By Gav Ross
RESTRICTIONS for dogs on beaches throughout Bass Coast will be lifted, but not before the council sees its originally-scheduled trial period for the ban through to the bitter end.
At last Wednesday’s shire meeting, councillors voted unanimously to undo the controversial decision made at two meetings late last year to restrict dogs on council-managed beaches at select times of the day.
But the revocation will not take effect until after the end of April – the same time restrictions around the shire were always going to end anyway.
From May 1, conditions will return to what they were before October 2013.
That is, dogs must be on a leash at all times, with the exception of declared off-leash areas.
While members of the Sandy Paws Waterline Alliance campaign group erupted into applause at the meeting after the vote was carried, it still did not change the fact that dogs remained banned right through until after Easter, just as the council originally intended.
However, in a win for campaigners, the restrictions will now not roll over and be repeated next summer, unless the council makes another decision between now and then.
As detailed in the final motion carried, the council will revoke all orders made under the Domestic Animal Act made at council meetings last year.
Councillors also agreed to undertake place-based community consultation regarding future arrangements for dogs on beaches, in order of priority at Inverloch, Waterline townships and Phillip Island/San Remo.
Seven off-leash areas for dogs will also remain in place, including the four Inverloch beach and inland spots first designated before the dog debate blew up.
Dog restrictions that were already in place for Phillip Island beaches before the controversial trial at Inverloch and ban in other parts of the shire will remain between December 1 and April 30 each year.
Cr Clare Le Serve was the first to put forth a motion, urging her colleagues to consider lifting the restrictions two weeks early, allowing locals and holidaymakers to take their dogs back on to the beach for the all-important Easter long weekend.
But majority of the other councillors wouldn’t have a bar of it.
“I’ve never seen a motion so trivial and inconsequential in my life,” Cr Wright said.
“(Council) officers have requested that the trial contains Easter.
“Sorry, but I can’t support closing down the trial 14 days early.”
Cr Drew was also against the ban being lifted early.
“We’re almost at the finish line,” he remarked.
“I see the need to see this through in its entirety so we have all the information provided to us.”
Cr Jordan Crugnale said the community expects the restrictions to remain until the end of April.
She said the date had been reiterated “over and over again”, including during the Mayoral statement read out by Cr Neil Rankine at the beginning of council’s February meeting.
“To change again – and this would be the third time – with no consultation involving the people who have actually responded positively and constructively is exactly what the vocal sum are currently reprimanding us for,” she said.
Cr Crugnale said she has withstood “a torrent of pressure” from elements of the dog lobby group in recent months and urged campaigners to put the issue into perspective – stating that the two “most pressing” issues facing the region are the crystal meth/ice epidemic and threat of coal seam gas exploration.
Cr Crugnale moved an alternate motion – one which kept the majority of Cr Le Serve’s motion intact but changed the revocation date from April 17 to April 30.
Finally, Cr Wright commented: “We’ve spent a lot of time on dogs over summer, I would say too much.”
And Cr Drew summed up the feelings of seven councillors no doubt exhausted by the entire saga.
“I’m dogged out on this issue.”