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Protest pack hits Berwick | Dandenong Star Journal

Protest pack hits Berwick | Dandenong Star Journal

By Matthew Sims

Calls of “No Smart Cities“ and signs comparing 20-minute neighbourhoods to prisons were a surprising sight for Berwick locals, when a protest group visited the town over the weekend.

Between 100 and 200 locals and representatives from other My Place groups met at Pioneers Park on Saturday 17 June before receiving a police escort to a march down High Street before returning to Pioneers Park for presentations from key voices behind the movement.

Event co-organiser Craig Cole said the event was a success and aimed to warn people about how the Smart Cities framework and the 20-minute neighbourhood initiative would impinge on people’s freedoms.

“It’s something that we have to be aware of,“ he said.

“It’s about restriction and it’s about control.“

Mr Cole’s claims included that the UN were controlling local councils and that the Smart Cities initiative depended on the Voice “going through“.

Speaking at the rally, Mr Cole said it was important for those with similar beliefs and values to come together.

“It’s time to put our petty squabbles, our petty indifferences to the side for the one greater good,“ he said.

“We are making a difference.“

Speaking at the rally, My Place founder Darren Bergwerf said their goal as a group was to challenge governments.

“We are pushing them into a place where it doesn’t matter what they do, they lose,“ he said.

“They’re damned if they do, they’re damned if they don’t.“

According to Casey Council’s website, it first engaged with the community about how to use sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), data platforms and devices to improve efficiency, enhance sustainability and increase the liveability of the region in 2020.

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Endorsed by Casey Council in December 2020, the Smart Casey Launchpad program outlines the council’s approach to co-ordinating and inspiring smart city action at a local and regional level.

Initially proposed as part of the State Government’s Plan Melbourne, the 20-minute neighbourhood principle would s where aim to ensure all dwellings are within a convenient 20-minute journey to most everyday needs, such as the goods and services typically found in a local activity centre.

A podcaster and researcher who has been following the movement since 2020 with the Twitter handle @SOS149 said she attended the rally for research purposes.

’SOS’ said local My Place groups, including those in Berwick, Cranbourne and Pakenham, were growing in number and influence and were a “threat to local democracy“.

“They are bigger than people think,“ she said.

“I don’t think they are silly at all.“

SOS said My Place leaders used platforms such as Facebook and more private forums like Telegram to attract people who may feel afraid of change or feel as if their voices are not being heard.

“This group is very attractive to those kinds of people,“ she said.

Public Facebook group Save the Beaconsfield Reservoir Action Group saw an influx of new members from My Place.

It promoted the Berwick rally on its Facebook page.

“We should all be opposed to government indoctrination and having decisions made for us without public consultation or discussion,“ the page’s administrator posted.

“That is the reason why our community group are opposed to Melbourne Water’s plans for Beaconsfield Reservoir.“

SOS said My Place often supports local issues to attract locals to their cause.

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“It’s an opportunity to recruit,“ she said.

SOS said with the fallout from the sacking of the Casey Council in 2020 and the ongoing Operation Sandon IBAC investigation, Casey residents were looking for a change in local government, giving groups like My Place a foothold.

“You’ve almost got a captive audience,“ she said.

“They are a loud minority.“

SOS said she believed while a number of the conspiracy theories My Place members hold and spruik can come off as silly, the online nature of the groups led to them being a breeding ground for hate.

“At their core, they are not good people,“ she said.

“I think that the Internet has a lot to answer for.“

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) recently addressed about 100 representatives from councils across the state concerning a number of incidents over recent months, including community action leading to the cancellation of ’drag storytimes’ in Casey and Greater Dandenong and a police presence at a number of council meetings, as well as the closure of Yarra Ranges Council’s public gallery until further notice.

“The ongoing behaviour we have seen at council meetings is threatening and unpredictable and it has no place in our communities,“ MAV president David Clark said.

“It shouldn’t be accepted at any level of government.

“Councils are right to take a zero tolerance approach, as the people most at risk are often other community members who are in the gallery with the disruptive people.“

Berwick MP Brad Battin said people’s right to peacefully protest was the best part of a “strong democracy“.

“People are entitled to their views, opinions and lifestyles,“ he said.

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“As our communities grow, there will always be change and progress to ensure people can live safely in their communities.“

  • June 25, 2023