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Surf Coast Shire Votes To Take Down Rainbow Flag At Tense Meeting

May 25, 2017

SURF COAST Shire’s rainbow flag has been given a second life and will continue flying following a last-minute block against its removal.

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A lengthy motion by Cr Heather Wellington — which included immediately removing the flag and undertaking extensive community consultation — had been passed in a controversial split 4:4 vote during Tuesday night’s monthly meeting in Moriac.


However, in yet another twist to the heated saga which has divided opinion among both the community and councillors, a notice of rescission lodged by Cr Rose Hodge at the end of the meeting will see the matter deferred until the next monthly sitting on June 27.


Once there, Cr Wellington’s motion is likely to be overturned if the current vote of councillors remains unchanged, with the in-support Cr Margot Smith absent from this week’s vote but set to return to the table in June.


The rainbow flag had flown continuously from the front of the council’s Torquay offices since it was raised during IDAHOT Day on May 17, with the aim to keep it in full view until the Federal Government formally accepts marriage equality.


Cr Hodge’s original flag-flying motion was passed 5-3 at the April council meeting, where all councillors opposing the motion emphasised their support for same-sex marriage but added they did not think the gesture was part of core local government business.


On Tuesday night, Cr Wellington — who was absent at the last meeting — said she had been labelled a “bigot and a homophobe” for her intention to reverse the decision and take down the flag.


“In respect to my colleagues, I believe that we can see just how divisive it’s been — it’s an unhelpfully arrogant approach,” Cr Wellington said.


“It’s exposed not only a big division within the council but a mass division within the community.”


In response, Cr Hodge described Cr Wellington’s motion as an “extremely opportunist moment” due to the absence of Cr Smith.


“If it was fair, we would hold this over for all the councillors to vote at,” Cr Hodge said.


“(The flag) was never meant to hurt anyone — it was a simple gesture of a flag up a pole that we never use.”


Cr Clive Goldsworthy, Cr Carol McGregor, Mayor Brian McKiterick and Cr Wellington voted to take down the flag, while Cr David Bell, Cr Libby Coker, Cr Martin Duke and Cr Hodge voted against the motion.


Almost half of the 50 members in the gallery streamed out of the Moriac Community Centre following the recent vote, with passionate calls of “shame on you” and “well done Surf Coast” as they left.


Councillors also noted five petitions both for and against the Shire’s flying of the rainbow flag.


Under the council’s Local Laws, a councillor may propose a motion to amend or rescind a previous resolution of the council provided the notice is signed by a total of three councillors and delivered to the CEO no later than 72 hours following its adoption.


Amid qualms surrounding flag-flying protocols, Surf Coast CEO Keith Baillie said that the three normally-bare flagpoles to the west of offices were designed to be “part of ceremonies and events”, being slightly taller than those flying a flag trio near the entrance to the building.


“Australian, Aboriginal and Surf Coast Shire flags fly on weekdays — flying of these flags is governed by protocols set by government,” Mr Baillie said.