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Harassment alleged

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April 13, 2018

The Victorian Government has proposed a major shake-up of our court system and sentencing requirements that would see more people locked up for longer.

The organiser of a local nudist event claims there is a concerted cover-up campaign being run against his Nudemanfest.

And Kevin Smith said the people who opposed the event, which began on his Tatong property in 2011, were using harassment and intimidation and were being driven by homophobia.

Mr Smith is accusing Benalla Rural City Council and, even though he is a policeman, has also tagged Benalla police as part of the campaign.

And he said despite Benalla supporting a proud history of nude events he was being singled out in a deliberate and jackbooted approach.

Mr Smith has been hosting the regular event since 2011, but said the latest bid to stop his gatherings had crossed a line.

‘‘At the start of last month I had just celebrated 30 years of being a policeman,’’ Mr Smith said.

‘‘I arrived home late to find a letter from Benalla Rural City Council giving me two days’ notice that an inspection would take place at my property.

‘‘It stated the inspection was to ensure no Nudemanfest event was taking place.

‘‘In the notice they said a flyer had been circulated promoting an event at my address on March 9 — but I knew nothing about this.’’

Mr Smith did discover a web designer employed to create the Nudemanfest website had incorrectly sent the flyer out.

Which, he agreed, made it fair to ‘‘accept that council did think an event would be taking place’’.

‘‘However, the difference between this visit and previous inspections was when council representatives arrived they were accompanied by two police cars and three officers from Benalla,’’ he said.

‘‘At the time I was hosting a private party for friends to celebrate my 30-year anniversary with the police.

‘‘On other occasions the council had only sent one or two people, each time there was transparency and they were treated professionally and with respect.

‘‘But for some reason, this time they brought police.

‘‘I asked the sergeant what their reason for attending was and he told me ‘under the act we’re allowed to come and act as security and prevent any breaches of them (council) doing their job’.

‘‘The need for security was baffling, they were attending a serving policeman’s property.

‘‘I’m a policeman, I’ve been a policeman much longer than the three attending officers, so what would be the need for them to come out and act as security?

‘‘I had even registered the party with Victoria Police, so they should have been aware that it was only a small gathering of nine or 10 people.’’

Mr Smith said he believed the main reason for the visit was to intimidate him.

Benalla Rural City Council’s manager of arts, communication, tourism and events Jilian Mulally confirmed council officers attended Mr Smith’s property with police on March 9.

‘‘Victoria Police attended the visit at the request of the council officers under our obligations to occupational health and safety,’’ Ms Mulally said.

Mr Smith maintained the visit was unnecessary and the presence of police was not required.

‘‘This is an example of the council being very selective as to what types of event they do and don’t want to take place in their area. It amounts to harassment,’’ Mr Smith said.

‘‘They claim the issue is nudity, yet they’ve had the mayor appear nude in an all-male nude calendar.

‘‘The council supported an art exhibition with three naked menstruating women eating a plate of roast beef.

‘‘They’ve had another naked female exhibition.

‘‘And they’ve had the nude bike ride as part of the Benalla festival in 2013 and 2014.

‘‘They let people assemble outside the old post office completely naked for those events.

‘‘There was no police enforcement for anything like that, but out at Tatong in a secluded area there was.’’

Ms Mulally said this was not a case of discrimination and council assessed all event applications according to the obligations of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Benalla Planning Scheme.

‘‘Neither the Planning and Environment Act nor the Benalla Planning Scheme have allowances for the consideration of assessment based on nudity or sexuality,’’ she said.

Mr Smith said the problems regarding Nudemanfest arose when Benalla Rural City council was initially made aware of the event and subsequently contacted local people.

‘‘Nudemanfest had been running three times a year since 2011.

‘‘Council came to me saying I had to have a permit.

‘‘As part of that process they informed all the local people in Tatong.

‘‘That is when this welling up of homophobia became apparent.

‘‘The whole thing became totally ridiculous and people started saying it was affecting their cows.

‘‘One said that ‘bad would arise’ and that same person claimed her stud cattle breeding program would be jeopardised.

‘‘Another woman, who lives 8km away, said her mares were in danger of aborting. Another said all the fish in the river would die from the pollution.

‘‘Another neighbour said that he didn’t care what I would be proposing, he would oppose any event I ever tried to hold.’’

Mr Smith said only one of the neighbours who complained adjoined his property and they were more than two kilometres from where the events were held.

He feels the complaints are misguided and the ongoing effect on him is that he is being harassed by council and the police.

Benalla Police has confirmed three officers did attend Mr Smith’s address on March 9 under the provisions of the planning and environment act, 1987.

They told the Ensign this was in response to a request made by Benalla Rural City Council and that under section 136 of the act they have to provide assistance if requested to do so.

In regards to Mr Smith’s claims of homophobia, Ms Mulally said the only reason for the visit was that the council was required to respond to breaches of the Benalla Planning Scheme.

‘‘The council treats all members of the community equally and fairly,’’ she said.

‘‘The council works with many young people in the LGBTQI community to create safe and inclusive spaces.

‘‘To say that the council has a homophobic agenda is both incorrect and has the potential to create unsubstantiated fear, doubt and distress in the minds of young LGBTQI community members.’’

Mr Smith has complied with council requests to stop holding Nudemanfest on his property and has been running regular events at another location in the Benalla Rural City shire.

That location is secluded; has all the relevant permits and no person has made any complaints.

Mr Smith also confirmed he was talking with solicitors and intended to take his complaint further.

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