Anti-fracking activists versus Stirling Council

The 'offending' banner.

Perth activist Trish McAuliffe had a run-in with Stirling City Council in Perth's northern suburbs over a banner on her property advertising a public meeting about gas fracking.

McAuliffe is a member of grassroots campaign group No Fracking Way and put up a hand-painted banner on her property that said “Fracking = pollution”. The sign also gave details for a public meeting organised by the Clean Water Healthy Land Alliance featuring a speaker from the Lock the Gate Alliance.

McAuliffe was told by council staff to take it down or have it confiscated. A representative of Stirling City Council told Green Left Weekly they were responding to a complaint about the sign. “The City is required to follow up any complaints made by residents,” she said.

She told GLW the sign may fall under the category of “Community Service Signs” in which case it may not need a development approval. However, if development approval was required, a $139 fee would have to be paid and a turn around time – which could be as long as 20 days – could not be guaranteed.

The banner was put up eight days before the public meeting it was advertising. It is not clear that the banner would meet the definition of a Community Service Sign and the council could not point to another remedy in its bylaws.

McAuliffe said it was an example of “bureaucracy gone mad” and “an attack on freedom of speech”. She said she had heard three different stories from the ranger, a planning officer and the senior ranger with whom she has dealt.

McAuliffe has re-erected her banner because she believes that people have a right to know about the dangers of gas fracking.

This incident follows the free speech campaign waged last year in Perth against Perth City Council bylaws that make it an offence to hold a sign without approval of the council. The bylaws were not changed and one court case is outstanding, but activists have won the right in-practice to organise speak-out protests, hold signs and set up campaign stalls without interference from the council.

[The meeting about gas fracking will be on February 13, at 7pm in Lotteries House, City West.]

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