Are Sydney Councils That Require Photography Permits Acting Illegally?

The issue of photographers’ rights and access to public open spaces has been in the news again over the past week. On Tuesday (August 10th) the Wentworth Courier ran a story about the upcoming Arts Freedom Australia rally against “out of control bureaucracy”, while on Thursday (August 12th) The Sydney Morning Herald ran a similar feature which was complemented by an item on Channel Ten’s news bulletin that evening.

In response to The Sydney Morning Herald article – at http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/photographers-draw-a-line-in-the-sand-over-picture-permits-20100811-11zqb.html – the paper published a very interesting letter the following day. This was from photographer Debbie Osterhage. I have reproduced it in full below:

Your article says Manly Council does not charge for permits for low-impact photography shoots. This is incorrect. The council does not charge for low-impact filming, but low-impact photography shoots cost $554 for half a day (up to four hours). Why this is so beats me, but it certainly puts strain on photographers and is hard to explain to our clients.

Reading this made wonder how the policies of both Manly Council and Waverley Council (also mentioned in The Sydney Morning Herald article) stack up against some very relevant pieces of New South Wales government legislation. These are the Local Government Act of 1993 and the Filming Related Legislation Amendment Act of 2008.

According to the Local Government Filming Protocol of 2009, the Filming Related Legislation Amendment Act 2008 and the Local Government Act 1993 specifically exclude still photography, and it doesn’t require council approval or attract fees unless it involves additional activity such as blocking streets, constructing a set or requires additional parking. So if Manly Council has been charging fees for low-impact commercial photography such as that done by Debbie Osterhage isn’t the council then in breach of these pieces of legislation? Or is Manly Council somehow above the law?

I’m not a lawyer but the wording of the Local Government Filming Protocol of 2009 is pretty straightforward. You can find this document here … http://www.dlg.nsw.gov.au/Files/Information/Local_Government_Filming_Protocol_-_2009.pdf The relevant section is on Page 8 of the PDF. Under a heading of THE NEW LOCAL GOVERNMENT FILMING PROTOCOL, this is what it says:

“Amendments to the Local Government Act 1993 provided that the Director General may issue a filming protocol which is binding on local councils in relation to the approvals and services provided to location filming production.

This revised protocol, is binding on local councils (my emphasis – RB), and spells out the dynamic of the relationship between the screen industry in NSW and local government under these new arrangements. … This Protocol does not cover stills photography – the Filming Related Legislation Amendment Act 2008 and the Local Government Act 1993 specifically exclude still photography, and it does not require council approval or attract council fees unless it involves additional activity such as blocking streets, constructing a set or additional parking. In these cases, the Protocol can provide guidance for councils in processing high impact stills shoots. Those contemplating still photography should approach councils for further information.”

My reading of this suggests that councils have no legitimate role in processing low impact photographic shoots and therefore no right to ask for photography permits and charge fees. Yet Waverley Council, for instance, mandates an application fee of $150 for low/medium impact photography and on top of this there is a further charge of $75 per hour that applies for this type of still photography. That’s in “public open spaces”. If you want to do still photography in one of the Council’s cemeteries a fee of $306 per hour applies. And you can only do that type of still photography during business hours. Of course, it’s even more expensive if you want to do some filming in one of the Council cemeteries. That charge is a hefty $538 per hour. So much for “freedom of expression”.

It would be very interesting to get a legal opinion on this situation. Are those Sydney council which require permits and charge fees for low/medium impact “commercial” photography in breach of New South Wales legislation? And if they are in breach, do photographers such as Debbie Osterhage have grounds to claim back the money that they have paid these councils in recent times?

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About rossbmedia

Journalist ... interested in the truth not public service spin.
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13 Responses to Are Sydney Councils That Require Photography Permits Acting Illegally?

  1. Pingback: Are Sydney Councils That Require Photography Permits Acting Illegally? | Australia featured blogs

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  3. Harry Phillips says:

    Wow thanks for that information, I have put the question to the project Officer for the Bondi area, Jody Walker, that the fees they charge appear to be illegal.

    I asked for information about what legislation that the council are using to charge professional photographers the fees when they are in the low impact category.

  4. Rob Walls says:

    Pointing out to local councils that they may be doing something illegal will generally ensure that entrenched bureaucrats change the laws…but never to the benefit of the public. Can’t wait to see what response you get, Harry.

  5. Pingback: local government and photography restrictions - digital photography by Ted Szukalski

  6. Harry Phillips says:

    I just found the Manly Council permit application form here. Page 11 has nothing in the Still Photography section, I mean it is completely blank, until you get into the High impact section. You don’t get into the High impact section until you have more than 50 people. Even then the half day fee is only $398 not the $554 stated. None of the things charged for still photography even has a (if applicable) next to them.

    Are you sure the information about the Manly Council is correct? Maybe you got your information from an old source before they changed to comply with the Local Govt Filming and photography protocol released by the Director General of NSW.

    I am having a ton of fun with the entrenched bureaucrats of Waverly Council. I am sure they can see the logic that they are in breach of protocol but they just can’t and won’t admit it. They are aware that I am prepared to take it all the way to the courts if necessary.

    You can read the entire saga with the Council (so far, I have not finished yet) here.

  7. rossbmedia says:

    Harry, I would be grateful if you re-read my blog post because then you would realise that the information about the half-day fee is in the text of Debbie Osterhage’s letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, which I quoted in full. She is a full-time working photographer based in Sydney and given that Manly Council has not written back to The Sydney Morning Herald stating that she was wrong, I will take her word on what she has had to pay to Manly Council for photo-shoots that she has done in that local government area.

  8. Harry Phillips says:

    …sigh… I just don’t know where my brain is at these days… I have been missing things like that quite frequently in recently… I will endeavor to read things at least 3 times before commenting from now on.

    Sorry about that.

  9. Debbie says:

    Harry, yes: that is how I read the Manly Council’s application too – however I wrote to the Council to confirm this as I didn’t want my client’s shoot being halted on the day if this was not the case (thus costing them $$$ for stylist, makeup, model, etc.). The reply was that for my shoot with a total of 6 people involved (including me) and no special requests or disruptions it would be $398 for a 4 hour shoot (plus application fee of $156). I questioned this, suggesting that perhaps we could film instead and the reply was: “Photoshoot and filming are both different schedules – Filming is free”
    We ended up going ahead with the shoot at Manly because the client loved the location. We put in our application form and paid the $554 invoiced to us by the Council for the permit. So I can absolutely confirm this information is correct. And the shoot was very recent – on the 13th of August – so I doubt anything has changed since then.
    Many thanks to Ross for looking into this most interesting issue.

  10. Harry Phillips says:

    Thanks for the info Debbie, I will start harassing sending inquiry’s to the Manly Council about the legality of them charging fees. Since I will be in Sydney anyway I will catch a ferry and get arrested or fined or whatever in both places. Man this trip is going to be a hoot…

  11. rossbmedia says:

    Harry, I am a bit concerned that your “bull in a china shop” approach will prove to be less than helpful in assisting photographers to get the necessary changes to local council policies in place. While I admire your enthusiasm, a bit more common sense and reading of documents before you leap forth into action or judgement would go a long way.

    I also notice that on a post you made at the Arts Freedom Australia blog on August 23rd at 7:59 pm that you described public servants as “idiots” and “narcissistic dictators”. Using deliberately provocative terms such as these is not helpful and merely antagonises those with whom you are trying to have a discussion.

    So keep up the enthusiasm but tone down your thoughts before you rush to put them into print.

  12. Pingback: New South Wales – Not Photographer Friendly | Ross Barnett's Blog

  13. Alan Williamson says:

    This remains an issue at Waverley, despite the apparent lack of legal authority. I was asked to do a single shot of an Eastern Suburbs beach from a public footpath last Saturday (12/11/10), no traffic was disrupted, hand held, the shoot took 7 seconds, 18mm focal length distance shot to capture wave action. There were many photographers shooting Sculptures by the Sea.
    Subsequently I was approached by life savers who said the shoot was illegal on two grounds:
    1. No approval had been obtained from Waverley Council and no fee paid.
    They claimed that the fact that I was being paid for the shot meant that such a permit was required – end of story.
    2. Because there may have been children in the vicinity it was necessary to approach the surf club to complete a ‘Working with Children’ check, which would take 2 weeks to approve.
    The fact that any children in shot were mere specks was of no concern to the lifesavers. Obviously these people take instruction from Council officers, whose interpretation of the law may be somewhat skewed. Given the capacity of such organisation to engage in protracted legal action it would be comforting to have a better idea of where we stand.
    best
    Alan

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