AN attempt by Fremantle council to gag debate on vaccine mandates was only partially successful on Wednesday.
Despite mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge earlier announcing the public gallery would be restricted to questions on agenda items, two prominent local anti-mandate campaigners made it through to criticise the council’s tactic.
Former councillor Steve Gorman and resident Dominique Mimnagh made cursory statements about agenda items before arguing the gag was undemocratic and counter to previous commitments to engage with the whole community.
Ms Fitzhardinge urged Ms Mimnagh to stick to the agenda as she told councillors the campaigners were being “bullied”, but both speakers were given the opportunity to complete their statements.
Ms Mimnagh said she had received legal advice that the council’s attempts to handball responsibility to the state government fell short under the state Emergency Management Act.
The Act, invoked in March 2020 as WA went into its first lockdown, details the functions of local emergency management committees set up under councils, including that it should “liaise with public authorities…in the review and testing of local emergency management arrangements”.
“This Act empowers you to talk on our behalf and we the people demand that you do that,” Ms Mimnagh told the Chamber.
“That’s nowhere near a democracy,” Ms Mimnagh later told some of the 100 or so supporters who gathered in Walyalup Koort.
“She is shutting us down because she doesn’t want to hear what we have to say – she doesn’t like it.”
Ms Fitzhardinge said the council was keen to get on with its core business and the protestors got plenty of time at the council’s December and January meetings.
“A valid request for a special electors’ meeting regarding vaccine mandates has been received from eligible residents and this is in the process of being scheduled, and will be advertised shortly,” the mayor said.
Councillor Marija Vujcic used the time set aside for elected member communication to also argue against mandates, invoking the memory of her parents who were “survivors of the Yugoslav communist gulags of the 1950s”.
“This was a society that ‘othered’ a section of their community with disastrous results; I cannot stand by and let my country follow the steps and mistakes of my ancestors.”
As question time finished and the crowd dispersed, many were buoyed by news that Tasmania’s government earlier that day announced
the imminent removal of most mandates, including allowing unvaccinated people to sit in cafes. Having passed what he hopes is their peak Omicron infection period, Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein said the state’s high vaccination rate and unexpectedly low hospitalisation rate had allowed him to ease their rules, including allowing non-vaccinated people to cross the border into the state.