In Council Chambers, 11 December 2016 – from Peter Cormick
As I reported on 6 December, I expected the agenda for council’s meeting this coming Tuesday, 13 December, to be a big one. It is in fact, enormous. If we add up all the pages of the agenda and attachments, we come up with a total of 478 pages. The agenda itself comprises 146 pages.
Please keep in mind that if you are unable to get to the council chamber to watch your representatives in action, live, you have the convenience of watching the action via the internet. If you are really keen to be in on it all, the non-agenda presentations start at 9.30 am but they are not webcast; the reason being that they are not a part of the meeting. At some stage I hope to push for the non-agenda presentations to be included in the webcasting.
When I see such a deluge of documentation placed before councillors, as we have for next Tuesday – and it usually happens at this time of the year – I wonder just how much material councillors are able to properly read and form a view on. The briefing on the meeting agenda, provided by the staff the Tuesday before the meeting, is no substitute for councillors immersing themselves in the material. It is only by making these efforts that councillors can acquire the knowledge that they must have if they are to steer the ship.
Last week I referred to the mechanism of the Notice of Motion, by which councillors are able to place a motion before the chamber. For completeness, I should say that it is also possible for a councillor to bring a matter before council, without notice, if it is a matter of “great urgency”, provided the chairperson so rules. Sub-clause 241(3) of the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 provides for this.
You will see from the agenda that there are two Notices of Motion (at pages 4 and 5) to be considered by councillors on Tuesday. The first is to be put by the Mayor, Liz Innes, and calls for paid parking in Batemans Bay to be removed by 23 December – to “send a positive signal to the business community and provide a more welcoming message to visitors to Eurobodalla ... [and] encourage greater business confidence”. Councillors will no doubt expect to be advised of the financial implications (for council) if paid parking were to be removed, before taking a vote. I would hope that prior to the imposition of paid parking in the Bay, whenever that did take place, staff had undertaken a cost/benefit analysis, including the financial impact on businesses and the social impact on the community; and so the necessary figures will hopefully be available on the day.
The second Notice of Motion (pages 5 to 7) concerns “Dog Recreation Venues” and is to be put by the Deputy Mayor, Anthony Mayne. It had its genesis in the lobbying by the Batemans Bay Dog Park Supporters Group, headed by Rob Loftus and Kerrie McCutcheon. They met with and presented Councillor Mayne, along with dogs in attendance, with a petition signed by more than 800 petitioners. The petition was subsequently tabled in the council chamber on 22 November by Kerrie McCutcheon in the context of a non-agenda public access session. At that time, Councillor Mayne foreshadowed a motion supporting the wishes expressed by Rob Loftus and Kerrie McCutcheon – and by myself.
In the event, the motion has blossomed to take on a shire-wide perspective, with the Bay, being triaged it would seem, behind the needs of the Moruya based Eurobodalla Canine Club Inc. Nevertheless, it is in my view a very important step forward in addressing the needs of dogs and their owners in the Bay – where no dog-based facilities presently exist - and is therefore to be welcomed.
A further means by which councillors are able to raise matters in the chamber – in addition to Notices of Motion (NOM) – is by way of Questions on Notice (QON). There are four Questions on Notice in Tuesday’s agenda (pages 8 to 21): three from Councillor Phil Constable and one from Councillor Pat McGinlay. This mechanism, of simply asking a question (on notice) can be very effective in getting staff to address a matter that needs addressing and at the same time have it made known to the community – putting a spotlight on it. Before referring to these QON, I should say that councillors are permitted to ask questions without notice, at meetings, but only when they are asked in the context of the matter being debated. Normally they will involve questions seeking clarification of the matter at hand.
Councillor Constable has clearly been burning the midnight oil. His three Questions on Notice concern: the “Ringlands Point Jetty” on the Wagonga Inlet (its status and future); “Directional Signage” (and its importance for the tourism industry), which appears to have prompted action by staff; and the “Princes Highway Corridor Strategy” (as it effects our shire). I for one appreciate Councillor Constable’s initiative in raising these matters – as I do Councillor McGinlay’s initiative in asking questions about the “Dargues Reef Mine”, which is located at Majors Creek, though within the Deua River catchment.
Councillor McGinlay’s QON addresses a matter of very great importance: the security of our water supply. Anyone who wishes to read up on the progress of this mine – which has not yet started operations – can visit the Diversified Minerals website.
The answers to Councillor McGinlay’s questions require a little fine-tuning. At the bottom of page 16 of the agenda, where Modification 3 is described, not all of the modifications that have been approved by the Planning Assessment Commission have been listed. What has been left out is reference to the removal of many commitments and a number of conditions within the Project Approval. These modifications are significant and have not been referred to time again by the proponent in its public notices; the latest being that referring to its responses to submissions received in relation to the Federal Government approval process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. At this point in time, the Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy appears to have not approved the project. The latest that the Department of Environment and Energy has to provide on the matter, on its website, is no more than a copy of a public notice by the proponent (Big Island Mining), dated 16/11/2016. As a member of the Dargues Reef Community Consultative Committee, I will be finding out the latest, as far as the approval process is concerned, next Tuesday afternoon, at the mine site at Majors Creek – and report back.
And now to the matter that has given rise to a great deal of controversy within the shire: the Citizens’ Jury (pages 22 to 26 of the agenda). The General Manager’s recommendation to council – of receiving the Citizens’ Jury’s report, providing a response to it in March 2017 and thanking the jury members – is one that cannot be argued with. Though, reading through the GM’s report and the CJ’s recommendations, I am struck by just how much my revised expectations have not been met. Although I initially had a number of serious reservations about the whole process – and expressed them to council on 28 June 2016, when the proposal was being presented – I had subsequently thought that, just maybe, the CJ will deliver a product worthy of the effort and expense.
I had revised my initial reservations when I attended the first CJ meeting, as an observer, and was impressed with the apparent quality of the participants and their wide range of ages, skills and experience. And then, on seeing what material the CJ had access to and that which it could ask for (essentially anything relevant to the task), I thought that we would all be pleasantly surprised. Instead I am very disappointed.
My initial, main concern, was that a group of ‘ordinary folk’ would not have the capacity to undertake the huge task of reviewing council’s Delivery Program – involving the annual expenditure of $100 million a year over four years. Keeping in mind that the CJ had been charged with answering the question: Is Council spending your money on the right things? If not, what should we change?, I had expected a quantitative analysis of the available information. Certainly, I expect a concurrent qualitative analysis – but not to the exclusion of the actual figures.
I see that in its Report the CJ has stated that “Throughout this report we seek to convey a majority view that Council is broadly meeting the needs of the community and therefore is generally spending our money on the right things. ... It was difficult to express our recommendations in monetary terms ...” (emphases added). Nonetheless, that conclusion could and should have been established by presenting budgetary analyses, with the resulting figures showing that they ‘pretty much’ align with those of the current Delivery Program. It would be good to see just how the conclusion, that all seems to be ‘broadly and generally okay’, was arrived at – in quantitative, logical terms.
Having expressed my disappointment and critical views, in no way do I criticise the members of the CJ. It was clear to me when I saw and heard them all at their first meeting that they were enthusiastic to do their bit for the community and I have no doubt that they applied themselves conscientiously – working long hours, which, I am sure, went well beyond those spent at their formal meetings; so too the staff and the New Democracy Foundation people. In a nutshell, I see the whole enterprise as having been misguided. The final question is: Is the 14 page report by the CJ worth the $100,000 spent in achieving it? And we must keep in mind that council will need to further consult with the community, according to the requirements of sub-section 404(4) of the Local Government Act 1999, once a draft Delivery Program has been produced.
Although councillors will be making a formal response to the CJ report in March 2017, I look forward to seeing what councillors might have to say about it at Tuesday’s meeting.
The remainder of the agenda is relatively straightforward, if not voluminous, especially the attached 252 page, very impressive, Integrated Water Cycle Management Strategy and Strategic Business Plan.
Importantly, there are another 10 policy documents being proposed to be placed on public exhibition, bringing the total number of policies available for public comment, to 20. There is approximately 100 policy documents that need to be reviewed by next September, hence the need to push them out at this phenomenal rate. I will refer to them in my post-meeting commentary. In that commentary I will take the opportunity to comment on the debates that take place in the chamber – including if they do not take place. Until then ...