Waverley Council's controversial so-called picnic permit policy did not apply to events with less than 50 people – or so the public was told after an incident when rangers threatened to call the police to breakup a Bondi Beach gathering with a dozen people.
But contrary to public assurances from council that small gatherings were exempt, internal emails obtained under freedom of information laws reveal that Waverley Mayor Sally Betts had different ideas.
"My understanding is that a permit is required for anyone to hold an event in the Bondi Park area. Even if that event is one person sitting on a chair collecting signatures," she told staff in an email on February 12.
The policy that requires anyone using social media to invite guests to an event - even a picnic - to apply for a permit has sparked a public outcry – and attempts to amend the measure at the council's meeting on Tuesday night.
But the proposed amendments have attracted criticism from Greens MP David Shoebridge, who was warned by rangers when he launched his party's Beach Saver climate change campaign in January.
“This is a mayor who has said one thing privately to council staff and then turned around and said the exact opposite to her community – and that is plain unacceptable," said Mr Shoebridge.
“After staunchly defending her council's ridiculous policy for weeks, the mayor has now been forced to amend it. It's been community outrage that has delivered this change, with no real change of heart from the council," he said.
Last month, Fairfax Media revealed that anyone thinking of organising a picnic at Bondi, Bronte or Tamarama beaches and inviting guests by social media without a permit could incur the wrath of the local council and a $220 fine.
The council events policy required any event publicised on social media to have a permit – regardless of the number of guests. Even a family get-together circulated through Facebook could run foul of the council.
Mr Shoebridge said the council did not seem to understand that in the modern era, most people organised their lives via social media.
Three motions will be considered at the council meeting, including amending the policy to ensure that political events and small scale events held by individuals, irrespective of the method attendees are invited, are allowed without a permit, that the policy in relation to Social Media facilitated gatherings be clarified and that the general manager undertake an investigation of the sequence of events that lead to rangers being called to attend in regard to the Greens political gathering at Bondi Beach.
Mr Shoebridge said that even if this policy change succeeded, it will still allow the Council to shut down an event organised on social media .
“Public beaches and public parks are precious community assets and, aside from commercial ventures, they should be open for people to gather with their family, friends and the community,” Mr Shoebridge said.
A spokeswoman for the council said the Mayor was asking for clarification from an officer. However, there are instances where commercial activities of any size require an application and permit.
The official Waverley Council permit application form currently requires applications only for social and family gatherings of over 50 people. Council has never required applications for social and family gatherings under 50 people."
"Three Councillors have proposed motions related to the Events Policy for the Council meeting tonight. These motions on notice will be considered by the full Council at the meeting tonight. "
The story Bondi Park picnic permit back on Waverley Council agenda first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.