“And They Said it Couldn’t Be Done!”

In July last year, a newly formed group going under the impressive acronym FRAIC – Fremantle Residents Against Illegal Camping – produced a Plan to reduce the incidence of illegal camping around Freo, if not eliminate it entirely. Six moths down the track FRAIC are pleased to see that steps taken by the City of Fremantle to control the problem have borne fruit. In this article, Trevor Jewell, on behalf of FRAIC proudly observes: “And They Said it Could Not Be Done!”.

FRAIC are not resting on their laurels, however, and Trevor Jewell lays out the need for law reform so local governments like City of Freo can even more effectively control illegal camping.

The City of Fremantle Council is to be congratulated for their work in significantly reducing the numbers of illegal campers in South Fremantle this Christmas holidays.

Last year there were over 100 illegal campers per night flooding the South Beach car park area. Then, Council officers and Councillors maintained that it was virtually impossible to do anything about illegal camping in Fremantle.

With a concerted effort from Council staff there only have been between 3 and 15 illegal camper vehicles per night this year. This is a big change and it shows that law enforcement works!

FRAIC – Fremantle Residents Against Illegal Camping – has been working with Freo Councillors and the Community Safety Team/Rangers and together we have been able to achieve a substantial reduction in the number of illegal campers in South Fremantle this year. The Community Safety/Ranger teams have achieved this significant reduction by erecting ‘No Camping’ signs, establishing parking restrictions in the South Beach car park and, importantly, consistently enforcing the rules with the illegal campers.

These efforts over the last year, has shown that Council and local government generally, is poorly served by legislation relating to illegal camping. The powers of the City’s Officers to enforce parking and no camping restrictions are very limited, especially with interstate and overseas travellers who ignore all instructions and do not pay fines. City officers must rely on local Police to issue move-on notices to illegal campers and ask for names and addresses, as only the Police have these powers. Similarly Police cannot fine illegal campers because they do not have the legislative power. There is an urgent need for legislative reform that supports action by responsible local governments.

100 or so illegal campers have not gone away – they have simply moved to a location where there is no law enforcement. The illegal camping problem in Western Australia is exacerbated by some local government areas and Government agencies refusing to do anything about the campers. For example, Fremantle Ports does nothing about the illegal campers and has 30 to 50 vehicles per night on its land. Tellingly, online videos promote South Mole as a place to free camp. Similarly, the City of Melville does little to deter the 20 to 30 campers who stay for long periods at Point Walter.

Illegal campers break the law and abuse the hospitality of the Fremantle community. Every week there are many examples of the poor camper behaviour in South Fremantle. Two or three times a week there are big traveller parties at South Beach that have to be shut down by rangers and police. They may not stay overnight but many are at South Beach for three quarters of the day even though there are four hour parking restrictions and they leave large amounts of rubbish behind. Extremes in traveller behaviour include harassing a pensioner and stealing their water, big rave parties that have to be shut down by police, drunken fights, drug dealing and general anti-social behaviour. They hog the available parking spaces at the beach whilst they wash, toilet inappropriately, do their cooking, clean, maintain their vehicles and lay about. This is behaviour for a caravan park not a beach side car park.

In Western Australia, local government bears the sole responsibility for dealing with illegal campers. This burden needs to be shared with other levels of government and this needs to be achieved through legislative reform. The Caravan Parks and Camping Grounds Act 1997 deals with illegal camping and it’s out of date and is hard to use. Councils are free to do as little or a lot on this issue and there is no requirement for any level of coordination of efforts and consistency of law enforcement. At present the illegal campers know the gaps in the law and exploit them mercilessly. Councils and their staff need to have the significant enforcement powers to deter the campers, including the power to demand names and addresses, the authority to tow away and to impound the illegal camper vehicles at the owner’s expense.

FRAIC has been trying to highlight the illegal camping issue for years. Fremantle Council is now supporting our efforts by enforcing the illegal camping laws, but we cannot create the level of state wide change that is required. The issue requires significant political leadership from our Member of Parliament and the Mayor the City of Fremantle to get action on the legislative and policy reform required to remedy this growing problem.

If you are a concerned about illegal camping please contact Council Rangers, Local Councillors and the Member for Fremantle when you have issues. This is the only way we can effect change and extend the perception that “It’s not Ok to illegally camp in Fremantle and surrounding areas”.

Fremantle Council and the State Government must correct the perception that illegal campers can freely camp where they like and behave badly when they like in Fremantle and around the State. These are not homeless people. The campers have the resources to anonymously drift though life without paying for much, abusing local community services and do not conform to rules that are routinely followed by other tourists. The majority of visitors to our City willingly register with accommodation providers, pay for the services they use and generally conform to community behaviour standards. Why should the illegal camping community get everything for free?

* By Trevor Jewell, spokesperson for FRAIC


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