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Response to Occupy Yarra recognised
15 February 2013
The City of Yarra was last night recognised at the 2013 National Government Communications Awards for the way it responded to Occupy Yarra camping at Edinburgh Gardens in October 2011.
Yarra won the award for “Best Communications/Engagement” for an organisation with more than 250 employees. Councils from across Australia were represented at the awards on the night.
Mayor, Cr Jackie Fristacky said the award was a reminder that Council had tried hard to balance its support for the universal principles of freedom of speech and the right to protest with the rights and amenity of the community and the protection of parks and public spaces for all to enjoy.
“This was an extraordinary two weeks for not only Yarra Council but for the Occupy movement and our local community,” Cr Fristacky said.
“Our objective was always to enable a safe and peaceful outcome, maintain Council’s integrity, respond respectfully and communicate clearly with everyone involved.
“We were conscious that Edinburgh Gardens was a local suburban park not suitable for camping. At the same time however we recognised that this was part of a global movement that was occupying more than 1000 cities worldwide.
Cr Fristacky said throughout the two weeks of Occupy Yarra at Edinburgh Gardens, Council received lots of calls from local residents, many of whom respected Council’s approach.
Part of that approach included Council establishing a cross-organisational group of staff from nine departments and key local housing and support agencies.
Council officers visited the campsite several times a day to talk about health and safety, collect rubbish and recyclables, offer housing and counselling services, relay local residents concerns and try and work towards a peaceful outcome for everyone.
Regular communication with Councillors, the local community and with Council’s own staff who were receiving calls and emails about the campers was also a priority.
The result was Occupy Yarra’s peaceful departure from Edinburgh Gardens after two weeks.
In the process Council’s own principles of fairness and support for social equity were maintained, and Council, police and support agencies had worked co-operatively to assist a number of young under-age people at the campsite with support services.
On the day that Occupy Yarra departed Edinburgh Gardens, Council received a letter of gratitude from one of the Occupy group’s many leaders. The letter stated:
“We have experienced much grace and goodwill from our brief “occupation” within the Edinburgh Gardens and we wish to express our deep felt gratitude for the compassion, understanding and flexibility of the Council, Officers, Police and the residents of the City of Yarra. We acknowledge and appreciate the ongoing good-will, cooperation and friendly communications with Council and the population of the City of Yarra.”
Coordinator - Communications
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