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Moran defies city council gag rule, calls on churches to open doors to homeless

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Adelaide City councillor Anne Moran has rebelled against the council’s new “gag” rule just days after it was voted in, telling InDaily she plans to lodge a motion requesting that city churches open their doors to rough sleepers at night.

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On Tuesday the city council voted to adopt a controversial new rule in its standing orders that silences councillors from speaking to the media about motions before the publication of council agendas.

According to legal advice received by the council, elected members who repeatedly defy the standing orders could be sanctioned with code of conduct warnings and referred to the state’s ombudsman.

But Moran – a vocal opponent of the rule – said she would disobey the standing orders by continuing to speak to the media about motions she intended to put forward.

“I can tell the CEO now to line up the code of conducts,” Moran told Tuesday night’s meeting.

“I will be racking up three or four code of conducts every council meeting, and you try and police that one.”

Moran – who has already received one code of conduct warning this council term – told InDaily she intends to lodge a motion in the coming weeks calling on the council to investigate working with religious groups to allow homeless people to sleep in city churches, mosques or synagogues during cold winter nights.

She said the intention of the motion was not to force religious groups to open their places of worship, rather to encourage them to offer a place of refuge to people sleeping rough in light of a recent spate of severe weather in Adelaide.

Last night the State Government activated this year’s first “code blue” alert, which puts in place extra services for homeless people during significant weather events.

It follows the death of a homeless woman suffering from influenza in the south park lands in May, and criticism from advocates and the state opposition that the code blue alert was not activated sooner.

Moran said the motion she intended to put forward was inspired by agreements already in place in some European cities including Paris, where homeless people are granted refuge in certain churches during winter nights.

“It’s worked quite well there during their bitterly cold times and we’ve got a similar situation here – an out-of-control homeless situation, bad weather and nowhere for them to go,” she said.

“These churches have plenty of room, plenty of pews and that’s what a church should be – a sanctuary for the poor, ill and vulnerable.”

Moran said she was yet to discuss the idea with religious groups in Adelaide.

She suggested the council could speak to cities that had already implemented similar arrangements, as well as religious groups in Adelaide.

“It’s not a wacky idea or reinventing the wheel at all,” she said.

“It was widely reported that what Paris was doing was wildly popular so we would just be standing on the shoulders of them and do whatever model that they’re doing.

“It’s a desperate alternative but it’s better than what’s happening now.”

Moran said she could not say when she would lodge the motion as she feared she would be in further breach of the council’s standing orders.

“It could be next meeting… I would be moving in that direction,” she said.

She said she believed she was not breaching the standing orders by informing the media of the proposed motion, as she had already floated the idea on social media and had spoken to InDaily about the idea before the council voted to adopt the ruling.

But the council’s CEO Mark Goldstone told Tuesday night’s meeting a councillor could be in breach of the standing orders if they informed the public of motions they intended to put forward on their social media platforms.

“I’ve pre-dated the new gag,” Moran affirmed.

“The new gag stops me from giving you the specific information and telling you when I move it but it doesn’t stop me, I presume, from talking about ideas and telling you that I will be pressing forward with that on council.

“I’m sure this new rule wasn’t meant to gag all conversation with the public, which I view the media as, and I’m sure it wasn’t to stop councillors from floating ideas and putting forward ideas to the public media.

“But, it is a shame that I can’t give those more specific details.”

Fellow councillor Robert Simms said he supported Moran’s call for churches to open their doors to the homeless, adding it was important that the council gave religious groups adequate opportunity to provide feedback to the proposal.

“There’s lots of vacant buildings in the city as well and maybe it’s a good opportunity to look at those too,” he said.

Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad said he could not provide much comment on the proposal as he did not have sufficient detail.

“I don’t know if we could force a church to do anything,” he said.

“Council has other facilities like UParks that we could open up, so maybe that would be more productive to look at that rather than asking a third party.”

On Tuesday the council unanimously voted to declare a “crisis of homelessness” in the city, following the release of data from the Adelaide Zero project last month, which showed 227 people were sleeping rough in Adelaide – up from 143 people at the same time last year.

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