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Byron Shire
April 18, 2021

Free speech before free rocks

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I note your report that Byron Residents Group have received a letter from an international law firm King and Wood Mallesons informing them to silence their views on the rock wall construction at Belongil Beach.

The firm is acting for a number of unnamed residents along the Belongil Beach. It would appear that the recent pamphlet published by this group, which was highly informative, be removed from the group’s website. Added to which failure to remove same could result in legal action.

Whilst this method of stifling free speech comes from the genesis of S.L.A.P.P. suits, aimed at environmentalists 30 years ago, the current attack on free speech poses deeper questions for all ratepayers in the shire.

I have repeatedly asked the following questions –

  1. Some of the houses built along the eroding Belongil dune appear to have extended beyond the coastal development limit. Therefore, it is fair and reasonable to ask whether these houses received a final inspection by council once the DAs had been approved. Can a council member please respond to this question?
  2. It is noted that the Section 149 certificate issued to all developers included a duty of care warning: ‘Buyer Beware’. Even the NSW state government of the time withdrew from responsibility, placing same on council.

Now we note in this confusing situation that all duty of care resides with the ratepayers despite the above unaccountable situation. The only legal warning resides in the Section 149 certificate. The duty of care formerly rested with the owner/developers! At no time in this history were ratepayers warned that duty of care and all consequent responsibility would shift to them. Currently ratepayers are highly offended but may become, in this current situation, legal targets for asking for transparent accountability.

Of course, all of this scenario strikes at the heart of democracy and it would be very wise for ratepayers to consider their legal implication in this current strategy.

It is not illegal to withdraw from paying rates. The above process reveals systemic discrimination against free speech and the current role of ratepayers. It is possible that rates/fiscally could be given to a very smart legal mind to challenge these international legal threats that appear to be representing a very silent minority who are cashed up!

Free speech must remain a right in a democracy.

Jo Faith, Newtown


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