My Place Yarra Valley inviting ‘freedom fighters’ to fortnightly meetings

Monica Smit speaking in front of a group in Benalla. Picture: SUPPLIED

By Callum Ludwig

Just over a year has passed since My Place Yarra Valley (MPYV) made headlines by attending Yarra Ranges Council meetings in large numbers to object to the ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’ planning concept and share their fears of increased surveillance.

The group remains active, holding fortnightly meetings, including guest speakers, and notably will welcome Monica Smit, founder and director of the Reignite Democracy Australia freedom movement on Thursday 22 February.

Founder of MPYV Belinda Modesti said the potential of a visit from Ms Smit was put forward by a member of the group who was interested in what she has to say.

“We’re not about censoring people or putting my personal views ahead of the requests of others in the community, there are some people in the community who question her, perhaps her ethics or her morals, in terms of funds and things like that, but we just want to hear what she has to say and make our own decisions about whether we want to support her or not moving forward,” she said.

“I’m personally actually interested in hearing her out, I’m not a follower of her, as some other people are, but I’m interested in forming my own thoughts about her once she comes and gives her talk.”

Ms Smit is currently conducting a national tour, making unpaid visits to community groups who book her. Ms Smit rose to prominence after founding Reignite Democracy Australia in 2020 and being held in custody for 22 days, refusing bail conditions after being accused of inciting others to breach public health orders and attend anti-lockdown protests, of which those charges were later dropped. She also wrote a book, ‘Cell 22’, detailing her experience.

Ms Smit said as it reads on her mission statement, that her mission is for attendees to leave the event feeling more connected, empowered and inspired for whatever comes next.

“I will talk about the lessons I learnt on the front line of Victoria’s pushback movement, what I think we should be focusing on now, and my experience meeting our European freedom family,” she said.

“Afterwards, I’d love to hug and connect with as many freedom lovers as possible. I will have copies of ‘Cell 22’ with me for signing and discussion.”

Not all MPYV members are welcoming of Ms Smit’s appearance, sharing their displeasure in the comments of a post in the group’s private Facebook group. Ms Smit also returned to headlines in late 2023 after appearing at a hearing where Consumer Affairs Victoria alleged that she and Reignite Democracy Australia had failed to register the organisation when conducting a fundraiser between September 2021 and October 2022 that raised more than $86,000 to fund her legal defence against separate criminal charges. Ms Smit is slated for another court date on 29 April 2024, blocking out her tour calendar for almost two weeks prior. The offence carries maximum penalty of $46,000 for a company and more than $23,000 and 12 months jail for individuals if proven.

Ms Smit said she was not concerned at all that her tour would impact on the impending trial.

“Their case is weak and a complete waste of time. I have nothing to hide, and plenty of support, so these types of things don’t concern me in the slightest. In fact, I look forward to my day in [sic] court with them,” she said.

“I don’t see why they (My Place Yarra Valley members) would be concerned about that. Isn’t Australia meant to work on the basis of innocent until proven guilty? It’s their choice whether to come to one of my events or not,”

“If they don’t like me for whatever reason, they wouldn’t come to the event I guess. Pretty simple.”

Other figures set to appear at MPYV meetings include former professional cage fighter and anti-lockdown protester Nick Patterson and ‘Passion Provocateur’, motivational speaker, former tax lawyer and president of the Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance Charles Kovess, who has also previously shared anti-lockdown sentiments.

Ms Modesti said it’s about time people stop making assumptions and start having conversations and being open and transparent.

“We are demeaned as being some right-wing conspiracy group, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.

“I’ve made it very clear that if people do want speakers and they are asking for a monetary sum upfront or anything like that, that that’s not something that I, on behalf of the My Place community, would be able to agree to.”

Given the controversial nature of Ms Smit’s appearance and the police intervention at council meetings attended by MPYV in 2023, the Star Mail asked if there would be a security presence at the meeting. Ms Modesti confirmed that there will be no official security, but there are MPYV members with crowd management experience and they won’t hesitate to shut down the meeting if trouble arises.

Ms Modesti said MPYV has been focusing on sustainability practices in recent times, as well as having a continued interest in their surveillance fears and bureaucracy concerns.

“Being more self-reliant is something we’ve pushed from the very beginning, that people need to start to be reliant on themselves and their communities, so we’ve been reaching out to people to gain the knowledge that enables that self-sufficiency,” she said.

“We do have some other people who are looking into the increase in CCTV, we have a person who’s ex-military who’s very knowledgeable on this and is looking at the necessity of technology versus a more sinister use which may be an element of future control,”

“There’s still a lot of council interest, making sure councils are accountable to the residents, primarily from asking questions at and attending council meetings as a collective to make sure they know there is a community group that won’t sit there and allow them to push through decisions.”

Information about the upcoming council elections this year and the new mandatory training for local government candidates has also recently been shared on the group’s Facebook page. When asked if MPYV would be running any candidates in the elections, Ms Modesti confirmed that no members have put their hand up at this stage but that the different perspective they could potentially bring to the council would be ‘invaluable’.