of action,’ Mr McNamara told Echonetdaily.
‘There is also a significant difference between signs that reflect community commitment and broadly shared views and party-political election placards,’ he said.
‘“Gasfield Free” road signs have only been distributed to residents on roads where a majority have declared their view that the road should, in fact, be gasfield free.
‘These signs declare the views, wishes and intentions of the community. The yellow triangles declare an individual commitment.’
Mr McNamara borrowed the words of the TV character Sir Humphrey Appleby from the television show Yes Minister, to say ‘it would be a “courageous” decision by anyone who depends on the votes of community members to remove these signs in the face of this same community’s commitment’.
In response, Cr Byrne told Echonetdaily that Mr McNamara should ‘get his facts correct’ and ‘man up to speak to me about it first’.
She said it was ‘not about Matthew Fraser signs or Lock the Gate signs but what signs are authorised or unauthorised within the shire’.
‘It’s not about what signs, but if we start targeting unauthorised signs we need as a council to demonstrate to the community who are complaining about different signs… that potentially all unauthorised signs need to be addressed at some stage.
‘With the Lock the Gate signs I’ve had people saying that “they offend me when I’m driving along because they take away from the scenic beauty”.
‘When you’ve got numerous ones on a single property then how are they authorised? All I did was flag the issue, it’s not my issue, it’s something that’s been brought forward to me,’ she said.
Her comments echo those by Mr Fraser’s campaign manager, former state MP Don Beck, who has told council it couldn’t enforce the policy when the shire was ‘full of illegal signs’.
Council recently warned some property owners to remove unauthorised political signs or else they would be fined $1,500.
This included the owner of a cane farm near Tumbulgum, where two large and highly visible signs for the Nationals’ candidate were displayed for months on a gated entry facing Tweed Valley Way, which had sparked some of the complaints leading to the crackdown.
But recently what appeared to be the same signs appeared again, this time on the back of a ute parked near the old highway inside the property, which prompted further complaints as previously, in that they posed a safety risk by distracting motorists.
Mr Fraser told Echonetdaily the sign issue ‘is a pretty boring story though and I would guess most people are not interested’.
A Tweed Shire Council spokesperson told Echonetdaily this morning that as yet, no-one had been fined but a number of signs had been confiscated.
The spokesperson said that the owner of the property along Tweed Valley Way, at which the ute was parked with a large sign promoting Mr Fraser, had been told such a sign would need development consent ‘but it is unlikely to be supported and a request has been made to remove it’.
The sign in question was the subject of a council report at a recent meeting. Council is addressing the issue guided by a recent ‘signage compliance and enforcement audit’.
Council has also 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.