It was the sex talk that Wagga Wagga City Council couldn’t avoid, but in the end, it was something of a moot point.
Following a fiery few days of community discussion and online debate, it was determined that the children’s educational book Welcome to Sex will remain in the city library after the matter was pushed to a vote at Monday’s meeting.
In fact, it turns out that the council does not have the authority to ban any book from a public library in NSW.
The drama began on Thursday with Councillor Michael Henderson’s Notice of Motion calling for the removal of the title from the library.
Responding to “community concerns”, Cr Henderson highlighted the book’s “graphic descriptions of sexual activities” and said it “aggressively pushes gender ideology in children”, placed children at risk of sexual abuse and “advises children how to send nudes by cropping out their heads”.
But just hours before Monday’s meeting, Cr Henderson announced that he would withdraw the motion due to the absence of several council members, with the promise to revisit the issue “at a future ordinary council meeting”.
However, Cr Dan Hayes, who has been outspoken in his objection to the book’s proposed removal, blocked the withdrawal and put forward an alternative motion that was seconded by Cr Jenny McKinnon.
“The chaos, resources and time lost caused by Cr Henderson putting up a motion then trying to withdraw it has turned the ridiculous into the embarrassing and the absurd, regardless of the intention,” Cr Hayes said.
“We have multiple items on the agenda tonight that I assume will not be deferred. We have a quorum. Let’s get on with it. That’s how it works.”
Cr Hayes rejected the original Notice of Motion and said his alternative would not “imply that councillors don’t trust parents in making decisions and educating their own children”.
“It doesn’t imply that councillors are scared about information and knowledge on body, sex and relationships,” he said.
“It doesn’t say that information should stay hidden in the boot of their car like a dirty little secret that no-one can see.”
Rather, he argued, the intention should be to support libraries and the approach they take to managing their collections.
“If you don’t want your child reading this book, then parent them, supervise them, talk to them. Don’t outsource your parenting to others and then cry foul when you don’t like it,” he said.
In expressing her support for the book to remain in the library, Cr McKinnon noted the abundance of positive reviews from parents online.
“I believe it’s parents who should be making these decisions and having these conversations with their children, not having that decision imposed upon them by Wagga City Council,” she said.
When his turn came, Cr Richard Foley poured cold water on the whole discussion by highlighting the “legal reality” of the situation as set out by the Library Act 1939.
He explained that under the act, councils are not permitted to engage in censorship.
“Monitoring of the reading of children is the primary responsibility of their parents and/or guardians. So it’s pretty clear that we can’t do that,” he said, adding that a “frenzy” had been whipped up around the book since its publication.
“I’ve had to receive three phone calls in the last 48 hours from people in the public who remain anonymous, too gutless to call out their name to me on the phone, accusing me of helping peddle pornography to children!”
In an attempt to find some middle ground, Cr Tim Koschel questioned the library manager about where the books were displayed in the library and it was confirmed that copies were in the children’s section.
Cr Koschel proposed an amendment, to have the book relocated to the older youth section.
He agreed that ultimate responsibility fell to parents on the issue at hand but said there was also a responsibility to make sure children were safe when visiting places such as the public library.
“I think our responsibility is to have the age-appropriate books in the right section of the library,” he said.
Cr Henderson supported the compromise, but maintained that the book was “pornographic”.
“There is no way I would let my granddaughter or son at eight years of age read what is in that. Some of it was an eye-opener to me,” he said, brandishing a copy of the book.
“I’m supportive of keeping it in the library if that’s what it’s got to be, but be regulated to who it’s loaned to and to the appropriate people.”
Cr Foley again referred to the Library Act and pointed out that even relocating the book was not something a council could do.
The amendment was voted down four votes to two.
Finalising his argument, Cr Hayes ran through a list of other “controversial” titles that were available in the library and asserted that managing the collection should be left to library staff.
As the alternative motion was finally put to the vote, Cr Henderson stuck to his guns and said there was “a duty of care” to protect children from the potentially harmful material and Cr Koschel reiterated his discomfort with the book’s location in the junior section of the library.
The motion was carried four votes to two.