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Byron Shire
May 7, 2021

Free speech or wanton council bashing? Byron’s new meeting rule ruffles feathers

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Having the opportunity to speak during the public access period of Byron Council meetings is viewed as a God-given right by many locals.

So when that right is eroded, even in a small way, there’s a good chance the fur and feathers will fly.

This was certainly the case at yesterday’s full Council meeting, when Council decided to enact a little-known clause that meant a person could only speak once.

In the past a person could express their views on one agenda item and then speak on another item on behalf of a community organisation (such as a local residents’ group they are a member of).

But under the new rule each individual can only speak once, regardless of how many hats they’re wearing.

Thursday’s meeting heard that the rule had actually been in place for the past two years, but that Council had effectively ignored it until recently when one or two community members allegedly began using it as an opportunity to repeatedly slag off councillors or the institution as a whole.

Former Byron Mayor and NSW Upper House member Jan Barham was less than impressed by the move, and she let councillors know about it.

Ms Barham said the change had been made quietly behind closed doors without any public consultation, or any notification to the community.

‘I feel I have been limited and gagged on this and other issues,’ she said.

‘You should be disgusted in yourselves.’

The matter ended with Ms Barham attempting to shout over the top of Mayor Simon Richardson as he repeatedly asked her to sit down.

‘I’m going ask you to stop speaking or I’m going to have to adjourn the meeting,’ Cr Richardson said.

‘Oh, it’s all about you Simon,’ Ms Barham replied.

She then stuck a piece of black duct tape over her mouth to symbolise being gagged by Council.

But the so-called ‘gag rule’ may not be around for much longer.

Greens Councillor Michael Lyon said he supported a return to the old situation and believed there was majority support amongst councillors for this to happen.

‘It looks like there’s a majority of councillors who are willing to go back to the way it was,’ he said after the meeting.

‘I see why people wouldn’t want it that way because it’s open to abuse from the people who just engage in Council bashing. 

‘But I believe that you make rules for a just outcome, and I think it’s fair to allow a person to represent themselves as well as an organisation during public access.’


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5 COMMENTS

  1. A Council in Byron ion 2019 can’t accept criticism, but calls criticism something else. When a Council moves away from its core values of keeping the shire valuable when those values were valuable in seeking a seat on the council then criticism from the public can be something a public would surely consider going to in a free and democartic country.

  2. I am appalled to hear this Gagging rule. The council have lost the plot! Surely efficient management of a meeting can be achieved without such a heavy authoritarian hand!
    We have the right to be heard. If council don’t want to hear should they be representing us? Who at the council thought this would be a good idea? Aren’t they supposed to listen to all concerns & represent the community?
    I am really shocked, disappointed but mostly alarmed.

    • It has been returned to the way it was. However, we will need to somehow address the insults and swearing that have become rather commonplace during public access. Fa$t Bucks does little more than this during his frequent and unhelpful visits to the podium.

  3. Consultation with residents is vitally important in the working of all Councils. Local government prides itself on being the tier of government closest to the people. Here on the North Coast, there is very limited community consultation anyway compared to many Sydney councils, in my experience as a former Councillor. Byron Council should look at widening community consultation, not narrowing it.

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