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Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

Minister quizzed over barricades charge

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barricades-1200px

Brunswick Heads residents at the barricades placed across what they believed was their public road shortly before they were removed in a protest action last year.

 

Luis Feliu

A north coast based MP has asked questions in parliament over the controversial charging of an organiser of a community protest group which removed barricades from a public road at Brunswick Heads last year.

The protest action was part of a campaign to stop what residents call a land grab by state caravan park managers.

Supporters of Foreshore Protection Group convener Michele Grant, who is defending a charge of disposing of stolen property, claim her prosecution is a classic SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) move aimed at silencing the outspoken critic.

The group has long fought against encroachment of public land by the state-owned North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP), which runs three caravan parks on crown reserves in the village.

The hearing of the case against Ms Grant began before magistrate Michael Dakin in Mullumbimby Court on Friday when prosecution witnesses, including a senior Byron Shire Council officer, testified over the removal of the barricades around a year ago from Riverside Crescent in the Ferry Reserve caravan park.

The case was adjourned to Byron Local Court on 19 July.

Ms Grant was part of a group of more than a dozen Brunswick Heads residents who took part in the community protest action to remove the large barricades which they said illegally obstructed access to a public boat ramp.

The barricades were erected on the road a week before a new licence agreement for the park was adopted by Council, sparking local outrage. The protest aimed to highlight ongoing community support for retaining foreshore land for public use.

The barricades were later placed outside the main entrance to council’s offices in Mullumbimby but removed by council workers and reinstalled on the foreshore road.

The residents were angered at the blocking of the road by NCHP management, who they said breached council’s new licence agreement for the caravan park, which retained Riverside Crescent and the reserve foreshore for public use.

At the core of Ms Grant’s defence is her belief the barricades were owned by council and the protesters had therefore not stolen them but returned them to the local government body after the action.

Read local resident activist Sean O’Meara’s comment on the activities of NCHP

Plea rejected

A plea earlier this year for police to drop the charge, which came three months after the alleged offence, was rejected. Police had also questioned several other locals over the action.

In state parliament last week, MLC Jan Barham put almost 20 questions on notice to the ministers for environment and primary industries over the incident and management of the parks.

Ms Barham, a former Byron shire mayor, also asked questions about the relationship between the administrators of the parks, the North Coast Accommodation Trust (NCAT), and NCHP, including an inquiry on how much it spends for the benefit of the Brunswick Heads community.

She has previously asked the state government in parliament why the road was suddenly closed by park managers.

Last week she asked if the minister responsible for the parks, environment minister Robyn Parker, was ‘aware that the matter related to the removal of barricades that had been placed on a public road without the procedural public notification process?’

She also asked the extent of the costs of the case against Ms Grant and who would be paying for them.

One of the prosecution witnesses who was staying at the Ferry Reserve Caravan Park at the time of the barricade removal is believed to have been flown from Wollongong and accommodated locally to testify.

Others involved in giving evidence included NCAT administrator Jim Bolger, a NCHP manager and Council’s executive manager of community infrastructure, Phil Holloway.

The case did not get heard till late in the afternoon, and most witnesses had to wait around the court for the best part of the day.

Residents who supported the protest action attended the hearing in a show of solidarity with Ms Grant.

One told Echonetdaily outside the court that the charging of Ms Grant by authorities was aimed at trying to intimidate the vocal protest group by ‘chopping its head off’.

‘It’s a classic SLAPP move, one being used more and more by developers, corporations and governments in the US and Australia to silence those speaking out,’ the supporter said.

Another supporter said ‘It’s obvious someone is determined to stop any protests against the park managers, I mean who is actually stealing from whom? They’re stealing our public land’.

 

 


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4 COMMENTS

  1. The public road, known as Riverside Crescent was compulsorily acquired by the Crown effective 4 May 2012.
    It did not automatically become part of the caravan park whose boundaries are determined, not by North Coast Accommodation Trust or park managers, but by Byron Shire Council who has legal capacity to do so.

    For years Council has repeatedly refused to include the 20m road reserve in the caravan park. Instead, Council has supported community groups who have relentlessly lobbied for it to be part of the foreshore public open space and receational area to be shared by members of the public, inclusive of caravan park patrons and to provide access to the public boat ramp.
    The barricading of Crown Land and by default making this an internal road of the caravan park is in effect what park management has done. This action is in contradiction of Council’s 9 August 2012 licensing conditons. Worse, there was no adherence by park management to the legal formalties required to change the status of the former road reserve.

    Ownership of the barricades is definitely in question.
    Council’s Director has stated that they do not belong to Council. There are no markings on them to indicate they are Council property. Park management claims they belong to them and thus they were ‘stolen’. Problem with this claim is that there are no markings on them to indicate ownership. In the meantime, these barricades look suspiciously similar to the barricades used to stop vehicles travelling down the Old Pacific Highway to where the former bridge across the Brunswick River used to be.
    They didn’t have markings on them either? So, where are the barricades that were used to block the Old Pacific Highway and who owned them after the RTA passed all the land to Byron Shire Council, barricades inclusive?

  2. This is a case of infuriating misuse of public (council)utilities & services & abuse of law for corporate profit by prosecuting & punishing Ms. Grant for defending public rights!shame on council & prosecutors. deeply disgusting!

  3. @ “It’s a classic SLAPP move, one being used more and more by developers, corporations and governments…”

    Let’s not beat about the bush. Now we have only “Corporations” vs “the people”. The Government is a corporation as is the NSW Police Service and the NSW Judiciary. The people have little defence in this scenario until they understand “what” they are dealing with. The people would do well to employ OPPT methodology in dealing with members of said corporations.

    Expecting “Justice” from a commercial system is like expecting water to flow from a dry well. It’s never going to happen.

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