a fly-on-the-wall account of your local council meetings
By Josie Vine, RMIT senior journalism lecturer
HOBSON’S BAY – MAY 9, 2023
The dunny debate has reached the west after Hobsons Bay Council voted to adopt the Public Toilet Strategy 2022 – 2033 on May 9.
The ‘Dunny Strategy’ relates to the 37 stand-alone cubicles in Hobsons Bay parks and activity centres. The Strategy itself is a complex document, full of local government lingo like “policy contexts”; “methodologies and processes”; “provision benchmarks”; “configuration, typology and design”, but after careful analysis, you get the sense the strategy is all about review. In other words, no decision on dunnies has yet been made.
But the main bone of contention is about gendered signage. According to the Strategy, “gendering” of public toilets “presents access challenges” to “some people”, including gender-diverse people and parents.
Although the recommendation is to review existing toilet facilities, “to ensure toilets are fit for purpose, safe and inclusive”, the gendered signage issue appeared to be too much for some people of Hobsons Bay.
Tickets to the May 9 meeting were limited. You had to register online to get into the public gallery. And it was a block-buster. Tickets sold out fast. It was like trying to get into an early 90s nightclub. About 50 people showed their IDs and had their names ticked off by security.
But Altona’s late Autumn chill didn’t deter those who missed out. At least 10 people – and their kids – braved the frost to protest out front of Council Chambers.
Inside was warmer – the central heating was pumping (the significance of which will be made later). Despite the fact tickets had sold out, there was a surprising number of empty seats dotted around the public gallery.
It all started very genteel: Acknowledgement of Country; Apologies; Confirmation of Minutes; Conflicts of Interest, etc. But it was when the meeting moved off-script that cracks began to appear.
Councillor Daria Kellander tabled a late off-agenda petition. Feedback on the Toilet Strategy she said had “highlighted” an “overwhelming disapproval” of Council’s apparent “intent” to remove gendered signage from public toilets in parks and recreation facilities.
“Council has prioritised installing unisex toilets over the past decade and obviously deemed further changes to signage to these unisex toilets a non-issue,” Cr Kellander said. “There is no mention in the final policy of a standard configuration to include male and female toilets and herein lies the problem.”
Cr Kellander said concerns over safety and cleanliness of ungendered public toilets came up “time and time again”.
“Toilet seats and floors are covered in urine, many cubicles don’t even have sanitary disposal boxes within them,” she said. “This is not an inclusive policy, neither is it …”
But before Cr Kellander could continue, Councillor Matt Tyler interjected with a ‘Point of Order’:
“This is not related to what’s included in the strategy,” Cr Tyler said. “So these comments are both improper and irrelevant, and that’s the basis of my Point of Order.”
Mayor Tony Briffa murmured “… improper and irrelevant …”, before she asked Cr Kellander to keep comments factual.
. “The Toilet Strategy is not about removing male toilets and female toilets, so stick to the facts please,” Cr Briffa said.
But the discussion on whether the petition’s concerns over co-shared spaces were relevant was brought to an abrupt halt. A voice sounding as if it were echoing down those pumping central heating ducts mentioned previously, stole the show:
“Youse are all criminals,” it said.
Mayor: “Where’s that coming from? Who is that? Can we please kill that?”
But the source of the voice proved elusive and persisted as Council hurried the vote along. Others in the gallery started shouting their two-bob’s worth.
In the end, the strategy was adopted six votes to Cr Kellander’s one.
To view the Hobsons Bay Public Toilet Strategy 2022 – 2033, please go to https://participate.hobsonsbay.vic.gov.au/toilets
MARIBYRNONG – May 16
In contrast to the April bru-ha-ha over McIvor Reserve, this month’s Maribyrnong City Council meeting saw the whole five-member public gallery applauding Council’ unanimous decision to declare a Western suburbs “health emergency”, by lobbying the state government to “enforce” heavy vehicle curfews on residential streets and monitor the health effects of residents of curfew exemptions.
According to Council documents, air and noise pollution had created a “major health crisis” after an increase in heavy trucks since the Department of Transport authorised road trains to use Footscray’s residential streets in 2021 to carry concrete casings for the West Gate Tunnel construction. The authorisation “undermined” the 2015 heavy truck curfew and was in “direct contrast” to a 2018 state government promise to use rail link to transport construction materials.
In tabling the motion, Councillor Bernadette Thomas said every time the state government authorised a curfew exemption, it allowed large trucks though residential streets, “when in fact what we need is to reduce those numbers”.
“Our request is quite simply to have the curfews enforced,” Cr Clarke said. “That’s what the remit of this particular motion is all about. We actually have the instruments of law, and the expectation is that the state government enforces the law.”
BRIMBANK – May 16
Because your correspondent cannot be in two places at the same time, we can only report on the Youtube recording of the May Brimbank Council meeting.
Watching the streamed service on a mobile device means it is a bit tricksy to report on the mood of public gallery, other than to note a tiny faraway voice interrupting Councillor Virginia Tachos as she addressed Council about the importance of lobbying the State Government’s Environment and Planning Committee Inquiry into last year’s Maribyrnong River flood.
“I think it is vital that strong advocacy is provided on behalf of our communities regarding mitigation of future floods, and it is vital that communities along the Maribyrnong who were impacted are heard, many are still recovering from the impacts of these floods,” she said.
As Council voted on the motion, there was some commotion coming from the public gallery off-screen before Mayor Bruce Lancashire reminded the room there was to be “no speaking from the gallery”. “Please!”
There are moves to do something about the unused land that used to be part of the Sunshine College. After several fires on the sites Council is keen to know what the State Government is planning to do with the land and voted unanimously to write to Education Minister Natalie Hutchins for an update.
Public Transport minister Ben Carroll will also be getting a letter from Brimbank Council, asking for a bus service in Sunshine North, particularly along Duke Street.
And finally, petitioners were quick to respond to Brimbank Council’s draft budget. The document was put out for public consultation last month and, by this month’s meeting, Council voted unanimously to refer a 443-signature petition calling for refurbishment funding for the Keilor Sports Club to the Chief Executive Officer.
We’ll be looking out for the CEO’s thoughts on the petition in the June meeting.
We welcome story ideas and feedback: email@example.com, with Attention Rates Roads and Rubbish in the subject line, or text 0411534285.