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Byron Shire
August 3, 2021

Ultra vires – beyond one’s power

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If I put a sign outside my property saying ‘upon entry your personal property may be confiscated’ most people would realise that this is illegal.

Purporting to override state law or exceeding one’s authority is at law called ‘ultra vires’, meaning beyond one’s power. A common example is the sign at you local shop that says ‘we reserve the right to inspect your bags’; no such general right exists – but you can’t blame them for trying.

Your beloved local Council continues to flout the right to free speech, which the High Court has found to be constitutionally binding within limits. So at the beginning of each Council meeting the Mayor recites a dirge about everyone being required to be nice to each other and not utter insults or show disrespect. Where this supposed power comes from is never indicated; there seems to be an assumption that because councillors are bound by a code of conduct, so are the members of the public who are present.

In other words, the Council meeting area is a bubble within which free speech does not exist. There is also the Code of Meeting Practice, which the Mayor treats as holy writ, even though some of its provisions are legally dodgy. The former Attorney-General, George Brandis, asserted that we have a right to offend other people, and I agree; sometimes it is actually a duty.

At the last meeting I put up questions clearly addressed to Cr Lyon in consideration of his previous suggestion that The Echo gives me a discount on my advertising. I asked whether Council gets a discount for the Mayor’s so-called ‘column’?

Councillor Ndiaye was in the chair and ‘disallowed’ the question on the grounds that it was insulting, consistent with similar, previous rulings, by Mayor Richardson.

The only party that might reasonably be offended is The Echo, so councillor Ndiaye now apparently purports to protect people who are not in the Council precinct at the time.

And then the real farce began. Though I had asked the question of Councillor Lyon, it turns out that the staff had already prepared a response. Evidently they did not believe the question to be out of order. They also evidently believed that Councillor Lyon isn’t capable of his own reply – or maybe he asked them to help him out (again).

So here’s the point: Councillor Ndiaye ruled that as the answer has already been written, it might as well be put in the minutes as usual. People could work out what the banned question was by reading the answer!

You couldn’t make it up. And these people are routinely making decisions that affect our lives.

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