We were surprised to learn from an article on The Age website earlier this week, that some Melbourne municipalities require permits for social gatherings of a particular size. In areas where permits are required, patrolling council officers check to make sure that permits have been obtained where necessary.
A minimum fee of $82 is required for social gatherings of 20 or more adults in public open spaces in the City of Port Phillip. This fee allows use of the space for a two hour period with each additional hour costing $41. In addition, organisers of such events are required to pay public liability insurance of $25 if they do not have a public liability certificate of currency.
Bayside is another municipality that charges fees for the use of public open spaces for large gatherings of people. A group of 50 or more is required to pay a fee of $170 to use a park for a half-day.
An event permit needs to be obtained from the City of Melbourne for private and public events of 50 or more people in the Municipality. The fee for each event varies depending on the number of attendees and the chosen site.
It is not clear from the websites of any of the three councils discussed above if there is a distinction between an impromptu gathering of people with a few picnic rugs and baskets of food or a more substantial event that takes over a significant area of the public space. We can understand that large groups with tables, chairs, marquees and other equipment, that occupies and potentially ‘privatises’ the public space should obtain permits however, it is unreasonable to require an impromptu gathering to go through the same process.
While we agree that fees for weddings or commercial uses are appropriate, it appears that permits and fees for social gatherings may just be another revenue raising initiative employed by some councils. We acknowledge that cleaning up public spaces following significant events such as new years eve or Australia Day is a cost to council however, we do not agree that this justifies the requirement to obtain a permit for an event such as a birthday celebration with a group of 20 or so people on a normal weekend. Given that homeowners already provide funding for the maintenance of public open spaces via their council rates and that councils have the ability to enforce littering laws, these fees for using public open spaces seem in some instances, to be quite unreasonable.
Would the general public have any knowledge of these rules? We assume that council enforcement officers would use their discretion in policing these local laws and hope that fines are not issued for a modest family picnic.