A group of theoretically temporary alcohol-free zones in Lennox Head, Alstonville, Ballina and Wardell have been extended until 2025, despite rumblings of discontent from some Ballina councillors.
Cr Jeff Johnson said Ballina Shire risked turning into a nanny state, with signs and restrictions multiplying unnecessarily. He also pointed out that many people (most drinking responsibly), were ignoring them in any case, particularly around Lake Ainsworth.
Cr Kiri Dicker said she would support the motion, with some trepidation, and the hope that the issue could be revisited in future, agreeing with Cr Johnson that the zones were intended as a short term measure and directing fellow councillors to the guidelines.
She said there was no data to suggest the zones were effective at reducing alcohol-related crime, and was concerned at the lack of feedback from the indigenous community, considering that it was known these sorts of laws disproportionately affected Aboriginal people.
Cr Rod Bruem said he shared Cr Dicker’s concerns, having lived in Western NSW when similar zones were first introduced. ‘There must be better ways forward,’ he said.
‘Imagine how it looks to tourists coming here? Our tourism industry is so important, but people come from overseas and see these signs. And how often have I seen people actually sitting under the sign drinking anyway? It’s all a bit crazy.’
Cr Eoin Johnston asked, ‘If the signs are not there, what do we do instead?’ He said that it would be open slather without any regulation, referencing the alcohol-fuelled riot that took place at Lake Ainsworth a few years ago, and the more recent need for council to get a special vacuum cleaner that could deal with masses of broken glass around the lake.
Councillors discussed the fact that public drinking and disorder seemed to be a uniquely Australian problem.
Cr Steve McCarthy wondered if some kind of digital warnings could replace the signs, which most councillors agreed were multiplying alarmingly in many public areas. General Manager Paul Hickey mentioned yellow no parking lines (painted on the road), as a successful example of council removing excessive signage.
Cr Meehan described the alcohol-free zones as a ‘tool that the police have in their pocket’ when needed, not something they use every day, but said he agreed with the wider issue about sign pollution, especially around Lennox Head but also across the whole shire.
‘We need to address it,’ he said.
The motion to extend the existing alcohol-free zones until 2025 was ultimately passed with only Cr Jeff Johnson voting against.
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