ALBURY Council has been called on to stop “sitting on its hands” and instead back efforts to end protests outside an Albury abortion clinic.
Dr Pieter Mourik yesterday counted more than 5500 signatures on a petition that will now go before the council on Monday night.
The retired medical specialist has been the spokesman for a campaign to get the council to alter its by-laws to create a clinic exclusion zone.
Dr Mourik said the campaign was not about stopping protests, but instead preventing the harassment and intimidation of women entering the Englehardt Street clinic.
Albury councillor David Thurley has agreed to present the petition.
Cr Thurley said he was “sympathetic” to the petitioners and the residents who lived nearby.
“It seems to me that, especially for the local residents, there is an intrusion,” he said.
“You can hear these people praying from 9 o’clock in the morning to six at night sometimes.
“I wouldn’t like someone standing at the top of my driveway every Thursday and intoning prayers for six hours. It would drive me crazy.”
Cr Thurley pointed out that he agreed to present the signatures for the simple reason that every person had a right to petition their council.
Dr Mourik said he knew there was tremendous support in the community for the campaign, though did not expect so many signatures.
“When it started (in early February) I thought maybe 1000 people would sign it,” he said.
Dr Mourik said he did not believe the Albury community would accept the council continuing to say it did not have the power to act.
“I don’t care how they go about it, I don’t think the council should be fobbing off to the state government as that might not happen for two years,” he said.
“In that time another thousand people — women and men — will be intimidated and harassed by this group of extremists.”
Dr Mourik said other courses of action could also be pursued, though he would not reveal the detail.
“I would hope that the councillors, with good legal advice, could come up with an existing legislation covering what they could do,” he said.
Dr Mourik pointed to the case of the Englehardt clinic’s parent company, the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne.
“They’ve got a QC on side who has said that the Melbourne City Council has Victorian legislation they could use,” he said.
“The fact that that council has done nothing for 40 years is a disgrace.
“Our council should be nervous about this, and I know that they are.”
Cr Thurley said the council’s meetings code of practice meant a petition could be presented, but no immediate discussion would be allowed.
“The matter will be referred to the general manager and then he is required to take whatever action is needed,” he said.