A FREMANTLE council committee has quashed an independent investigation into the homeless Tent City at Pioneer Park.
On Wednesday evening the council’s Finance, Policy, Operations and Legislation Committee voted 7-1 against a probe into the city’s involvement in the camp, instead providing some guidance for an internal CEO’s report.
The investigation was called for by South Ward councillor Marija Vujcic, who described the homeless camp’s appearance after a Boxing Day soup kitchen as a “catastrophic failure of governance”.
Cr Vujcic said premier Mark McGowan’s criticism of the council’s performance and for the state government “to step in to protect the public” was a poor outcome.
“Blaming the state government for a lack of social housing in this instance is not helpful nor a mature approach to continuous improvement,” she said, adding her motion wasn’t aimed at punishing those responsible “in the first instance”.
But there was no support amongst her colleagues, who said she’d prejudiced the outcome by declaring the city’s response a “systematic failure” before the facts were known.
“It’s asking us to go to a level of investigation as if we already know that there something to see here,” acting mayor Andrew Sullivan said, likening it to “trial by Facebook”.
Cr Sullivan has previously declared an impartiality interest over Tent City as he’d rented out office space to one of the organisers, but that agreement ended shortly after the camp was dismantled.
At the meeting he questioned whether the alleged sexual assault of two teens on New Years Eve, which provided Mr McGowan with the ammunition to call for the camp’s dismantling, were actually linked.
“It was reported, and it pulls on the heartstrings, and that is the alleged rape of two minors who are in state care and the information that someone in the camp was responsible,” Cr Sullivan said.
“There is no evidence I have seen that one of the alleged perpetrators was living there.
“Even if the alleged crime occurred on New Year’s Eve, there was no evidence the police searched Tent City in response.”
That prompted a gaffe from Cr Vujcic, who claimed the charging of two men over the attack by police was evidence of their guilt (to be clear, it is not).
“There was police evidence that the culprits were in Tent City,” she said.
Cr Vujcic said the presence of the camp would have been a magnet to other “low-lifes” trying to exploit the homeless people suffering addictions.
Cr Sam Wainwright revealed he’d been involved in a charitable organisation which has offices near to East Perth’s version of Tent City and said in comparison Fremantle’s was well-managed and tame.
“For two years the consequence of having a homeless camp on your doorstop was five times what happened at the Pioneer Park camp,” he said.
“Every morning we would have to clear a full garbage bag of rubbish,” he said, adding there were around 40 people sleeping on the complex’s verandah while others found nooks and crannies nearby.
“It was rough concrete, police were being called in all the time, people were literally rolling around in the carpark, we had to lock the front door.”
Cr Wainwright said his organisation was tolerant of the campers, but other nearby businesses were ropable.
He queried whether there were any studies backing claims that homeless people congregating led to increased crime, and said he had sympathy towards the organisers’ and campers’ motives, saying the only way they got outcomes was to force the issue onto the front pages.