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In Council Chambers - Dec 17th


From the Council Chamber by Peter Cormick

Last Tuesday’s council meeting – being the last for the year – has given rise to disappointment and fairly critical views of behaviour within the chamber, some of which have been expressed by correspondents to The Beagle. There can be no doubt that at the meeting there were tensions, to say the least, as well as a good deal of hyperbole. The kerfuffle that attracted most of the attention occurred during the debate on the Mayor’s motion to have pay parking in the Bay removed (see page 4 of the agenda and view the video record). On viewing the video record of the debate on this matter – and others – you will be able to make up your own mind about the behaviour referred to and to see just how much attention your representatives give to their task in the chamber.

As already reported in The Beagle, councillors voted five to four in support of the Mayor’s motion to remove pay parking in Batemans Bay - with effect from 23 December - just before the influx of visitors to the shire. Thee-hour-limited parking is to take its place.

And, as a reminder, Councillors Jack Tait, Maureen Nathan, Pat McGinlay and Phil Constable voted with the Mayor, whilst councillors Lindsay Brown, Rob Pollock, James Thomson and Anthony Mayne voted against the proposal.

Both Councillors Brown and Mayne insisted that the Mayor’s motion had not undergone ‘due process’ before being brought into the chamber: that it had effectively come out of the blue. In fact the Mayor has been addressing this subject for at least the past two years and undertook to remove pay parking during the recent election campaign. By any measure, the community had already spoken on the subject. And the figures, showing the costs and income foregone, had been made available to councillors some days before the meeting, as well as at the meeting itself.

The video record of the meeting will provide readers with the means to observe their representatives in action and to see just what transpired on this matter. You will find that the archived videos of the meetings lists the agenda items, so that you can simply click on whatever item you wish to view.

As already reported, the Dog Recreational Venues motion (at page 5 of the agenda), introduced into the chamber by Councillor Mayne, received unanimous support. This item involved some discussion on Councillor McGinlay’s amendment to add to the motion the requirement that Council provide in-principle approval for the sought-after recreational and training facilities in the Bay. In the end, Councillor Mayne’s preference for in-principle support prevailed.

For convenience, following is a transcript of the essential elements of that discussion:

Starting at the 87 min 17 sec mark of the video of the 13 December 2016 meeting: (emphases added)

___________________________________________________________________________

Councillor McGinlay: “I’d like to move an amendment to this motion. ... to see [the addition to the motion] that council approve in-principle the establishment of such amenities ...”

...

Mayor Innes: “Councillor Mayne, before we go any further, are you happy to accept the amendment?”

Deputy Mayor Mayne: “Thanks, Mayor Innes. Almost ... are we not, if we go down that track, because I think it’s a welcome suggestion, is it ‘support’ in principle as opposed to ‘approve’?”

Mayor Innes: Councillor Mayne, might I suggest that [we] ... could just add one further word there that reads ... that council support approval in-principle” [that is, combine ‘support’ with ‘approval’]

Councillor McGinlay: “ ... ‘support’s’ a bit ... soft ... that’s why I want to have the word ‘approve’. But if that’s going to be a stumbling block, I’d be happy to have ‘support’ in there”

Mayor Innes: So, Councillor Mayne, where are we sitting with the amendment?”

Deputy Mayor Mayne: “ ... look, I’d welcome the swap, then, of ‘approve’ to ‘support’ .... and would then accept the motion

Mayor Innes: So, remove ‘approve’ and put ‘support’ in?”

Deputy Mayor Mayne: “Yes, thank you Mayor”

My public forum presentation on this motion included the following:

...

As a general comment, I ask councillors to please understand that the dog facilities being sought in Batemans Bay are the sort that are provided by councils elsewhere in the state – and in fact further afield – as a matter of course; just as children’s’ playgrounds are provided. They are not a luxury item requiring [additional] payment by ratepayers. Council has an obligation to provide the sorts of recreational facilities being sought.

It is concerning that council’s Companion Animal Management Plan quotes part of section 14 of the Companion Animals Act 1998, listing the areas in which dogs are prohibited, but leaves off the remaining part of the section – subsections (4), (5) and (6) - which lists exceptions to those prohibitions; being highly relevant information to dog owners in the shire.

The exclusion of these exceptions to the prohibitions may well have been no more than an oversight. If that is not the explanation then one can only wonder why the omission. In any event, the omission needs to be corrected.

Another item worthy of mention is that concerning the Dargues Reef Gold mine, at Majors Creek. As a reminder, the mine is located within our main water catchment – being that of the Deua River. Councillor McGinlay asked a number of questions on this matter (at page 15 of the agenda), which I referred to in my 11 December 2016 commentary.

On the afternoon of the council meeting, as a member of the Dargues Reef Community Consultative Committee, I attended a meeting of that committee. The status of the mine project at the time of the meeting is that: Commonwealth Approval has still not been received; a location for the final processing of the ore (using cyanide) has not yet been finalised (Parkes has been referred but, we were told, is by no means necessarily where the processing will take place); and the company (Diversified Minerals) expects to commence construction of the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) between the next three to six months. So, the site continues to be in maintenance mode.

The next big item on the agenda was the Citizens’ Jury’s report. There were two speakers during Public Forum who spoke on this item, including myself. Both presentations were critical of the report – and indeed the whole endeavour. The best of intentions – though some will argue otherwise – but simply too great a task to be put before a group of ‘everyday people’. In a nutshell, I see the whole enterprise as having been misguided. Three of the councillors were prepared to make comment on the report – though council’s formal response is not due until March next year. Unsurprisingly, both Councillors Brown and Pollock spoke in strong support of the exercise and Councillor Mayne, while rightly commending the participants for their significant efforts, expressed uncertainty about whether such a forum was “the way to go going forward”.

I have previously expressed my views on the Citizens’ Jury’s report and repeat here that the 86 recommendations made by the jury – as contained in the report – have, almost without exception, been heard before. And while it may sound unkind, they really amount to little more than a collection of so-called motherhood statements. The Report tells us that council should “provide”, “continue”, “investigate”, “seek”, “develop”, “adopt”, “consider”, etc., so many worthwhile things, but tells us nothing of where or how those recommendations might be achieved and where the funds might come from. There is not the slightest hint of how council might re-prioritise its funding. After all, that’s what it is all about: cost-cutting and re-prioritising. The Jury has told us that council has things ‘pretty much right’: “broadly meeting the needs of the community ... generally spending our money on the right things”. That sort of conclusion could hardly be vaguer. What is council meant to do with that? Presumably, keep doing what it does but, somehow, take on board the 86 recommendations. As I have said time and again, the task for the jury was too great. Just where costs can and should be cut, and what re-prioritisation of expenditures ought to take place, will be the subject of a future commentary.

Beyond the items addressed above, the remainder of the meeting flew along, without a hitch.

Our council is coming up for a well-deserved break - there are good, competent, hard-working people in council - and our new councillors will no doubt be raring to go in the New Year. In the intervening period, I intend providing further commentary on council matters and hope to de-mystify some aspects of how our council works – the relationship between councillors and the General Manager, for example, so that you can better understand what your council does and thereby be better equipped to hold it to account. After all, council’s raison d'être is you, the community. Peter Cormick


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