By Gav Ross
MORE than 700 people defiantly broke the law on Sunday when they marched on the sand in unison, protesting against Bass Coast Shire Council’s daytime restrictions for dogs on beaches.
A sea of residents and holidaymakers from all around the shire converged on Coronet Bay’s foreshore for the public rally, including many who don’t own a dog but have been appalled by the restrictions.
Organised by the Sandy Paws Waterline Alliance – a lobby group started in Coronet Bay by a group of five residents before expanding to include surrounding townships such as Corinella, Pioneer Bay and Grantville – the rally was, in the words of the campaign poster, to ‘show council they’ve made a mistake.’
There were no rangers, council officers or councillors in sight on Sunday.
The gathering also drew a huge amount of Inverloch residents, who were first to oppose the restrictions when the trial was introduced by council last December.
The rally capped off a week of the shire attempting to manage intense media scrutiny, which saw the trial covered by major media outlets all around Victoria.
Dog owners from Coronet Bay and Inverloch were featured in top stories on prime-time television news, which spread word about the upcoming rally further.
Organisers expected a decent crowd, but they admitted Sunday’s turnout exceeded expectations.
“We’re just really elated that people are so passionate about this,” Sandy Paws spokesperson Laney Russell said.
“All the dogs here have been well-behaved and there have been no objectors.”
Before marching on the beach, another Sandy Paws campaigner, Helen Zervopoulos, read out an official statement.
“We totally reject the by-laws gazetted in October 2013, aimed at restricting dogs on our beaches,” she said.
“We also completely reject the undemocratic process employed and the application of blanket rules in all locations.”
Campaigners then demanded the by-laws be revoked at the next council meeting (March 19) and that future place-based consultation takes place in each town instead of a blanket rule.
budging on trial
In a statement released late last week, the council maintained the current restrictions put in place on a trial basis will continue until April 30.
The council reiterated that the restrictions allow for:
• five to six hours of daylight for five months of the year (December to April) for people who wish to have their leashed dogs with them on the beach.
• six to seven hours of daylight during the same period for people who do not wish to have dogs around when at the beach.
• seven months of the year when dogs are allowed on the beach at any time on-leash.
• four new off-leash areas introduced in Inverloch (two reserves and two beaches) and potential to roll more off-leash areas out across our various communities.
“Council is keen to listen to community views of how we can achieve a balance of access to our beaches,” the statement read.
“We believe that we could have done better engaging with the local community during the development of the trial, but councillors are committed to improving consultation in the remainder of the trial and beyond.
“Ultimately, council wants to find arrangements that will balance the need of people who want to exercise their dogs on the beach and those who would prefer dog-free beaches.”
A report regarding the trial will be tabled at the May council meeting.