Ballina Shire’s balloon ban is to stay in place after a failed attempt by at least one conservative councillor to weaken rules aimed at protecting wildlife and reducing litter.
Independent Councillor Rodney Bruem moved earlier this month for amendments to the council’s balloon policy, despite the council having voted unanimously in support of it last year.
Cr Bruem said he’d since found out the ban on balloons at official events on public land would mean two of the acts at the children’s charity fundraiser event Our Kids Day Out couldn’t proceed.
‘For human enjoyment, there is always often an environmental cost,’ Cr Bruem told the meeting, ‘and that is the case with balloons’.
‘Adults can go and buy a takeaway coffee with a plastic top on it which contains way more plastic in each top than a balloon would,’ Cr Bruem said.
‘This amendment is aimed at supporting this very important local charity and making sure that they can continue to celebrate and have fun with these kids who’ve been through very serious illness,’ he said.
Charity event ignored balloon ban, ‘confusion’ over rules cited
Ballina Council’s ordinary November meeting heard confusion over the new rules, introduced into staff policies and guidelines at the start of the year, meant event organisers had effectively ignored the balloon ban at this year’s event, potentially threatening wildlife in Ballina’s nearby waterways.
Greens Cr Kiri Dicker shared the inspiration for last year’s balloon ban motion, revealing the very event to inspire Br Bruem’s motion was what had sparked her concern.
Cr Dicker said she and her daughter were regular attendees at the fundraiser and always enjoyed the events but one year she was shocked to see a large stall teeming with plastic balloons which were being distributed to children galore.
The display of colourful single-use plastic was in addition to entertainers crafting temporary sculptures from balloons, with the artworks also given to children.
The dismayed local, not yet a councillor at the time, noticed some of the balloon litter was almost immediately drifting into the Richmond River on that windy day, prompting her to text Cr Sharon Cadwallader with her concerns.
Cr Cadwallader, she noted, had also expressed concern about balloon litter impacts on wildlife in a previous meeting when Cr David Wright was still mayor.
Ballina Mayor accused of political play
A year or two later, Ms Dicker would herself win election to the council where she made action on balloons her first move, winning rare unanimous support.
But by November 2023, any honeymoon period between Balllina Shire progressive and conservative councillors seemed to be over.
Debate over Cr Bruem’s balloon policy amendment was yet to start when Cr Dicker queried who was really behind the move.
‘You let us know you’re going to bring it to this meeting,’ Cr Dicker said, addressing the chair, Mayor Cadwallader, with reference to October’s meeting.
‘Now Cr Bruem’s bringing it to this meeting,’ Cr Dicker said, ‘is this just one of those things that you guys don’t talk about?’
Both Crs Bruem and Cadwallader are past members of The Nationals and ran on the same election campaign ticket in 2021 but consistently deny accusations by other councillors of political manoeuvring, such as 2023’s controversy over changes to ward boundaries.
‘I’m a bit confused why two years later this is coming back to council in this sort of surreptitious way really with no clear reason,’ Cr Dicker said at November’s meeting, ‘it feels to me a little bit like a bit of a power play to teach me a lesson for being too effective’.
The mayor, who had seconded Cr Bruem’s motion when no one else volunteered, said it wasn’t appropriate for her to bring the amendment to the council in her position as chair at October’s meeting and took offence at Cr Dicker’s suggestion, asking her to officially withdraw the comment.
Dissent over mayor’s ruling supported
Debate then drifted from balloons to democracy in play when Cr Dicker refused to withdraw and moved a motion of dissent, seconded by Cr Phillip Meehan.
Speaking to Bay FM’s Community Newsroom later, Cr Dicker explained a motion of dissent as happening when a councillor disagreed with a chair’s ruling on code of conduct during a meeting.
Motions of dissent have featured before in Ballina Shire Council meetings but it is rare for them to pass.
Cr Dicker won majority support 5-4 from her fellow councillors for her dissent motion although it’s worth noting Cr Nigel Buchanan, who also ran on Cr Cadwallader’s election ticket, had already left the meeting and therefore didn’t vote.
‘The code of meeting practice really seeks to rule out insults and people who are casting aspersions or saying things of a personal nature or who are disorderly,’ Cr Dicker said later.
‘I think it becomes a problem when in the course of debate we try and silence debate through rules,’ she said.
Bruem left to defend weakened balloon ban alone
By the time councillors were ready to vote on Cr Bruem’s motion of amendment to the balloon policy, the mayor had also left to catch a plane, leaving Cr Bruem without support.
The independent councillor was the only one to vote for his motion, with all other present councillors voting against.
Ballina’s ban on the release of helium balloons shire-wide and of all balloons at official events on public land is still in effect, with similar bans gradually appearing in other jurisdictions such as the Tweed Shire.
Balloons at private events are still allowed and Cr Dicker says she hopes the Our Kids Day Out organisers will be able to feature some more environmentally friendly children’s entertainment for their next event.
‘I have seen some odd motions since being elected to council,’ the Greens councillor said after the meeting, ‘but this one was probably the most peculiar of all, the balloon ban’.
*Mia Armitage is also Bay FM’s Community Newsroom executive producer