THE cloth barrier separating Hawkesbury councillors from members of the gallery was taken down at Hawkesbury Council’s latest meeting, to a rousing response from those present.
At the October 11 meeting, Mary Lyons-Buckett moved a mayoral minute at the start of the meeting to remove the barrier at future meetings.
The motion was passed 11-0. Cr Tiffany Tree abstained from the vote.
Several councillors immediately leapt to their feet to remove the barrier after the vote, while members in the gallery cheered.
The barrier, according to those who oppose it, is a symbolic divide between the councillors and the public.
The rope barrier was originally brought in because of rowdy members of the public had frightened some councillors.
Along with the barrier being removed, a security guard will not be present at all meetings anymore, which had been the case since the barrier was brought in.
Liberal councillor Sarah Richards asked whether Council was providing a safe work place.
“What if there is a verbal outburst and someone needs to be removed from the chamber,” she said.
“This is our workplace environment and there is a duty of care to make sure everyone is safe in the environment.”
She also pointed out that Penrith and The Hills employ security guards at meetings, while Blacktown Council uses their own rangers.
General manager Laurie Mifsud said the security guard did not have any power to forcibly remove someone, and in the event that was needed, the practice in the past had been to adjourn the meeting and call the police.
Cr Paul Rasmussen, a vocal opponent of the barrier, said he did not ever recall needing a security guard, and said it was time to put the barrier behind Council and move on.
Greens councillor Danielle Wheeler said the barrier and security guard was an overreaction.
“The barrier sent the wrong message to the community,” she said.
“We are here to represent them, not exclude them, and that if you treat people well they generally behave well.
“Instead, the barrier told the community that they were separate, ‘the ‘other’ and that they could not be trusted to behave.”
Liberal councillor Tiffany Tree shot back at this, and said Cr Wheeler had no right to tell her how she or any other councillor should feel.
“I don’t think Cr Wheeler has a right to sit here and say what our perceptions of safety are at all,” she said.
“If you want to do it that is fine, but don’t talk rubbish.”
Labor councillor and deputy Mayor Barry Calvert said in the past the police had been called to meetings but suggested he could not recall that happening for at least 10 years.
Cr Ricahrds also suggested that at some stage a reconfiguration of the chamber happen so that the councillors faced members of the public.
Cr Tree also implored Cr Lyons-Buckett to clamp down on unruly debate within the chamber.
“When I was deputy Mayor, I copped it a lot. I know there were councillors smirking a lot. You think that is acceptable but it really is not acceptable,” she said.
Cr Lyons-Buckett said she would not tolerate bad behaviour.