ALBURY deputy mayor Amanda Cohn’s attempt to create a safe access zone around the Englehardt Street abortion clinic rests in the hands of future legal advice.
An initial bid to prepare a notice under Section 632 of the Local Government Act to the effect of creating an exclusion zone and council staff enforcing its provisions bombed 6-3 on Monday night.
Cr Cohn was backed by Cr David Thurley and Cr John Stuchbery with the latter’s amendment to instruct council lawyers to brief a senior counsel with significant experience in local government law about the opportunities for “enactment and enforcement” of a safe access zone was supported unanimously.
The legal advice is hoped to be made available to councillors by February 28.
Cr Cohn’s notice of motion predictably created robust debate for a packed public gallery made up of supporters of an exclusion zone and those who hold weekly prayer vigils outside the clinic opposing abortions.
“Council has the opportunity to do something to ensure patients can access their appointments with dignity and privacy,” she said.
“We must do something.”
Cr Stuchbery, in speaking to his motion, said proper legal advice was the only way to resolve the issue.
“I feel upset personally we cannot help these young and vulnerable women and a very big and powerful and well funded organisation can bully them,” he said.
Cr Thurley said protesters were engaging in “gross violation of people’s privacy” and took aim at Cr Cameron for what he described to be “ex cathedra statements” about there being no harassment or intimidation directed towards anyone attending the clinic.
“They are his statements, but I don’t believe they are the statements of those who attend the clinic,” Cr Thurley said.
Cr Cameron queried Cr Thurley if he was prepared to concede that some of the statutory declarations sworn on the issue were false and politically motivated.
Cr Cameron asked a follow-up question to Cr Thurley about an email he sent in 2014 to Dr Pieter Mourik which stated in part about the need for some people to act as “agent provocateurs” to bring more attention to the alleged actions of protesters.
Cr Thurley said he couldn’t recall the email.
Cr Henk van de Ven said Section 632 wasn’t designed to achieve Cr Cohn’s ultimate aims.
“We have a situation where we now use Section 632 to stop golfers using Alexandra Park to hit golf balls and we are proposing to use the same Act to create a safe access zone for people wishing to attend an abortion clinic or fertility clinic,” he said.
“I can’t possibly condone that.”