MINISTER for Equality Martin Foley has penned a letter to the Surf Coast Shire Council urging them to fly the rainbow flag, after a motion was passed to take the flag down while the community consulted on the ‘issue’.

Surf Coast had been flying the flag since International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) under a motion to keep it there until same-sex marriage is legalised in Australia.

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However, at a recent council meeting Councillor Heather Wellington – who was absent when the initial motion was passed – successfully moved a counter motion for the flag to be taken down, in a move that has been labelled opportunistic.

The matter will now be debated again in June, after a late notice to rescind the motion was lodged.

In a letter to Mayor Brian McKiterick, Foley said he was disappointed to hear the original motion had been rescinded.

“To hear about the last minute resolution that was not transparent and seemed to take political advantage – is incredibly concerning, damaging, and frankly a slap in the face to the local community,” he wrote.

“We know that LGBTI Victorians especially in regional areas have poor mental health outcomes.

“Across all level of government elected officials have a responsibility to support all Victorians – no matter their culture, identity, or background.”

In response, Mayor McKiterick wrote to Foley saying the Council was well aware of the importance of the issue, but wished to undertake community consultation before raising the flag once again.

“An important consideration in this debate is the role of local government in an issue that is essentially a federal government responsibility,” he wrote.

“We would encourage both the state and federal governments to take responsibility for resolving this issue with the Australian community.

“The [counter] motion sought to address important concerns that had been urgently raised by many in our community, with Council receiving several petitions on this issue.”

Cr Wellington, who moved the counter motion, said that she and some other councillors had been wrongly accused of homophobia and bigotry, in a report by The Herald Sun.

“I am a health care professional and I personally support the LGBTI community,” she said.

“But the question is what are we here for?

“I’m really tired of local government launching off into things that a bare majority of councillors around the table think are important to engage in when most of the community do not.”

Community members across the Surf Coast have created a Facebook campaign urging the council to fly the rainbow flag, and flying rainbow flags of their own.

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