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May 15, 2021

Former MLC critical of councillors in NYE aftermath

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Former NSW Greens MLC and activist Ian Cohen. Photo Tree Faerie.

Former Greens MLC Ian Cohen has lashed out at councillors for their lack of preparation for NYE, and says ‘Given a seeming ignorance of the potential impact of COVID-19 in Byron, and the rest of Australia taking strict precautions, it may be timely to look back in local history’.

Mr Cohen told The Echo that riots on New Year’s Eve in 1993 led to a public meeting ‘which filled the Byron High stadium to capacity’.

‘Locals wanted their town back’, he said, adding that celebrations had gotten out of control, ‘leaving the town trashed’.

‘Far from sensible tourism, it was an invasion’.

‘The first Byron public meeting wanted a community based strategy.

‘At that stage, they knew what they didn’t want: drunkards parked outside their premises, literally shit and toilet paper in their front yards, taps used and left on, Utes full of eskies.

‘Sound familiar?’

‘Questions asked, opinions given, pleas were made.

‘A number of citizens from the community, including business, youth, local representatives, police and myself, were elected in a public vote.

Byron’s Main Beach, at around 9pm on NYE. Photo Jeff Dawson

Peaceful strategy

‘The Byron Community Safety Committee was thus formed. We were charged with delivering a peaceful strategy that reflected community resilience, a reclaiming of our town and a pride of place for the following NYE.

‘As the months rolled by, opposing views melted into deliberations of other perspectives, tied together with a thin thread of community cohesion.

‘[Despite] Varied backgrounds, we emerged with a strategy: lock down, entertain and feed’.

After working together for a year, Mr Cohen says ‘It was a sublime success. Locals were out in force’.

‘Most noticeable was Bert Batson’s bulldozer low loader, which was parked and wired up outside the Post Office on Jonson Street.

‘Bert was a member of the Safety Committee.

‘The Batsons, as quarry operators, and myself as a local Greenie, have had our historical issues.

‘He and I were an impending nightmare for Rory O’Halloran, the Committee chair.

‘However, on the night, Bert Batson was resplendent in hippie/worker overalls, and a worker’s cap with a realistic pony tail hanging out of the back of his hat. ‘Old enmities aside, we had worked together for a year’.

He says, ‘The Committee continued for seven years, spearheaded by Rory and Annie O’Halloran, which kept us celebrating safely.

‘Roll forward to NYE 2021.

‘Councillors pontificate on the Council propaganda sheet, saying very little, except staff have it all under control.

‘[There was] No oversight by elected members, and Byron’s NYE was led by staff, who do not live in the area’.

‘Not mentioned in the info sheet were the several weeks of sewage samples frozen and not refrigerated rendering them useless…

‘They set up minimum infrastructure and called in the riot police.

‘First Light was cancelled while the previous night, and well into the morning, social distancing of the party crowds displayed unabated.

‘The next few weeks will uncover if we have a local COVID super spreader’.

Acting mayor yet to comment

Acting Mayor, Michael Lyon, did not reply by deadline to Mr Cohen’s claims.

The Echo asked Cr Lyon, ‘What oversight was there by councillors (not staff) in the NYE lead up?’, and ‘How could it have been handled differently?’


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  1. Byron Shire Council has seemingly lost control of the respect of Byron Shire.
    There is frustration and angst in the town and it is not a pretty sight.
    There was disruption and disturbances on the streets on New Years Eve.
    Former MLC Ian Cohan has lashed out at Byron Shire Council and shown leadership that was born from his membership of the original 1993 Byron Community Safety Committee.
    Ian, it might be an idea to put the band back together.


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