On the whole, the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of council is relatively straightforward. There are however a number of items that are worthy of comment. They are (in the order in which they occur):
A Mayoral Report (being a Notice of Motion by the mayor) and three Notices of Motion, by Councillors Nathan, Constable and McGinlay, respectively (at pages 3 to 13). In my view, Notices of Motion are worthy of comment (either positive or negative), regardless of their purpose, because they provide evidence of our councillors seeking to initiate change – hopefully of a positive kind. As I have said previously, this initiation may be entirely that of the councillor in question or it may be by way of prompting – with assistance in drafting – by staff. In any event, for me, Notices of Motion – and Questions on Notice – are very good indicators of the life of a council and of the commitment councillors make to their responsibilities. I will comment on these Notices of Motion, below.
The Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee Annual Report (at pages 18 and 19 – and the associated report itself). The Terms of Reference under which this committee operates are significant and will be addressed below.
Community Engagement Framework (at pages 20 to 52 – and the associated attachments). In my view, this item is very significant and is given that little bit extra attention below.
Policy Review – Compliance Policy (at pages 56 and 57) – and the attached draft policy itself). This policy in concerned with Council’s conduct of its regulatory and enforcement functions and as such is worthy of close attention. The draft policy is to be placed on exhibition for 28 days, during which time public submissions can be made, for ‘consideration’ and subsequent presentation to council (councillors) and then adoption.
And keep in mind that the meeting can be viewed from home – or anywhere on the planet for that matter – through the webcasting provided by council. Also, if you want to have your say on any issue relevant to council, you will need to register to speak, by 12 pm on the business day before the meeting. A ban on balloon release The Mayor is seeking to have a ban placed on the release of balloons at Council events and in Council-managed reserves – and to have this ban extended well beyond the shire’s borders through collaboration with neighbouring authorities. You will see on reading the report that there are very good reasons for this ban to be put in place. With just a little thought, the adverse environmental consequences of balloon releases are obvious. We can therefore expect unanimous support for this motion. We will, however, expect any councillor who might be opposed to the motion, to present a cogent argument in support of such opposition. Mobility Parking Scheme (‘Disabled parking’) Councillor Nathan, being a retired pharmacist, and therefore having a particular awareness of the health needs of the community, is seeking to have the existing Mobility Parking Scheme, as provided for by the Roads and Maritime Services, more widely known and to have it expanded, “to enable permits to people who are able to walk 100m on their own, but due to their age, physical or medical condition are not able to do so in a timely manner”. To qualify under the present MPS, an applicant must be unable to walk 100m, or will suffer unduly by doing so, or has the need of an aid such as crutches, etc to make that distance. There are however cases – because of age, physical condition, etc - in which the 100m walk can be completed unaided but not in the time required by short-term parking signs – which may be conveniently located nearby essential services. Again, this is a motion, which is clearly for the benefit of our community, will therefore - no doubt - receive unanimous support. Princes Highway Corridor Strategy and Kings Highway Councillor Constable is a very strong and consistent advocate for “advancing the upgrading “ of the Princes and Kings Highways and in this motion he is seeking to have the main players – the Minister for Roads, Melinda Pavey, our very own Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Andrew Constance, the Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW, John Barilaro, the Roads and Maritime Services Southern Region Manager, Renae Elrington – meet with councillors and relevant staff to discuss the advancement of upgrading both highways. There is no one who travels those ‘highways’ who would oppose this important motion. Again, we can expect unanimous support. Divestment of Council Investments in Fossil Fuel Supporting Financial Institutions Councillor McGinlay is proposing what is clearly a modest but important shift in the way council invests our money – away from the fossil fuel industry. On reading through his Notice of Motion, you will see that it is by no means a radical proposition – and it is considered. The motion requires that the proposed divestments be compliant with Council’s Investment Policy – a policy which insists on adherence to ‘best practice’. In his background to the motion, Clr McGinlay lists some of the many institutions and government authorities throughout Australia (and there are countless many worldwide) that have already adopted the divestment strategies he is proposing. You will see on reading the background that 2/3 of our council’s investments are with institutions that support the fossil fuel industry.This motion, which ought to be straightforward in being supported by a majority of councillors, will almost certainly not be seen as such. It will no doubt be seen by at least several of our councillors, as ‘radical’. This motion is not about whether fossil fuel products have been, or are currently, essential in enabling our modern world to function. It is about the future and paving the way for doings things better, smarter and cleaner. Unfortunately these matters – of ‘fossil fuel’ versus ‘alternative energy’ - almost immediately reduce to a primitive level of warfare - of ‘gut feel, I can see for myself’ advocates on one side and advocates of overwhelming scientific evidence on the other. There is simply not enough time or space to delve into this division but I believe that even if there were, it would be a waste of time and space. In the end, councillors must judge according to facts and evidence – not what they might regard as commonsense. The way of the future is in alternative energy. Our planet depends on it. I again refer you to a little science, for mulling over. Whatever the vote, I very much look forward to hearing from each councillor, telling us all just what their views are and why they hold those views on this matter. A simple show of hands is not enough. Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee (ARIC) Annual Report (at pages 18 and 19 – and the associated report itself). The ARIC is comprised of eight members, five of which have voting rights – with two of those five being councillors. If you have a good look at the Terms of Reference of this committee, you will see that it is quite a significant committee, with the theoretical capacity to do all manner of things to ensure that our council conducts itself as it ought to. Note, for instance, the following excerpts from the committee’s TOR:
These are significant powers. However, they can only be used effectively, if used with competence. I use the term “competence” in the sense of “expertise” being brought to bear on an investigation. So, for example, if a legal matter is being investigated – to ensure, say, that staff, including the General Manager, have complied with the relevant laws – an external legal advisor ought to be engaged. It should be obvious that such an advisor would be entirely independent of the matter being investigated - so that, for example, the committee would not even consider engaging a legal advisor whose own advice was being questioned. However, that is exactly what happened in the case of the committee’s investigation into the Huntfest matter, referred to in the ARIC annual report. The Sparke Helmore lawyer, whose advice was being questioned as part of the review, was asked in the end whether he stood by his initial advice. Well, of course he did! And that was the end of the matter. This is a very good example of ‘the police investigating the police’ - as was the very subject of the ARIC’s review: being the General Manager’s review of her own staff, whose work she is responsible for. And for those councillors who might want to consider an independent audit of council’s performance, they may wish to refer to the provisions of section 421B of the Local Government Act 1993; and to “Frequently asked questions’ 20 to 24 at the Auditor-General’s website.
It is not enough to say that an investigation is independent by referring to the ‘independence’ of the reviewers. Independence is a necessary condition but it is not sufficient for a proper, competent review. Independent expertise is essential. Community Engagement Framework (pages 20 to 52) This is a matter of obvious importance: being concerned with Council’s genuine engagement with the community. Engagement, or participation, can be and often is a task of considerable complexity: knowing just if, when and how council ought to engage with the community. It is a challenge that I believe will need constant review and refinement. Statutory requirements for engagement answer the question of “if”, but the remaining questions can be quite difficult. Central to the Engagement Framework is the Engagement Planning Tool (previously referred to as the Decision Making Tool). It has been improved a little from its original form (refer to pages 21 to 23 of the associated attachment to this item) – as produced by the consultancy group KJA (of Citizens’ Jury fame) - and now attempts to take account of the social impact of a policy, proposal or activity of council. There is, however, much more to be done on this matter of social impact. Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is a concept and practice that our council has been quite ignorant of in the past but now seems to be coming on board. Elsewhere, throughout the world, it is a routine consideration in all that government and private organisations do. It is a ‘given’. And so, it is good to see our own council make its first foray into this area – for which I am grateful. Information on SIA’s can be found by a simple Google enquiry. Here are some links that pop up fairly quickly:
The Community Engagement Planning Tool that I have referred to can be found at pages 50 to 52 of the agenda. This tool - which may be described as ‘algorithmic’ – seeks to produce a ranking (from 0 to 20), according to which one can then ‘decide’ at just what level the engagement might take place – in line with what is known at the IAP2 spectrum. The idea is a very good one but, in my view, Step 1 and Step 2 (at pages 50 and 51 of the agenda) need a good deal of further attention. For example, a ranking of 1 (the lowest of the rankings) is assigned for an activity such as a licence or a lease, or a development application – without any regard being given to the nature of the activity. I see that as a fundamental flaw – to be attended to at a later date. Nevertheless, I am very pleased to see Social Impact elevated from being an afterthought to being included for consideration within the ranking process. This amendment is a good example of genuine engagement with the community. At page 21 of the agenda, councillors are being asked to “implement actions to achieve the aims of the framework” – including of course the Engagement Planning Tool. While I would like to see the planning tool significantly revised, we need to start somewhere. However, I believe that the recommendations – for councillors’ approval (though that word has not been used) – ought to include the requirement that this whole matter come back before council within the next 12 months, so that an assessment of the Planning Tool can be made and presented to councillors, for revision as considered necessary. Policy Review – Compliance Policy This item is also of real significance. It concerns Council’s considerable regulatory and enforcement powers. The policy is to be placed on exhibition for 28 days during which time members of the public can make submissions on the policy and, hopefully, those submissions will be given due consideration and may even lead to improvements in the policy. I haven’t yet had a chance to examine the policy but am very encouraged to see that the policy is “guided by the Ombudsman’s Model Compliance Policy. That is indeed a good sign. There is also an encouraging (general) reference to guidance by the (much reduced) Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Due to other commitments, I will not be able to attend the meeting and so will need to wait until Friday 16 February (at the earliest) before I can watch the video recording of the meeting, following which I will make a commentary on the meeting – particularly on just what our representatives had to say - and not to say - on the issues deserving of debate and comment. In the meantime I would like to say how good it is to see the lively debating that Council Matters gives rise to amongst The Beagle’s readership. As we all appreciate, civil, rational debate is of fundamental importance to the life and development of our democratic society. Though, as we also appreciate, a price of being in a democracy is that we need to tolerate the occasional contribution that plays the person rather than the ball, and provides ‘alternative facts’ and lacks consistency and coherency. There has in fact been one such contributor who has even expressed the view that it is not “normal” to hold a view at odds with his own. But, at the same time, there is much to be said for the entertainment value of such contributions.