COMMUNITY USE OF PUBLIC HALLS
Mr McBRIDE: I ask the Minister for Local Government what the Government is doing to ensure that school halls can be used for public meetings.
Mr E. T. PAGE: This Government is really working, as I will point out. It recently came to my attention that community groups wishing to hold meetings in school halls, libraries, church halls, assembly halls and the like had to obtain approval under the Local Government Act to use those buildings as a place of public entertainment - a requirement that has been in the Local Government Act since it was enacted by the coalition in 1993. Traditionally, school halls and the like have been valuable to the community as venues for public meetings, and the current legal requirement to obtain approval is absurd. It clearly represents an example of unnecessary regulation in restricting the community from holding meetings in buildings that have, for a long time, been used for public meetings.
The need for approval not only is inconvenient but potentially restricts the right of the community to organise in exercise of its democratic rights. Technically, as the Act now stands, approval must be obtained to use a place of public entertainment when groups such as Neighbourhood Watch, precinct committees, community groups, et cetera, wish to meet in school halls. Failure to obtain approval would render technically illegal any meeting held in such halls, and pose potentially serious public liability problems for the organisers of such meetings. It is vital to our society that easily accessible venues be available to groups to discuss issues.
Therefore I have signed a regulation to cut through all the red tape and ensure that community groups can use school halls for meetings without the need to seek approval. Effective this Friday, the Local Government (Approvals) Regulation will be amended to exempt public meetings from the need to obtain special approval under the Local Government Act. The exemption will apply to class 9b buildings under the Building Code of Australia, which includes buildings of a public nature such as school halls - including both private and public school halls - classrooms, libraries, church halls and other assembly halls. The exemption will not compromise fire safety standards for the purposes of public meetings.
From a fire safety point of view, the nature of public meetings in premises of the type covered by the exemption is recognised as being similar to the predominant use of school halls and the like in their normal day-to-day use. The Building Code of Australia, through the class 9b classification and standards for assembly buildings, is adequate for the purpose of public meetings. Compliance with Building Code of Australia requirements for class 9b buildings will provide adequate standards without the necessity for public entertainment approval.
Community groups, such as parents and citizens groups, political parties, council precinct groups, Neighbourhood Watch, resident action groups and others will be able to use community halls as they have done since time immemorial. The aberration in the 1993 Act will be overcome on Friday. The Country Womens Association will also benefit. The exemption will have a great effect in country areas, and it is another example of this Government looking after country people. When people in country areas have problems, this Government is out there providing an immediate solution. As from Friday, public halls will be available for general use, as they have been in the past.