An independent federal election candidate has won her Supreme Court bid to allow residents of Melbourne’s leafy bayside suburbs to display campaign signs in their gardens and on front fences.
The row erupted earlier this month when Liberal MP Tim Wilson sent out an email requesting people dob in members of the community who were displaying campaign signs for former ABC reporter and The New Daily columnist Zoe Daniel.
Ms Daniel is running against Mr Wilson in the federal lower house seat of Goldstein.
Mr Wilson said his opponent’s campaign signs breached local planning rules because a date is yet to be set for the federal election.
Bayside City Council initially ruled that planning provisions allowed for political signs to be displayed on private property after February 21. It said the signs could be displayed for up to three months, or 14 days after the election, whichever was sooner.
However, the council changed its mind after receiving advice from the Australian Electoral Commission on the timing of the federal election.
The AEC said it was possible to hold separate elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives. The latest possible date for a Senate election is May 21, while it is September 3 for the lower house.
“Based on this above, any sign associated with a House of Representative candidate would be unlawfully erected if: No election has been called; or the sign is erected prior to 3 June 2022,” the council said earlier this month.
The possibility of separate elections being called, while constitutionally legal, is considered highly unlikely.
Ms Daniel’s campaign manager, Keith Badger, went to Victoria’s Supreme Court to confirm if her election signs were allowed under Bayside’s planning scheme.
On Wednesday, Justice John Dixon ruled the corflutes could be displayed but only for three months and not for more than 14 days after the election.
The election was an event, regardless of whether a writ had been issued by the Governor-General, he said.
Justice Dixon also issued an injunction stopping Bayside City Council from issuing fines or beginning enforcement proceedings unless the signs were displayed for more than three months, or for more than 14 days after the election.
He ruled that costs in the case should be paid by the council.
Ms Daniel said the backflip in the council’s advice on the signs, following a complaint after her campaign was twice told the signs were allowed, justified the decision to seek clarity in court.
“I’ve always approached it very much on the legal point – this is the advice we were given, that advice changed,” she said.
On whether a complaint about the signs had backfired, Ms Daniel said she couldn’t say.
“I think what it does reflect is that the campaign’s having an impact. There are lots of signs up and making a complaint was perhaps an attempt to cut that down,” she said.
Bayside City Council boss Mick Cummins said in a statement that the council welcomed the ruling. He said residents previously told their signs were unlawful were now advised they could display it.
Mr Wilson said his own signs would go up in coming weeks.
“We have only ever wanted a consistent council rule that applies to all candidates equally but didn’t want to waste ratepayers’ money going to court,” he said.
“Now we have a consistent ruling we can get on with erecting our signs in the coming weeks, just as Simon Holmes a Court’s campaign to buy our community’s voice has been doing for month.”
Mr Holmes a Court, a clean energy campaigner behind the Climate 200 group, has amassed a war chest of $7 million from more than 9000 donors. It is being used to support a series of community-selected independent campaigns.