Council urged to scrap major parking trial at beaches after issuing $100,000 in fines

A council in Melbourne has been reported to the Human Rights Commissioner for issuing 1,000 infringement notices, which a lobbyist group says are unlawful.

An Aussie council is facing mounting pressure to refund almost $100,000 in parking fines after a lobby group claimed it had unfairly targeted the elderly, those with a disability and the LGBTQ+ community.

Independent lobbyists Council Watch reported the Morning Peninsula Shire council, in Melbourne's southeast, to the Human Rights Commissioner for issuing 1,000 $96 infringement notices since it introduced paid parking in a pilot scheme at three beaches on December 1 last year.

Council Watch say the ticketless system introduced at car parks at Schnapper Point in Mornington, Flinders Pier and Sunnyside North in Mt Eliza — which uses number plate recognition technology to identify offending vehicles — unfairly targets the elderly and Aussies with disabilities because parking permits rely on the use of an app, which they said isn't easily accessible to all.

The visitor paid parking pilot notice on display at Schnapper Point, in Mornington.
Schnapper Point, in Mornington is one of three locations that's been selected in the paid parking trial. Picture: Herald Sun

Cameras used to detect offender vehicles under new scheme

At the beaches, residents can park for free if they secure an electronic permit, but visitors must use the app to pay $6.20 per hour, or $19.50 per day to park.

The Shire uses cameras to capture offending vehicles who have not properly paid for parking, but Council Watch claims the use of such surveillance goes against the council's own policy, which states CCTV cameras must not be used for anything other than "evidence-based community safety". Footage, the council states, must only be viewed by Victoria Police for "crime prevention and crime solving".

"It is vital that the community is made aware before they have footage or images used against them," Council Watch President Dean Hurlston told The Herald Sun, calling on the council to cancel fines administered already under the scheme and amend current policies in place.

Hurlston criticised the lack of community consultation before rolling out the surveillance technology, claiming council was on "shaky ground".

But a spokesperson for the Mornington Peninsula Shire said the pilot used licence plate recognition cameras – not CCTV – to capture vehicle registration plates through photographic stills. These photos are accessible to council parking officers who can request vehicle ownership data from VicRoads.

Hurlston says through the use of the app system, many were left in the lurch. "They have no alternative means of paying for parking, especially on a Sunday when the call centre (for paid parking) is closed," he said.

LGBTQ+ targeted in second complaint

In a second complaint, Council Watch also said it was concerned about the decision to include Sunnyside North in the scheme — a clothing-optional beach popular with naturists and the LGBTQ+ community. According to Australian Naturists Foundation's Michael James, many Sunnyside North visitors felt the council had unfairly targeted their "safe space".

"The beach is popular with the LGBTQI community because it is considered a safe space" he said, adding it was Melbourne's only clothing-optional spot. "The next closest is Point Impossible in Torquay, 173km away."

Cars in the car park at Sunnyside North.
The car park at Sunnyside North. Source: Herald Sun

In 2022 the council attempted to revoke Sunnyside’s clothing optional status, though it was ultimately saved following overwhelming support from the nudist community across the country.

"It’s not hard to understand why members would question the motives of including Sunnyside North when there are so many other beach car parks across the peninsula where paid parking could be tested," James said.

Almost $350,000 in revenue raised in just months

In response, a council spokesperson said Sunnyside North was chosen because it had a single point of entry and exit, making it an ideal location to try out the vehicle identification technology.

Since the trial began, almost $350,000 in revenue has been made, according to The Herald Sun — including some $99,300 from fines alone. The scheme was originally rolled out to generate revenue from visitors which council said would be put back into maintaining infrastructure.

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