November 29, 2021
South Burnett Mayor Brett Otto has congratulated the organisers of Sunday’s “freedom” rally in the Glendon Street Forecourt in Kingaroy but has stressed his presence should not be seen as an endorsement of any views expressed at the public meeting.
Writing on social media after the rally, Mayor Otto said: “You guys exercised your right to freedom of speech passionately, with no agenda other than concern for your community and with compassion and respect. Made me very proud to be a South Burnett resident”.
The “Community Meeting For Concerned Citizens” was organised by the same people who have been holding “A Stand In The Park – We Stand For Freedom” meetings in Nanango and Kingaroy parks for the past few Sundays.
It was billed as a peaceful gathering “to discuss the State Government’s coming restrictions to the unvaccinated and the imposition on businesses and individuals to enforce this medical apartheid”.
It was for “business owners, employees and absolutely everyone welcome who is concerned for the future” according to posters shared on social media.
Crs Danita Potter, Kirstie Schumacher and Gavin Jones also attended the rally.
Organisers believe at least 450 people were present, based on the number of signatures collected on a paper petition to Council distributed at the rally.
Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington declined an invitation to attend due to a prior family commitment.
Local speakers included former nurse Lynda Lange, who has been outspoken on social media and alternative news channels against compulsory vaccinations for health workers.
Several “celebrities” from the freedom movement also phoned in, including former Qantas pilot Graham Hood who has been a guest speaker at city anti-vaccination rallies, and rebel LNP Senator Gerard Rennick who has been sharing horror stories of alleged vaccination injuries on his Facebook page for months.
The petition distributed at the meeting called on the South Burnett Regional Council to support the rights of citizens to be “pro-choice” on vaccination and support the rights of any business or organisation to serve any citizen, regardless of their vaccination status.
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Speaking afterwards, Mayor Otto said the Council representatives at the event had stood back quietly and listened but took no part in the meeting, nor were they asked to speak.
He said he had been invited by several people to attend and was happy to do so, so long as the public meeting was conducted in a respectful and courteous manner.
“My purpose in attending was to listen and to learn and to gain a better understanding as to their concerns and their objectives,” Mayor Otto said.
He said he had not made up his mind yet as to whether he supported, or not, the outcomes the group were looking to achieve but he said the welfare of the people of the South Burnett was most important to him.
“I think my fellow councillors would be happy for me to say that we all share in the view that we simply want to make sure that the people of the South Burnett, that their welfare – both physical and mental health welfare – is put at the forefront of all of our minds,” he said.
“I absolutely support one’s right to choose not to get the vaccine. That is a personal decision, a personal choice. I absolutely respect that.
“However … I am also conscious of the fact that we have to make sure as a Council that we are working with Queensland Health to ensure that our hospitals and health services are well and truly prepared for the fact that the COVID cases will be coming into our region.
“At the end of the day, our Council’s priority is the health and welfare of all of our citizens.”
southburnett.com.au asked Mayor Otto about a photo of a local café owner, taken at the rally, which appeared on social media captioned “all customers welcome vaccinated or unvaccinated”, a position which appears to be in breach of the foreshadowed Health Directions after December 17.
Mayor Otto said there had been some conjecture about whether the COVID mandate did, in fact, constitute “law”.
Council was concerned there was misinformation being shared on both sides of this debate.
“It is a mandate that has been issued under the emergency powers of the government by the Chief Health Officer as a Health Directive,” he said.
“It has been made clear to us that it is a Health Directive and the police do have the powers to enforce those requirements.
“I believe that our local police will be doing that in a co-operative way with businesses and with members of the community.
“I don’t think the police are going to be heavy-handed on it. I think they’re trying to work with the community.
“However, if someone becomes particularly challenging and difficult to deal with, then I’m sure that the police, put into that position, will exercise their powers.”
When pressed, Mayor Otto said he did not support cafes saying in public they intended to break the law.
“We have a mandate but I absolutely support the community’s right to freedom of speech. If the community want to take the matter up with our local Member or the State Government – or even come in and speak to us as a Council – I’m happy to listen.
“If they are looking to start a campaign to have the mandates, the Health Directives, withdrawn then that’s a matter they have to take up with the State Government.
“But I certainly would not be supporting anyone not complying with the law. These are the laws made by our elected government and we should be following them until such time that they are changed.”
Mayor Otto said he believed the rally organisers were seeking support from the community to put a case to the SBRC to adopt a resolution similar to one adopted by the Livingstone Shire Council (which voted to write to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk asking the State Government to reconsider the new rules).
But he said that “at the end of the day, it is not a matter for our Council”.
“We are certainly sympathetic to the anxiety it is causing many people and we certainly support freedom of speech, we support freedom of choice in relation to the vaccination,” Mayor Otto said.
“However, what we don’t support is people not complying with the mandates.”
Mayor Otto said he had congratulated the organisers because of the manner in which they had conducted the gathering.
And he encouraged free and open speech in the community.
“That’s the democratic way. We should not have a situation where topics are taboo,” Mayor Otto said.
“People should have freedom of speech … as long as it is not done in a way that hurts others directly.
“I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in citizens’ rights to protest peacefully.”
Mayor Otto said the rally was done “in the proper way”.
“It was held in front of the Council Chambers, it wasn’t disrupting the traffic, it didn’t cause a problem for anybody.
“I think they should be congratulated because they did a good job but that doesn’t mean I believe in what they are fighting for.
“What we don’t want to see is people marching up the main street, causing disruption, causing anarchy and encouraging the ratbag fringe to get involved and causing civil disturbance in our towns.”
Mayor Otto denied his presence at the rally had undone his hard work to promote COVID-19 vaccinations.
He emphasised he was double-vaxxed himself and had supported Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s push to lift vaccination rates in the South Burnett and Cherbourg.
He said he had worked with media, walked the streets and organised vaccination clinics.
Mayor Otto said the SBRC “had the runs on the board” when it came to working to lift vaccination rates.
“We have gone hard on encouraging vaccination,” he said.
“I don’t think there are too many councils that have put the effort in, or too many mayors that have put the effort in,” he said.
He and Cr Duff had “worked their backsides off” over the past six weeks to encourage people to get vaccinated.
“I put all my work aside to focus on COVID vaccination across the region. Turning up at the rally was simply to do my job as an elected representative and listen to our citizens. It wasn’t to agree with them. It wasn’t to say we are going to do what they are asking,” Mayor Otto said.
People must not take the fact that councillors attended the rally as Council support.
“We will make up our minds as to what position we want to take this as a Council once we’ve had a chance to discuss it,” he said
“And it could well be that it is simply to say ‘This is not our role. It’s a role for the State Government’.”