Dramatic council meeting amends racist law

March 21, 2010

On March 16, Yarra City Council amended the racist Local Law 8, which bans drinking in public places. The law was originally passed on October 20 with the ALP, Greens and independent councillors voting for it. Socialist Party councillor Stephen Jolly was the only councillor to oppose the law.

When the law was passed, the councillors agreed to review the ban after three months of its implementation.

The review of the law presented on March 16 demonstrated that it has been a disaster for the group of Aboriginal people who used to regularly meet at Smith Street, known as the "parkies".

In just three months, the Smith Street parkies have been dispersed. Some are now drinking at home, leading to tenancy problems, some at the Collingwood and Fitzroy public housing estates, and some at the Lennox Street and the North Richmond estates where heroin is readily available.

A number of local Indigenous people have begun using the drug since Local Law 8 was passed and some have become homeless.

Local social workers and lawyers have had difficulty finding their Indigenous clients since the law was introduced, leading to many missed health and legal appointments.

The report also indicated that violence has increased since the law was passed, mainly because "those who have taken to laneways or other hidden places in smaller numbers or on their own have increased their risk of being assaulted because they are 'out-of-sight'".

This evidence convinced the Greens councillors to amend the law at the March 16 council meeting. The three Greens councillors and Stephen Jolly voted, with three councillors against, to amend Local Law 8 so that the ban on public drinking only applies at night, allowing the parkies to begin meeting on Smith Street again.

Jolly told the meeting that while he would vote for the Greens motion, he was opposed to the whole law because "alcoholism should be treated as a health and safety issue rather than a crime".

The ALP and independent councillors were upset because two councillors who supported the ban were absent. One of these councillors has already moved a motion to reinstate the original law at the next council meeting on April 20.

The public gallery was packed with local Aboriginal people and their supporters, several of whom spoke during the public question time.

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