FREMANTLE council’s first meeting in its new Chamber got off to a shaky start on Wednesday when a large crowd opposed to WA’s looming vaccination mandates exposed a serious security flaw in the design.
As mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge officially opened the meeting and Whadjuk elder Marie Taylor performed a Welcome to Country, some of the 140-strong crowd trying to squeeze into the public gallery opened the glass doors between the chamber and the foyer, leaving councillors with protestors looking over their shoulder during question time.
While the crowd was boisterious but peaceful and two police officers in the Koort below had little to do but help an elderly gent who tripped on a covered cable and smashed his glasses, the council’s media team admitted the arrangements need a rethink; of particular concern was people being able to see sensitive information on the councillors’ laptops.
“The seating arrangements in the chamber are flexible and the city will explore different furniture layouts to mitigate situations where the public can look over the shoulders of elected members, but it is rare to have that many people in attendance at a council meeting,” council’s media officer Tim Whyte told the Herald.
“The city will investigate ways to ensure the doors behind the elected members can be secured so that members of the public cannot open them from outside.”
Another downside of the glass windows is that members of the public will now be forced to wait outside the building when the council deliberates on confidential items, no matter what the weather is doing.
Meanwhile the first question time in the chamber took more than an hour as former councillors, residents and business owners pressed the council to declare Fremantle a “pro-choice” city and lobby the McGowan government to rethink the tier 2 mandates which kick in December 31.
Former councillor Simon Nabor, who owns the popular Moore n Moore cafe in the West End and was representing a recently-formed alliance of 45 businesses worried about attracting staff and customers once the mandates kick in, presented a 130-strong petition calling on the council to lobby on their behalf; he said they collected them in a single day.
“I know three businesses in Fremantle that will not be trading because of those mandates,” Mr Nabor said, adding they didn’t want to be identified.
“It’s very hard to find staff, and there are already businesses that are not trading on certain days because they can’t get anyone.”
Business owner and landlord Steve Gorman, who also sat on the council around a decade ago, recalled the city had previously delved into issues not considered its jurisdiction.
“Will the city of Fremantle show leadership, as it showed over Australia Day, and make Fremantle a non-mandate zone and let the rest of Australia know its position,” Mr Gorman said.
Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge, who several time had to ask the crowd to ease up on the clapping and cheering in order to get to business on the agenda, said it would be pointless.
“It’s a state government mandate, it’s not a local government mandate; it will not make a difference in a local government area,” she said as some in the crowd booed.
Ms Fitzhardinge said the only way to get the issue onto the council agenda was through the petition or if a councillor initiated an item, an offer taken up by south warder Marija Vujcic who said she could have something ready for January.
Resident Dominique Mimnagh earned applause by cleverly tweaking the council’s own words to support her argument.
“We all want to live in a city that thrives on diversity and of course, dares to be different,” she said.
“You will probably recognise those words from your Strategic Community Plan.
“I moved to Fremantle because it endorses and celebrates diversity.
“I’m here today to represent the Fremantle citizens who love this city for what it is but whose voices are not being heard.
“They are increasingly becoming marginalised and discriminated against because they choose not to have a vaccine.
“We don’t want to stop visiting coffee shops and I don’t want Serge our barrister to lose his job, like many others are facing if they don’t comply with the mandates.
“I do not want my 13-year-old daughter and many other daughters to be excluded from netball, a sport which they love and enjoy so much and have been playing for years.”
by STEVE GRANT