Armed with balloons and a stuffed pooch, Inverloch residents Margaret and Phil Sartorio hoped the restrictions for dogs on beaches would be lifted before the close of last week’s council meeting. Instead, they left frustrated and disappointed. G020814
By Gav Ross
FRUSTRATED dog owners walked out of the council chamber in disgust following last week’s monthly shire meeting after Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Neil Rankine, made it clear from the outset that the controversial daytime restrictions for dogs on beaches would not be put on hold or revoked.
Instead, Cr Rankine read out a prepared statement at the beginning of the meeting, admitting, for the first time, that the council’s community consultation surrounding the time restrictions had not been up to scratch.
“The issue of dogs on beaches is a highly emotive one – where people are passionate about their views, but there is little consensus as to what is the way to balance these different, and often conflicting, opinions,” Cr Rankine told a packed gallery.
“It is clear to us now, that our community consultation and engagement during the development of the time restrictions has not been as inclusive as it could have been.
“You have told us this loud and clear and we are listening.”
Cr Rankine said the council will develop an “inclusive engagement plan”, one which will include the reconvening of the Domestic Animal Management Advisory Committee (DAMAC) with new terms of reference.
“These considerations may include, but are not limited to, off-leash/on-leash areas, times and length of restrictions, place-based versus shire-wide solutions,” he said.
“We are keen to listen to community views of how we can achieve a balance of access to our beaches.”
Cr Rankine confirmed no person has been fined for taking their dog on any council-managed beach and that “most people have responded responsibly” to the restrictions.
“We hope that this will continue to be the case, so that council’s rangers and local law officers can continue to focus on providing education and information,” he said.
“Regrettably, some of the correspondence and emails that we have received has been negative and personal against council and individual councillors.
“This is not helpful.
“I call on you to work with us to find constructive solutions to achieve a balance that acknowledges the various needs and views.”
At the conclusion of his statement, Cr Rankine announced that no motion regarding the restrictions would be moved at the meeting once community question time had finished and two ban-related petitions from Inverloch, containing a total of 1449 signatures, had been tabled.
This caused most of the two dozen or so residents in attendance who oppose the ban – most of whom originated from Inverloch and Coronet Bay – to leave the meeting after the petitions had been dealt with, but a few held on to hope.
Coronet Bay residents Joy Button and Karen Sandon left the council chamber and then returned towards the end of the meeting, hoping that Cr Clare Le Serve might bring up the issue again during Urgent Business near the end of proceedings.
The pair left disappointed a second time.
No resolution, no apology
Ms Sandon said the Mayor’s opening statement “fell short of acknowledging the facts”.
“The facts are that a planning document that recommended off-leash areas on Inverloch beach was used as a smoke screen to introduce a blanket law restricting dogs on (all) beaches for 20 hours per day,” she said.
“His statement also fell short of saying ‘sorry’ to the harm the actions have caused.”
As reported in last week’s Sentinel-Times (‘Council hints at dog rescission’, page 3), Cr Le Serve had indicated before the meeting that she may have been preparing a motion asking for a moratorium to be placed on the trial.
Speaking after the meeting, Cr Rankine said Cr Le Serve “didn’t have a lot of support” from other councillors when details about a motion were discussed behind closed doors.
Leaving the Council Chamber after they realised councillors had said all they were going to say on dogs for the night, Inverloch residents Margaret and Phil Sartorio said they were “gutted” by the lack of any kind of resolution at the meeting.
“We were expecting to at least be told that we could take our dogs back on the beach on a lead,” Ms Sartorio said.
“It’s just crazy.”
Despite the setback, the pair, who regularly email councillors photographs of deserted beaches at Inverloch, which they blame on the time restrictions, vowed to “come back to every meeting until it this has been sorted”.
The trial is set to end on April 30, with a new report and decision expected at the council’s May 21 meeting.
Sandy Paws Coronet Bay – the lobby group formed last month which has also now joined neighbouring towns to form a ‘Waterline Alliance’ – will be holding a public rally on the Labour Day Long Weekend.
A spokesperson from the group urged dog owners and anyone else opposing the time restrictions to meet at Coronet Bay’s foreshore reserve on Sunday, March 9 at 11am.