New mayor slams online intimidation

BAYSWATER’S new mayor and one of her colleagues have called out local Facebook pages linked to a vocal resident, for persistently targeting female candidates during the council elections.

James Kozak is the main author of Facebook pages including Bayswater WTF Community Notices and Chat Group, and Oh Fishal Page of Those Blocked by Cr Catherine Ehrhardt, which he characterises as “satire”.

Following Filomena Piffaretti’s election as Bayswater’s first female mayor this week, the WTF page, where Mr Kozak is listed as one of the administrators, ran a series of images from a social occasion earlier this year where she played up for the camera.

One of the posts suggested Cr Piffaretti’s expression looked as though she’d soiled herself, while another mockingly described her and Cr Ehrhardt as the city’s “braintrust”. 

A final image in the series, which was not of Cr Piffaretti, featured a similar-looking woman slumped forward while vomiting on the floor of a party. “Our new Bayswater mayor, Filomena Piffaretti, just learned her new paycheck of $140,000 brings with it actual responsibilities to work in the ratepayers [sic] interests,” the caption read. 

During the election his pages also took aim at candidate Sophie Edge, mocking her appearance and saying her job with multinational government contractor Serco made her unsuitable for office.

Cr Catherine Ehrhardt has been the target of Mr Kozak’s keyboard critique for more than a year, with one of his pages likening her behaviour to North Korean dictators and ascribing a discarded tampon as residents’ response to her support for “biophilic design principles”.

Cr Piffaretti said: It’s unacceptable that as the first female mayor in the City of Bayswater’s history, I and my fellow female councillors have been subjected to this kind of intimidation, harassment, bullying and defamation online.

“This kind of behaviour is designed to intimidate women out of serving in public roles and I and my fellow councillors won’t put up with it, but neither will we be distracted from doing our jobs because of it.”

Cr Ehrhardt said that during most of her time on council she had been subjected to “intimidation and harassment” from supporters of other councillors.

“None of this is new but it’s disgraceful and almost always directed at women.

A member of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association WA branch, Cr Ehrhardt said the targeting of women in local government was a growing problem nationally.

Back in September Mr Kozak posted screenshots of two notifications he received from Facebook after it removed posts on the Oh Fishal page for “bullying”.

Mr Kozak “reminded” the Voice “the same High Court protected freedom that allows the West Australian to satirise Clive Palmer as a cockroach or cane toad, allows any public official to be satirised”, claiming that exempted his posts from being described as bullying.

But it wasn’t quite enough protection to acknowledge whether he was the author of the post mocking Ms Edge: “I have no intention of walking into legal exposure of any sort, whether it is merited or not,” he said.

Shortly afterwards, five of the Facebook pages posted identical messages claiming the Voice was seeking to “chill” his right to parody and satirise public officials. 

“You heard it here first,” the posts read. “The Perth Voice is working on an article it will publish soon, regarding among other things, the political parody and satire this page… embraces.

“Apparently in the South Ward, some of our elected representatives and hopeful representatives, do not respect this right, believing they are too special to be the subject of these protected rights, and are collaborating with the Perth Voice for this article. 

“We here … believe in our rights and yours, and will not be intimidated by these threats.”

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