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Bayside Council rejects proposal to ban fossil fuel ads in favour of revenue stream

Councillors vote against the ban, raising concerns about potential financial implications.

Bayside Council rejected a proposal to ban the promotion of fossil fuel advertising on Council-owned sites in a move to prioritise revenue streams at last week’s council meeting.

Greens Councillor Greta Werner submitted the motion citing concerns about the potential health and climate change impacts of fossil fuels. The proposal called for the council to ban sponsorships from companies involved in the sale or extraction of fossil fuels, along with a detailed report regarding options to restrict such advertising across council-owned sites.

“Council has the right to decide what appears on our property and which companies it has sponsorship agreements with. We already banned tobacco, gambling and alcohol promotions and…we can add the words fossil fuels to the list of prohibited products,” Cr Werner said during the May 24 council meeting.

Twelve councillors voted against the ban to defeat the motion. Cr Werner and independent Councillor Heidi Lee Douglas were the only two to support the proposal.

The primary reason cited by councillors for rejecting the motion was the risk the ban would pose on the council’s financial revenue streams.

Independent Councillor Andrew Tsounis referenced the controversial oil and gas giant Santos as an example of a company that does “great things but also has a fuel mix, or coal mix, an oil or some mix in their portfolio.”

“It's a very complicated issue and we don’t need to put people offside, especially when we're looking for revenue streams,” Cr Tsounis said at the meeting.

Independent Councillor Liz Barlow seconded this opinion: “I feel the council is so busy at the moment, they really cannot keep looking at things that aren't really local government.”

“How many people in Bayside would know that company [produces] fossil fuels?” she said.

Notably, NSW councils including City of Sydney, Inner West, Lane Cove, Wingecarribee, and Byron Bay have voted for or taken significant steps towards banning fossil fuel ads in their district. Yarra, Merri-Bek, Darebin, Glen Eira and Maribyrnong councils in Melbourne, Fremantle in Western Australia, and Waratah Wynyard in Tasmania have also made similar moves.

In 2022 over 200 health professions and organisations signed an open letter demanding Australian lawmakers ban fossil fuel advertising.

“It is expected that climate change could cause around 83 million human deaths by 2100 if urgent action isn’t taken. Countless more will suffer long-term physical, economic and mental impacts of displacement, loss of life and loss of livelihoods.

“Advertising fossil fuels serves no purpose other than to increase demand for the products that are driving climate change and harming our community. There is no good argument for continuing to allow fossil fuel companies to promote themselves,” read the letter.

Independent Councillor Heidi Lee Douglas expressed significant concern for the council’s lack of action on the matter.

“We have heard tonight that at least 10 other councils in Australia have already taken this step. I personally would feel ill if I knew that Bayside Council was accepting money from fossil fuel companies. I am very worried about my children's future.

“If we do not take our positions as leaders in this society seriously by addressing these issues on a local level, we can't expect anything to change. Things have to change locally, as well as globally. We have to take responsibility here and now,” Cr Douglas said.

Cr Werner submitted the proposal in response to Bayside Council’s ongoing negotiations with companies interested in bus shelter advertising.

A Bayside Council City Works & Assets Committee Agenda from April 12 reveals that bus shelter advertising could “yield a strong recurring income for council”.

Furthermore, council is currently awaiting a report that outlines “the potential for increasing the amount of paid advertising on council assets”, following a motion moved by Independent Councillor Mark Hanna in September 2022.

Hanna, who voted against the ban on fossil fuel advertising, suggested that the council determine advertising on a case-by-case basis rather than an overarching policy at last week’s meeting.

The Fossil Fuel Ad Ban campaign organisers, Comms Declare, estimate that over $238 million was spent by fossil fuel corporations on marketing activities in the 2021 financial year.

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