No Street Cred For Council Party Poopers

When the State Government offered councils a $6000 grant to develop street party kits last year, it was no surprise that they jumped at the opportunity. Not only is writing complicated protocol documents a major highlight of working for local government, but the Byzantine regulations that the kits were to help navigate were imposed by the councils themselves.

One part of government bribing another part of government to do what they should be doing anyway has become a staple of Australian politics. Why should councils miss out on all the fun?

The resulting street party kits are a grand monument to the bureaucracy and red tape that is impeding social and community life in Australia. These elaborate bundles of forms, rules and recommendations demonstrate clearly how the steady accumulation of seemingly trivial regulations can quickly become a restraint on community activity. The regulations aren’t those that apply to major festivals on the scale of last weekend’s Johnston Street Fiesta – they apply to small neighbourhood barbecues.

Certainly, many of the issues covered within the kits are, on the face of it, sensible. Washing hands before handling food probably isn’t a bad idea – it would be poor form to poison your neighbours while you were trying to get to know them.

But, as the City of Whitehorse demands, having to provide party volunteers with comprehensive food handling information in the form of written instructions is taking this a bit too far. Nobody wants a reputation in the street as the guy who loves to produce paperwork.

And don’t bother trying to sell any food or drink. Children’s lemonade stands are only possible if those children are able to fill out Community Amenity Local Law No. 1, Schedule 3 (Parts A and B) and Schedule 7.

The City of Stonnington’s 25-page safety plan appears to require the party organiser to assume responsibility for the safety of all guests – planning evacuation and ambulance routes, assembly areas and marshalling points, memorising emergency announcements, and strategically placing fire-fighting equipment around the party location.

Some rules are completely ridiculous. Stonnington requires party organisers to keep an incident kit close by at all times. This should contain a fluoro jacket, gaffer tape, torch, area map and sunscreen. They also require party organisers to nominate a communications liaison to negotiate potential clashes with local event venues, and to retain an electrician on call, just in case.

Street gatherings are not known for being rowdy. Nevertheless, the Moreland City Council insists that sound levels do not exceed 65 decibels. This exhilarating volume is just louder than a humming refrigerator and a little below a hair dryer. It is also above a quiet conversation. As a result, laughter, which surely ranks high on the list of attributes of a good party, is essentially prohibited within the People’s Republic of Moreland.

Presumably, the 65-decibel limit is also why many street party kits, when recommending that CDs are played at a street party, specifically nominate acoustic music. If you anticipate your street party may exceed the 65-decibel limit, you may be required to hire an independent acoustic engineer for the duration of the party to monitor your guests’ volume.

Councils and the Victorian Government recommend that a street party be held on the street itself. To do so, six weeks before the party is to occur, an application for road closure must be submitted to the local government. Forms demonstrating that the road closure has the support of more than 75% of the street’s residents must be submitted. A traffic management plan to be jointly prepared with a council traffic engineer must also be submitted, along with all the necessary fees and charges required to navigate the bureaucracy. This kind of ridiculous red tape is a major roadblock to community life.

The State Government-funded street party kits also raise another question – whose job is it to actually sit down and write them? The kits contain pages and pages of tips on how to have a good party. For instance, Whitehorse recommends that guests introduce themselves and recall the funniest thing they ever saw on the street. Developing topics for small talk is hardly a core role of government, and yet state taxes are being funnelled to council bureaucrats to do just that.

And the condescending advice that neighbours should share power tools and wave to each other when they pass on the street should make everybody wonder how stupid councils think their residents actually are.

Local governments enjoy dramatically less media scrutiny and voter interest than their state and federal counterparts. As a consequence, they are free to impose far more absurd rules than other levels of government. Local governments are adamant that they are trying to encourage street parties, but if they keep putting up these obstacles, they may not get invited to them.