Yesterday I attended a meeting of 30 plus members of the community who came to listen to and exchange views on a wide range of council-related and other matters. It was held at the Dalmeny Community Hall, and was organised and conducted by Stop Arms fairs in Eurobodalla Inc. (SAFE).
Presenters included Councillors Pat McGinlay and Mayne, members of the SAFE committee, and myself. Issues and topics addressed included:
The Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) Position Paper on firearms, and Gun Control Australia
Council’s Community Strategic Plan (CSP) and River of Art
RSPCA’s Information paper on Recreational Hunting and Animal Welfare
Animals in the Wild Photography Exhibition
SAFE’s appeal to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal and report to the NSW Ombudsman
the relationship between councillors and staff
councillor and staff competence
transparency and accountability
Public safety and our council
The AMA’s view on public safety as it relates to firearms includes the view that “possession of firearms in the community represents a public health issue”.
Our council, through the mayor, has expressed the view to an enquiring community member that: “It is not the place of Local Government to make comment on the position of the AMA on health issues”.
Clearly, in its position statement, the AMA is focussing on public safety. So, council’s blanket response, which must include coverage of the AMA’s position on safety (being an obvious public health issue) tells us that even if the AMA is expressing a position on public safety it is not council’s place to comment on it! Yet, according to the peak organisation Local Government NSW (LGNSW), council very definitely has public safety responsibilities.
LGNSW states that “Local government has statutory responsibilities for public health protection under the Public Health Act 2010 and Food Act 2003 by regulating environmental health premises and food businesses.
Councils undertake a range of other activities intended to protect and promote the health of communities, such as:
The provision of food services
Sporting and recreational facilities and open space
Sun protection through shade provision
Promoting mental health
Promoting physical activity
Addressing overweight and obesity
Promoting safety and preventing injury
Preventing harm associated with alcohol and other drugs.”
So, why on earth would council make such a ridiculous and plainly wrong statement, that it is not council’s place to comment on the AMA’s position on public safety, as it relates to firearms? There is surely no other answer than to say that this is yet another example of ’getting it wrong’, which in my view has been coupled with a blind determination by council to avoid facing up to any challenge to its steadfast pro Huntfest position.
If council did actually consider the AMA’s position statement, it would be obliged to come to its own position. If that position conflicted with the AMA’s position then we really would have some news: “NSW council disagrees with the AMA!” If council’s position agreed with the AMA’s position then it would be obliged to bring an end to its support of the arms fair at Huntfest. It’s all too difficult. Much easier to do a Pontius Pilot and make a ridiculous statement, no matter how wrong it is.
Which of our councillors will stand up and insist on the AMA’s position statement being considered and debated by council?
Before leaving the LGNSW website I should mention that it contains details of a forum on good governance, at which the NSW Ombudsman, amongst many, will make a presentation. The forum is to be held from the 28th to the 29th of June. I don’t recall seeing this excellent opportunity to improve governance within council being referred to at any of council’s meetings. If my memory serves me correctly, and there is no intention to have councillors or staff attend, then I encourage councillors to take the initiative and get along.
The Community Strategic Plan
As I have pointed out previously, this plan is on public exhibition, with a closing date for submissions of 9 May. As you will have heard many times, as far as local government is concerned, the CSP is the plan of plans, and overarches all else that council does. If you want to have any chance of influencing the priorities of council, then I suggest that you look through the CSP and recommend changes according to your own priorities – both at the functional and aspirational levels.
The River of Art
The meeting was reminded of this stupendous festival, which kicks off with an opening party at the Waterfront Hotel, Moruya, from 7.30 pm on Friday, 19 May. According to the River of Art website, the festival is a “10 day festival of live music, theatre, film, visual arts, literature, creative workshops and cultural experiences held along the picturesque NSW far south coast.” This festival really is something that the shire can be very proud of.
The RSPCA’s Information Paper on Recreational Hunting and Animal Welfare
Excerpts from this paper were presented to the meeting and provided attendees with facts and expert views on this subject that, I feel sure, are not known to the wider community - but which ought to be known. Even – if not especially – avowed hunters would do well to read through this document. It can do no harm and may do some good.
Animals in the Wild Photography Competition and Exhibition
This Photography competition and exhibition is an initiative of Greens MP David Shoebridge and supported (in both spirit and very practical ways) by SAFE. The exhibition of the winning entries is held at the Bodalla Gallery on the June long weekend (10th and 11th) and, to quote from the website,
The competition is part of the Greens campaign against recreational hunting, and in particular the Sporting Shooters Association arms fair ‘Huntfest’ which blights Narooma every year. Animals in the Wild encourages you to shoot with a camera, not a gun.
NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal and our council
Attendees were advised of the status of an appeal process that has been going on for some time, which was initiated by SAFE and which has been reported on in The Beagle previously, by Jim Bright - who represents SAFE in this matter. The appeal to NCAT followed council’s refusal to follow the recommendations made by the Information Commissioner that the ESC should release certain documents sought by SAFE under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA).
The next stage in this drawn out, and quite unnecessary process, is due to occur tomorrow, when a telephone conference will take place between NCAT, council staff and SAFE. Incidentally, this is by no means the first occasion in which the Information Commissioner’s recommendations have been ignored but it is I believe the first time that council’s rejection of the IC’s recommendation by council has been challenged by an appeal to NCAT.
An unknown and, I am sure, relatively significant amount of ratepayer’s funds has been wasted by council in fighting tooth and nail in withholding information that, according to the Information Commissioner, ought not to be withheld from the public.
The wheels turn slowly but turn they will. The costs of this process and all other legal costs incurred in such ‘essential’ activities by council must be revealed. It’s up to the Audit Risk and Improvement Committee (ARIC) to investigate the matter of legal costs and legal advice generally, so that it can be known whether council is spending our money as it ought to or whether it might be wasting it on defending itself against exposure. We must look to our representatives on ARIC – being Councillors Mayne and Constable - to take this initiative on our behalf.
SAFE’s submission to the NSW Ombudsman
Attendees were informed that a significant submission is being prepared by SAFE for the NSW Ombudsman, which will bring his attention to many of the significant deficiencies in council’s functioning that have been identified and experienced by members of the community. Some of these deficiencies have been addressed in The Beagle but there are others yet to be aired.
The purpose of this exercise is clearly to seek improvement in the way our council conducts itself. I refer yet again to the Governance Bible and look forward to the day senior staff are able to recite it, chapter and verse – and apply it.
The remainder of the meeting focussed on aspects of the ways in which council functions. In particular, attention was given to issues such as:
Transparency and accountability;
The relationship between councillors and staff;
Councillor and staff competence; and, for some balance
Positive outcomes for the community – after hard fought battles!
These topics are each worthy of a paper in their own right, and which already receive quite a bit of ongoing attention in The Beagle. In the next (or subsequent) issue of Council Matters I hope to provide a summary of what was said on these subjects at the meeting. Outside jobs are beckoning and I must get up from the keyboard.