The Surf Coast Shire is overhauling local laws that govern everything from pet ownership and nature strip management to the gendered use use of public toilets.
A plan to allow people who identify as non-binary to use community amenities, regardless of gender, has generated the most heat for the council, with ar 500-signature petition calling for them the proposal to be scrapped.
Critics voiced concerns over public safety, particularly for women, and questioned why the council did not simply build more facilities to cater to non-gender aligned community members.
However a report to councillors said there was no evidence that similar easing of restrictions in other local government areas had led to poor safety outcomes.
“At this point in time there is no evidence to suggest the removal of this clause has had any impact on women’s safety in other communities,” Cr Libby Stapleton told the meeting.
“As councillors, and leaders in our community we need to make decisions based on the evidence before us.
“We can’t let fear of what may happen get in the way of making a decision that is right.”
Mayor Liz Pattison says the changes will bring council into line with 68 of the 79 other local government areas across the state that have already ditched the gender specific laws.
“Of the ten shires that still have it, there’s a number that are currently going through the same process that we just have to remove the clause from their local laws,” she said.
Cr Heather Wellington expressed concerns about the breadth of local laws being presented for change, given they positioned contentious issues such as gender rules on public toilets alongside what people can and can’t plant in the nature strips in front of their homes.
“It’s just not comparable and I have to vote against this motion…it’s really very poor governance practice to do this,” she said.
Cr Gary Allen agreed, saying “we really shouldn’t be bundling up these local amenity laws.”
“We really do need to look at the governance rules of this matter.”
Cr Allen did seek to ease community concerns surrounding the dropping of gender rules for public toilets.
“This will settle, and people will conduct themselves properly within the public facilities, if they don’t there is the criminal law,” he said.
“Violence in the home is the real issue against women and against children that we as a society have to face.”
Image: Gender-specific rules on access to public toilets are being scrapped in the Surf Coast Shire (Unsplash).