Sun sets on support claims

MARYROSE BAKER is the convenor of the Fremantle Inner City Residents Association. She says Fremantle council has misrepresented the levels of public support and opposition for plans for a tavern at J-Shed, and argues opposition is massive and widespread throughout the port city.

IN recent weeks the mayor, most councillors, senior council officers and the Sunset Events company have constantly asserted in public statements, briefing documents and social media there is majority public support in Fremantle for the development of a large tavern and music venue on the A-class reserve at Arthur Head.

Such assertions are a grossly misleading assessment of the so-called responses in the “community consultation process”. Any fair examination of the formally submitted responses and public meetings readily reveals there was no such degree of support, neither quantitatively nor qualitatively, but rather massive opposition.

Responses in support are predominantly from outside Fremantle and lack substance.

Close examination reveals that of the 268 responses suggested to be in support of the development, 234 consist of mainly one-line responses (some go up to four) by a single individual.

Facebook

These were almost entirely generated on specific days as a direct result of Sunset Events advertising on the company website and Facebook page in support of its proposal.

Sunset Events instigated its advertising campaign to generate supportive comments on its corporate website on January 12 under the heading “NEW Sunset Events VENUE! HELP US PLEASE!” and directed readers by link to the comment form on the City of Fremantle website.

The vast majority of these “supporting” responses show little consideration of the issues and were from outside Fremantle and East Fremantle (at least 74 per cent from outside) and clearly lack an appreciation of the area in question.

Responses against came from the Fremantle area, were carefully considered and were supported by greater numbers.

Responses against the proposal, which the city listed and treated as an individual or single response included:

• a petition of 200 signatures opposing the proposal collected by the Fremantle Inner City Residents Association (FICRA). This petition was not originally acknowledged by the senior council officer in the official report on the community consultation for this development and was only incorporated into a second draft at FICRA’s insistence;

• a 10-page submission from the Fremantle Residents and Ratepayers Association, representing ratepayers and residents from across the city opposed to the proposal;

• a 4-page submission from the Fremantle Society, representing members from across the city and beyond, opposed to the proposal;

• a 7-page submission from FICRA, representing residents in the inner city, opposed to the proposal. Some 800 inner-city residents and a very well attended FICRA meeting held on January 15 considered and authorised the submission.

• an elaborate one-page submission from the Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides Association, representing some 30 to 40 volunteer guides who operate at the Round House, opposed the development.

According to the council’s corporate services director, those five considered and detailed submissions, from organisations with a combined membership of more than one thousand people, were counted as just five votes and given no more weight than one-line submissions from Sunset Events’ Facebook friends.

In addition to this, it was later discovered several letters opposing the proposal, including one from the Royal Western Australian Historical Society (Inc), had not been counted at all because they had been mislaid by the council. They were only found at all when it was pointed out they had not been included in the published lists of submissions.

Any fair tabulation of the responses opposing the Sunset Events proposal, as represented by the submissions listed above, clearly demonstrate there was (and is) much greater opposition to the proposal than there was support.  The treatment of the submissions against the proposal has been grossly misleading.

Moreover, almost all the individual responses tabled against the proposal and in addition to those listed above, were lengthy and gave detailed consideration to the issues. Just about all responses in support of the proposal gave no detailed consideration to the proposal whatever, the vast majority being merely one- or two-line responses directed from the Sunset Events website.

The level of opposition to the proposal in Fremantle was made most evident at the special electors’ meeting on Monday, February 24 in the Fremantle Town Hall with 200 people attending.

Electors

FICRA called this meeting by tabling a request, as directed under the Local Government Act, with 100 signatures to council. The meeting was widely advertised and open to the public, though only Fremantle electors could vote.

A motion was passed by 176 in favour and seven against calling upon the council to reject the Sunset proposal. On a question from the floor, as to where people were from, approximately one half were from the inner-city and the other half from the broader Fremantle council area.

The meeting again clearly demonstrated the massive opposition to the proposal from throughout Fremantle already evident in any fair assessment of the submissions.

The council and its officers involved in the promotion of the proposed large tavern at J-Shed have adopted a grossly misleading assessment of public attitudes in Fremantle to this development at Arthur Head. It raises real issues as to due process, representation of the electorate, and the farce of community consultation.

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