Being present in the Byron Bay courtroom last Friday was like watching a slow motion implosion. It was never going to be a happy ending for the accused.
Oh but what theatre: a casually dressed and slightly over-confident Shai Major claimed he couldn’t afford a lawyer (legal aid refused) and struggled with some of the legal jargon. Adding to that, English is his second language. He was charged with ‘development without consent’; in other words he organised a group of schoolies to board at his Byron Bay share-house for a week.
The prosecution included two Council lawyers with a town planner and a Council compliance officer as witnesses.
Despite his very bad odds, The Echo is not sympathetic to Mr Major’s case – he did after all break the law. But fining an unemployed person nearly $100,000 only means two things: declare bankruptcy or pay back $12 per week, as per Centrelink’s debt repayment plan. That equals 160 years of debt, and the prospect of ever recovering Council’s legal fees of $20,000 is remote.
Rules to consider if unrepresented: never talk over the magistrate and don’t make assumptions in any questions you ask.
Stay on topic and defend the facts. As hard as he tried to highlight the hypocrisy of holiday letting and counter-accuse Council and APN media of racism and unfair treatment, leniency wouldn’t be applied by any reasonable magistrate because it’s off topic. Pleading guilty may have been a start, but that means you acknowledge accountability.
Hopefully this result will widen the debate over community housing versus holiday letting in a town where the main currency is tourism. Clearly defined areas need to be applied under Council’s Local Environment Plan (LEP) so there is little doubt what constitutes someone’s house or party dorm accommodation.
Would Mr Major have continued to host schoolies if his neighbours didn’t dob him in? Does this send a ‘strong message’? Who’s next? Will Council continue to act upon the small fry?