By Sunny Liu
The City of Melbourne has quietly backed away from its controversial proposal to tackle rough sleeping via amending its local laws dealing with camping.
Instead, on September 26 it announced an agreed protocol with Victoria Police which it believes can address rough sleeping within current law.
The protocol, under the current Activities Local Law 2009, allows homeless people to keep their belongings “to a reasonable minimum”, with two carry bags, a blanket, sleeping bag or pillow.
Camps, including structures such as mattresses, furniture and tents, will still be removed by the council.
Belongings left behind, which have impact on amenity and public space use, will also be removed.
In January, during the Australian Open, Victoria Police and council impounded homeless camps outside Flinders Street Station, removing camping structures and making several arrests.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said the council could better tackle homelessness under current local laws.
“I think it’s fair to say that the difference between today and January is that we are using our existing bylaws far more effectively, particularly around amenity and obstruction,” Cr Doyle said.
The City of Melbourne’s earlier proposed local law amendment would have changed the definition of camping and allowed council officers to remove any unattended belongings of rough sleepers, who would then have to pay a $388 fine to retrieve their possessions.
The proposal sparked almost universal outrage and condemnation. Council received 2556 submissions on the matter, with some 90 per cent in opposition.
But, according to Cr Doyle, the local law amendment has not been completely scrapped.
“While we proposed earlier a different bylaw, this protocol is working. But nevertheless we will come back in six months’ time and if it doesn’t continue to work over the months, then we will take further action. But at the moment we are happy that what we are doing is actually working,” he said.
The council has spent an additional $490,000 on four new local law officers, increasing total local law staff to 34 members.
Victoria Police will support the local law officers if safety risks arise.
Victoria Police’s chief commissioner Graham Ashton said he had been “pleased” with the protocol so far.
“Our officers are reporting a very good working relationship with the compliance officers from the City of Melbourne and so far it’s been going well,” he said.
“We’ve been getting onto early intervention, bringing the support services in much more quickly and getting very good results. We are looking forward to continuing with the protocol,” Mr Ashton said.
The state’s homelessness peak body, Council to Homeless Persons, has welcomed the decision.
“The City of Melbourne has supported several initiatives over the past few months that are making a positive difference,” Jenny Smith, Council to Homeless Persons’ CEO, said.
“We welcome the Lord Mayor’s announcement that he will continue to progress initiatives that assist people who are homeless, and not bring a vote on bylaws to a council meeting this year,” Ms Smith said.