“We just want a consistent rule, not one that rewards opponents for breaking the law,” he said. “If any candidate’s campaign wants to spend donor’s money on court cases then that’s up to them, we are focused on delivering for our community and quite happy to wait until the official election campaign to put up our signs”.
The council’s insistence signs cannot be put up legally relies on section 52.05 of local planning laws in Victoria. The laws say a planning permit is not required to put up a political sign less than five square meters in size, although they also state the sign “must not be displayed longer than 14 days after the event is held or 3 months, whichever is sooner ”.
The council last week issued a notice saying it had Australian Electoral Commission advice banning front yard signs being erected until a federal election is called for the lower house.
Despite widespread expectations that a federal election will be called by May, Bayside Council said in a statement that signs could not be put up in front yards until June 3. “The latest possible date for a House of Representatives election [is] September 3, 2022,” the council said in its statement, citing the local planning laws. May 21 is the last possible date for a combined lower house and Senate election.
The Age asked Bayside Council on Thursday how much the fines would be to residents who kept their signs up, and why it had decided to issue the warnings after saying in December that signs were exempt from planning laws. The council declined to respond further, pointing only to its Friday statement. “We won’t be making any further comments at this time,” a council communications officer said.
An email sent on December 10 last year by Bayside’s director of city planning said election signage “is exempt from needing a planning permit”.
Ms Daniel’s lawyers will argue in court that the council’s interpretation of state regulations was contrary to the implied freedom of political communication in Australia, and was contrary to previous advice it provided. They will also argue it was contrary to the practice of other councils in Melbourne that have identical planning schemes.
Neighboring council Glen Eira has not taken any action against residents in its suburbs who have put up signs supporting Ms Daniel, or any other candidates.