Yarra Ranges Council meeting adjourned after disruptions

Ian Bergwerf addressing the councillors, moments before the meeting was adjourned. Pictures: PARKER MCKENZIE

By Parker McKenzie

Yarra Ranges Council’s meeting on Tuesday 31 January lasted only 12 minutes after it was disrupted by a group of over 140 people, resulting in the police being called to the Civic Centre in Lilydale.

Those in attendance gave several reasons for being there, however, most agreed that the council hadn’t answered questions regarding the 20-minute neighbourhoods and their fears the planning concept would be used to lock them into their homes and increase surveillance in the local area.

Belinda Bernardini asked a question during question time about drones flying throughout the Yarra Ranges, which was answered by a director at the council. Immediately following the answer, multiple interjections by members of the gallery led to Mayor Jim Child making the decision to close the meeting to members of the public.

“I want to inform the gallery that anyone wishing to participate at a council meeting must extend the courtesy and respect to the council and the processes under which it operates,” he said.

“As a result of the disorder and disruption from the gallery, I now call this meeting to be adjourned in accordance with governance rule 277.”

Following the decision to adjourn the meeting, members of the gallery began to chant “sack them all.”

“The whole idea of procedures is to keep people from asking questions on the spot,” one woman told the Star Mail.

“They don’t want to be put on the spot with questions that come out of nowhere. Everything is organised so that they feel comfortable and not have constituents ask questions they aren’t ready for.”

Following the Mayor’s decision to adjourn the meeting, those in attendance refused to leave the Civic Centre after councillors left the chamber and the police were called.

Lilydale Police Station Commander Senior Sergeant Melanie Woods said the police were called in relation to 140-plus people at the council meeting and engaged with both the council and those in attendance.

“We were able to facilitate a smaller group meeting between the parties. I will be meeting with the organisers in the coming days and both parties left amicably,” she said.

“After our attendance and negotiations, the situation was successfully defused.”

After the discussions with council staff and police, Ian Bergwerf, a representative for those airing their grievances, said the council agreed to meet with himself and Ms Bernadini within the next 10 days.

“We will then relay all your concerns and have that physical meeting face to face so that at the next council meeting they are aware and we will have the opportunity to discuss our concerns,” he said.

“If we tick this one off as a win, we’ve made some progress and if we need to do it again we can always come back.”

The 20-minute neighbourhoods is a planning concept that means townships are “designed to make sure everything you need day-to-day is close to home and a walkable distance away,” according to Yarra Ranges Council. A smaller group of protesters attended another meeting in late 2022 to raise their concerns over the Monbulk Structure Plan.

Another woman, who attended the meeting to protest the 20-minute neighbourhood plans, said it has already caused people overseas to be locked in their homes.

“You won’t own a house, you won’t own a car. You’re just a carbon footprint and a digital ID, you’re only allowed to do what they tell you to,” she said.

“You’ll only be allowed within 20 minutes of your home. First, they’ll get you outside of your zones for 100 trips before eventually introducing lockdowns and tightening restrictions until it suits them. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a real thing.”

After the meeting, Mayor Child said in a statement he felt he had no other course of action but to close the meeting to the public in the interest of the safety of councillors and staff.

“Police were called to assist with the crowd of 100 plus agitators, who didn’t follow the rules we set down for Council meetings. Sadly, this had an unfair impact on those who did. I’d like to thank the police who assisted with the crowd and ensured that people left the Council meeting safely,” he said.

“Whilst we welcome the views of our community and are keen for them to take part in Council meetings, we need to make sure that this is done in a safe and respectful environment for staff, Councillors and other members of the gallery.”

“Making a public outburst towards staff at a council meeting doesn’t help anyone, disrupts the important items on the agenda and can risk the safety of our staff and other community members present. We’re very disappointed in the conduct we saw last night, and we will not tolerate it at further meetings.”

*CORRECTION: The story originally stated Ms Bernandini’s question wasn’t asked or answered. The adjournment occurred directly after the question was answered.