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Helium filled balloon ban on the horizon

Geoff Helisma |

Clarence Valley Council (CVC) will develop a policy to prohibit “the use and sale of helium balloons on council-managed lands and facilities”.

The draft policy is scheduled to be reported back to councillors by September 2019, after which it will be publically exhibited – to gain feedback from the community – prior to being adopted at a subsequent CVC meeting.

The report, due to be tabled by September, will include “details of the impact [the] policy may have on any other council policies, the regulatory implications for the implementation of [the] policy, and a draft public awareness campaign about the environmental impacts of balloons, including the estimated costs of [the] campaign”.

Councillor Clancy moved the motion (seconded Cr Novak) as above, however, the removal of his second point, to erect signs at the entrance to all of CVC’s cemeteries, was subsequently unanimously supported.

The report to council noted: “Any released balloon, at best, becomes litter.

“They may also end up in the stormwater, rivers and oceans where they are ingested by aquatic animals.

“The balloons, along with any ribbons or plastic disks attached, can harm the animals by blocking their airways or becoming lodged in their intestines.”

Questions and debate about the matter went for almost an hour. 

Councillor Lysaught said he had been approached by people who “cannot believe we are debating an issue over a balloon”.

He likened the idea of going to a park and “taking balloons off kids”, as turning council officers into “fun police”.

Councillor Toms said “it’s what people do with balloons that is the problem”.

“Letting them go is littering,” she said. “They end up in trees, oceans and waterways and they become killers … it’s ironic that we use them to remember lives, yet letting them go kills endangered species.”

Councillor Williamson argued that CVC could not “make a genuine dent in the problem” and that it is a state issue, pointing out that legislation allows the release of up to 20 helium filled balloons.

“If you seriously think we can put a dent in a problem we are told exists, you are kidding,” he said.

Councillor Ellem highlighted that the debate was “just about asking staff” to bring a report back to council.

“To actually advocate the release of these things into the atmosphere is a dinosaur mentality,” he said.

Cr Kingsley said he had “talked with marine friends, who confirmed the adverse effects of balloons on marine life”.

Cr Baker said he had received feedback “from people who would not normally give it to me”.

“One put it eloquently, regarding the council’s ability to police compliance of its existing prohibitions – particularly the dogs on Yamba beach; it’s more like dog turd alley,” he said.

“I gather what we are really interested in is the release of helium balloons from council lands … if we are going to find a way to slug people for $110 [fine] why not develop all of the things we want to develop, but better still let’s prove we can control what we already prohibit.”

Mayor Simmons said “there is [state] law that governs the release of balloons … I’m not sure it is council’s place to endeavour to legislate on the release of balloons”.

“It might be better to make reps to the state government to revise or ban the release of balloons instead of council taking up their role,” he said.

Cr Clancy, who brought the initial motion to council following CVC’s Climate Change Advisory Committee’s consideration of the issue, said he was tired of some of the “spurious arguments” put forward and became quite loud expressing his frustration.

“No one is going to [fine] a five-year-old,” he said.

“[But] this is not being the fun police; this is being serious about a serious issue.

“If we as a council cannot show leadership … I am really disgusted.

“We cannot rely on state and federal governments – the NSW Government has increased extinction rates with its new land-clearing [rules].

“We make littering illegal and yet we encourage this.

“Is it legal for people to throw litter into a park?

“Will they be fined?

“Of course they would.”

Councillors Novak, Ellem, Toms, Clancy and Kingsley voted to have staff prepare the report: councillors Lysaught, Williamson, Baker and Simmons were opposed.