Bronte Beach. Pic: Maurice van Creij

News & Commentary

Tug-o-war in Sydney’s east

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As the Waverley community in Sydney requests a more mature approach to the council’s zero-tolerance alcohol bans in its parks, a proposed trial is ruffling some obstinate feathers, argues Keep Sydney Open’s JOSEPH O’DONOGHUE.

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Battle lines have been drawn at Waverley Council. As one side refuses to budge from the status quo, the other side is asking to trial something new. Yet despite all of the argument, its sadly the local area way of life that is the real thing at risk of being brushed aside.

Last December, I joined some friends for a picnic in Bronte Park. A few metres away sat a husband and wife, relaxing and watching their baby on a rug. Basking in the sun, the man sat in his camping chair and sipped on a wine.

Suddenly though, out of nowhere, a ranger approached the man to remind him about the alcohol ban in the park. He insisted that the wine be poured out immediately onto the grass.

Visibly furious, the man with the wine objected, as other picnickers watched on with dismay. And despite the man’s loud protests, and his justified questions as to why, the wine was eventually tipped out. It was one o’clock in the afternoon. 

When did the rules that run this city become so ridiculous?

Sydney’s summer lifestyle is largely an outdoors one and enjoying our local parks is a big part of the Waverley village’s way of life. We elect councillors who we trust to understand and protect our village values, rather than hinder them.

Keep Sydney Open ran candidates in the Coogee and Vaucluse electorates (which both crisscross Waverley) at the state election in March. During our campaign, we had countless comments from angry locals fed-up with the Nanny State and the over-the-top alcohol bans in the parks.

The Greens and Labor councillors in Waverley are waking up to this sentiment. Together, they have passed a majority-backed motion to support a small-scale trial that allows locals to have a drink in Bondi Park and Bronte Park. We have spoken twice at council to support this motion as it’s a good first step away from the immature total ban.

But Liberal councillors are blocking the motion by scaremongering the community and forcing a contentious gridlock. One Liberal councillor even stated his disgust at the motion being brought before council in the first place.

When did the rules that run this city become so ridiculous?

The Police are also lobbying council to block the trial. They’re warning that all hell will probably break loose, without producing one ounce of evidence to back the claim up.

It’s very important that police advise councils. However, it is not within their remit to influence policy and this is a fine line that can easily be crossed. Their duty is ultimately to support decisions made by a democratically-elected local government – not to block this decision-making process. Unfortunately, there is a serious risk of this happening at Waverley.

Ironically, we actually already know this trial has a good chance of being a good thing for the community. In 2014, Manly council, police and locals all agreed to support a similar trial at Little Manly beach.  

Embraced by the locals, this successful trial has meant genuine picnickers can now have a social tipple with friends at sunset – all without feeling like they’re breaking rules.

Regulations based on fear of the one per cent – that sideline the vast 99 per cent – are not only broken, they are also lazy. We expect far more leadership from our elected councillors than this. If we want to be a global city once again, we need to start acting like one.

A small-scale trial is a mature step in the right direction. Bolstered by volunteers to educate and additional bins, it is possible to explore more balanced and sensible alternatives.

The only thing blocking Waverley locals being treated like adults once again is fear. But that is what trials are for – to see how things go, to observe how they play out. Surely, we’re grown up enough for that?

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