Do Bureaucrats (Not) Understand Plain English?

I have been researching an article for ********** *********** magazine for some months now about photography and freedom of expression. Recently I put some questions to the Minister for Local Government in New South Wales regarding the photographic policies of both Manly Council and Waverley Council.

The email that went to the Minister (Barbara Perry) is below:

The Hon. Barbara Perry

Minister for Local Government, New South Wales

Dear Ms Perry

I am a Sydney-based writer who has written quite extensively about the issue of photographic access and restrictions in Australia, particularly as they apply in national parks and some local council areas. I am currently working on a large feature on this subject for ********** *********** magazine, which updates and expands a story that I did for the magazine back in 2004. (“Daylight Robbery”, October 2004)

As you may have been aware the issue of photographic access, fees and permits was raised again in the Sydney media just two weeks ago. There were articles in both the Wentworth Courier and The Sydney Morning Herald and an item on the Channel Ten evening news on August 12th. I have also blogged about the coverage here …

I wanted to clarify something for my new article for ********** *********** and would hope that the Minister for Local Government would have a perspective on these issues. Firstly, both Manly Council and Waverley Council require permits from low-impact “commercial” photographers and then charge fees on top of that. This is despite the fact that the Local Government Filming Protocol of 2009 says that the Filming Related Legislation Amendment Act 2008 and the Local Government Act 1993 specifically exclude still photography, and therefore still photography doesn’t require council approval or attract fees unless it involves additional activity such as blocking streets, constructing a set or requires additional parking. In the case of both Manly Council and Waverley Council they seem to require permits and levy fees on photographers whose impact is minimal at the most. I cannot help but think that the practices of these two councils are not within the spirit of the Local Government Filming Protocol of 2009, or the two acts that relate to it. But are they acting illegally though, and would any magazines or photographers who have had to pay either Manly Council or Waverley Council such a fee – which is very substantial according to their list of charges – be eligible for a refund and recompense from these councils? 

Or are local councils allowed to ignore the Local Government Filming Protocol and impose charges, fees and permit requirements on small-scale photographers despite the fact that the Local Government Filming Protocol is supposed to be binding upon local councils?

Secondly, Waverley Council has produced a recent document titled “Commercial Filming and Photography in and of Public Open Spaces in Waverley”. This document can be accessed at

According to this document, you need a permit … “If you want to capture aerial images of Waverley for commercial purposes from aircraft flying over the area” AND “If you want to use an image of the Waverley area for a commercial purpose (for example you may be a picture editor, a commercial film library or tour operator).”

Forgive me if I am mistaken but under what power can Waverley Council ask for permits in either of these two situations?

 I look forward to your considered response.

 Thanking you in anticipation.

 Ross Barnett


And this is the response that I received today from a high-placed official in the Division of Local Government.

 “The use of public land that is managed by local councils is a matter for each council to determine taking into account the views and needs of their local communities. Where public land is managed by a local council, approval to use it for commercial purposes should be sought from the council. This approval is essential in order to manage demand for access to highly prized locations and to ensure that the general public is able to enjoy these facilities. 

Councils managing public land used by many types of commercial operators may require them to pay fees to do so. Councils are able to charge fees for commercial activities carried out on public land they manage. This includes stills photography and many other activities. These fees are essential to ensure that commercial operators contribute financially to the maintenance and development of many of the State’s most highly valued community assets.

In 2008 the Filming Related Legislation Amendment Act 2008 was passed by Parliament. The Local Government Filming Protocol does not include stills photography, which continues to fall within other provisions of the Local Government Act.

As local councils are established as autonomous bodies with rights and powers under the Local Government Act, neither the Minister for Local Government, or the Division of Local Government, Department of Premier and Cabinet, have the power to direct councils in regard to their day-to-day functions. It is appropriate for them to set the policies and fees for the locations for which they are responsible in consultation with their community.

Photographers who require information about council requirements, or who consider that they have been treated unfairly by a council, should contact the council concerned directly. Likewise, residents and ratepayers concerned about parks being used excessively by commercial operators, should raise their concerns with their local council.”


So was all of the above an answer to the questions that I put to Barbara Perry, or is it merely an example of total and utter spin?


About rossbmedia

Journalist ... interested in the truth not public service spin.
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3 Responses to Do Bureaucrats (Not) Understand Plain English?

  1. Barry Madden says:

    Dont be surprised by the reply you received. Remember these people are probably graduates in their 1st job and have never worked in the real world. they would not have an understanding of the mine field associated with the relevant laws. eg; tort of invasion- privacy-trade practices law-summary offences act-criminal code 1899-copyright act-defence act-environment protection act-law enforcemnt act 2002 and dozens of others. to answer your question would mean determining what act was breached. they would immediately file that in the too hard basket. These people are not capable of making a decision, its beyond their mental capacity. good luck Barry Madden

  2. Barry Madden says:

    oops, I have just re- read my last email to you. Correction: Closing sentence could have been worded better. I was inferring , they are not capable of making a decision based on the numerous laws and the complexity of them. Sorry fellas.
    ps we seem to have a law for just about everything here in australia, perhaps its time someone sat down and drafted a law especially covering photography. Is that too hard?
    Barry Madden

  3. Harry Phillips says:

    At least you got a response, it was a “say nothing” weasel words response but a response none the less, I got nothing.

    I searched the Local Govt Act and the only mention of photography was in the definition list because the “filming” definition does not cover still photography. What other provisions is she talking about?

    Why do all those organisations that have no power over the council’s day-to-day operations even bother to have a filming protocol at all? Surely the same power that allows them to set a filming policy allows them to set a stills photography policy?

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