Greens Member for Ballina Tamara Smith has joined calls for improved workplace safety in government after accusations against a Byron Shire resident of intimidating the deputy mayor went public.
Byron Shire Councillors last week voted to have the general manager investigate options for banning John Anderson, also known as Fast Bucks, from council chambers and administrative buildings.
Newly-appointed interim Mayor Michael Lyon put forward the motion after councillors adjourned their meeting early last week when Mr Anderson refused to leave.
Police had been called to the council chambers to have Mr Anderson removed at a meeting in late April when he repeatedly refused to pronounce Councillor Sarah Ndiaye’s name the way she does.
Witnesses to that incident have described feeling shocked at Mr Anderson’s behaviour and how members of the public left the chambers in protest.
Last week Mr Anderson was at another council meeting to speak on an agenda item and to distribute information to councillors on another, he told The Echo.
But witnesses to that incident have again described alarm when they saw Mr Anderson leave the public gallery to approach the councillors from behind their chairs.
Greens mayoral candidate Duncan Dey later told The Echo the chambers used to feature a wooden rail dividing councillors and staff from the public gallery and providing a clear line of sight of anyone approaching the council floor.
Cr Ndiaye said when she looked up and saw Mr Anderson in her personal space she was petrified, having only ever received hostility from him.
The deputy mayor has spoken out in favour of increased workplace protection for anyone serving in government, saying elected representatives are currently in ‘a grey zone’ where participatory democracy trumps worker safety.
Cr Ndiaye says the council’s legal team contacted the NSW Office of Local Government for advice on whether or not Mr Anderson could be ejected from the meeting and was told he could be prevented from taking to the lectern and reading his statements aloud.
Is your skin thick enough to protect you from abuse?
The deputy mayor says she has ‘a thick skin’ and is prepared to undertake the massive workload that comes with serving on the council but expects to feel safe in her workplace.
Her fellow party member in state parliament, Tamara Smith, agrees.
‘I just think it’s outrageous that any woman or person would go to work and experience the kind of abuse that Sarah received at the council meeting that I heard through the audio recording,’ Ms Smith told The Echo on Tuesday.
‘It’s not an excuse to say ‘you signed up for a robust environment’’, Ms Smith said, ‘no one signed up to be ridiculed over the pronunciation of their name and to be publicly intimidated in that work’.
‘There has to be a hard line against violent and intimidatory behaviour against women who represent their community in the political arena,’ Ms Smith said.
‘Kinda like democracy is pitted against womens’ rights’, says Greens MP
The Greens MP said greater workplace safety in government was necessary.
‘If I have an accident in parliament and break my leg, there’s no workplace safety, we’re not protected, we’re like sole traders, it’s really weird,’ Ms Smith said.
‘I had a situation in my first year where a man refused to let me leave the interview room in my office.
‘He was banned for twelve months but now he’s allowed back in.
‘It’s kind of like democracy is pitted against the rights of women to be safe in their workplaces.’
Ms Smith then referred to the tragic example of UK political representative Jo Cox, killed in 2016 by a Brexit fanatic.
‘I know most of my female colleagues have situations they feel very nervous in, I’m sure some male politicians also feel very nervous and we’re not really protected and I think that has to change,’ Ms Smith said.