This week saw a convoy of Eurobodalla Councillors and staff head north to Sydney to first call in to inspect a swimming pool complex and then travel on to attend the annual Local Government Shires Association Conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Sydney. Prior to the conference official opening voting took place for LGNSW Board President, Vice Presidents, Treasurer and Directors. Eurobodalla Councillor Lindsay Brown was standing again and his three peers, Innes, Pollock and Thomson, each with an allowable vote would have attended. It is not known how they voted however they were well advised that Lindsay Brown was a supporter of a pensioner rate review and of the introduction of Capital Improved Value as a mechanism to gain more revenue for the council in light of continued rate pegging. The results of the election are not yet known however it is now hoped that the revelation of Lindsay Brown’s deputation in support of these two reforms without public consultation or Council accord will be bought out in the open.
Above: For some reason Lindsay Brown didn’t make this photo shoot of the outgoing Board – does that mean he was re-elected – if he was re-elected there must be a call for a full investigation into his submission on CIV and Pensioner rebate reviews that he delivered when Mayor. Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney Clover Moore welcoming guests of the Annual Conference 2017 from the dais of the Grand Ballroom of the spectacular Hyatt Regency Sydney
One of the many things you won’t read in any report of the conference attendance by our councilors is that the conference bag was recycled from old City of Sydney banners. Recycling seemed to be a flowing theme through the conference with guest speaker Annabel Crabbe saying “In 10 years, we’ve enjoyed 6 PMs - the most effective recycling scheme in Australia right now” She also added that “Chaos in Canberra creates opportunities for local democracy”
Those following the conference would be happy to hear a motion was put up by our neighbouring Shoalhaven City Council calling for LG NSW to lobby the NSW Government to ban single use plastic bags and further that the ban include all identified ‘biodegradable and degradable’ bags up to 70 microns saying “Our communities have led the way in their attempts to ban these plastic bags locally, however, without state legislation community efforts are piecemeal.” The motion was carried. Whilst on neighbouring councils; Bega Valley Council also put forward a key motion hat Local Government NSW lobbies on behalf of councils for all Rural Fire Service (RFS), State Emergency Services (SES) and Surf Life Saving Clubs assets to be removed from Council asset registers (sheds, equipment etc.) and the responsibility be taken back by the RFS, SES and Surf Life Saving Club.
That this process not be used to increase local government contributions and further that the NSW Government investigate a model for RFS funding based on the Country Fire Authority (CFA) model in Victoria. The motion to remove Surf clubs and RFS buildings from council asset registers was carried.
Eurobodalla did not put forward any motions on behalf of its ratepayers.
The conference ran 170 programs & workshops with over 600+ participants.
You probably won’t read in our councilors reports of the conference that local councillors heckled Acting Premier John Barilaro as he tried to justify the NSW stadium spend during his address attempting to justify multi billion dollar outlay. For the audience it just didn’t work and he received several boo’s for his efforts. Around the room were the rumbled tones of the words “Hospitals? Schools? Libraries? Transport?” Note: The room broke out in applause during a later presentation by Peter Primrose Shadow Minister for Local Government when he reaffirmed NSW Labor’s commitment to schools & hospitals rather than stadiums.
John Barilaro did however recognise that jobs in local communities are created by the courage shown from individuals who mortgage their homes and take significant risks. One of the key messages of this statement is that Councils often play with others money and livelihoods and decisions they make that have financial consequences to a ratepayer must be considered in balance with the financial consequence to ratepayers. All too often it was offered Councils make no attempt to add the social or financial consequences of their decisions to their reports and fail to acknowledge to accept the fact that their decisions directly affect lives well beyond mere policy. Of real interest and this will delight Damien Rogers, The Hon @JohnBarilaroMP Acting Premier of NSW said, "we must put constitutional recognition of local government back on the agenda". Delegates were also reminded in a later presentation that: “Our role together as the governing body” includes “consult with the GM in directing and controlling the affairs of the council. With that advice came the invitation that that delegates and staff should go and look at http://capability.lgnsw.org.au/ to remind themselves of their roles and duties and how they should perform and be measured.
Most likely you won’t read in our own Councillor "What I did on my excursion" report that: - Linda Scott was announced (though unofficially) as the next President of LGNSW
- The Office of Local Govt has suffered so many cutbacks it is now called the “Cupboard of Local Govt”!
- On the issue of amalgamations the NSW Shadow Local Govt Minister Peter Primrose MLC pledged that a Labor Govt will not force further amalgamations and voluntary demerging.
As always there were awards: Councillor Rob Pollock was among the winners of the Outstanding Service, Certificate of Service and Emeritus Mayor awards for all their hard work and service to Local Government over the years.
A recurring theme of tweets from the conference bought focus to the disparity in gender numbers with one tweet summarizing it perfectly Seriously #LGNSW2017? Let’s only hear from another old white guy. There was considerable focus during the conference on domestic violence with OurWatchCEO Mary Barry saying ‘to address violence against women we need to address the number one driver - gender inequality’
There was also considerable discussion around the Proposed Code of Conduct that many thought applied unwarranted and additional standards to councillors that are not applied to State Govt elected members. Of note was a motion that Local Government NSW requests the NSW Government to reform the procedures in relation to Code of Conduct complaints against councillors by removal of the involvement of general managers and the creation of an independent watchdog to consider genuine complaints against councillors and prosecute frivolous or vexatious grievances.
It was offered that in Queensland there have been moves to address this type of problem through the creation of an independent watchdog with powers to assess complaints and, where appropriate, bring prosecution actions. The moves in Queensland follow the report of that state’s Crime and Corruption Commission into systematic problems in the local government sector. The concept of an independent body to administer Code of Conduct matters was described as having merit of addressing existing weaknesses in this state’s scheme
Keynote speaker Dr Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive, Local Government Information Unit UK presented on Transforming Local Government saying “Local government should act as a network not as an institution”. Hopefully that comment resonated through our attending councilors (if in fact they attended that session) An old bug bear originally argued by Chris Kowal in Eurobodalla Council was in regards to the impact that wood heaters have on our community health.
A Motion was put up in regards to wood heating pollution by Armidale Council
That Local Government NSW calls upon the NSW Government
a) Develop legislation to allow local councils to follow the NSW Chief Medical Officer’s advice,
e.g. by requiring wood heaters to be removed when houses are sold (estimated net benefit $4
billion over 20 years).
b) Introduce an effective education and incentive program commensurate with the $8 billion
health cost of residential wood heating pollution in NSW that will create widespread
understanding of the benefits of switching to non-polluting heating.
c)Provide effective powers for councils to take action against unhealthy levels of wood smoke
pollution, including local exceedances of National PM2.5 Air Quality Standards.
In their motion they offered that; according to NSW Health, a tiny proportion of Sydney households using wood heating are causing 25% of pollution-related deaths in Greater Sydney. Because of the continued failure to develop a standard for real-life emissions of wood heaters, and the NSW Chief Medical Officer advised that wood heaters are so detrimental to health she supports banning and phasing them out in built-up urban areas.
A stronger approach through both legislative and financial support at the State Government level is needed to reduce wood smoke pollution in urban areas.
Unfortunately the woodsmoke air pollution motion lost in spite of excellent speeches from Councillor Brent Hoare and Armidale Cr Dr Dorothy Robinson. Note: Chris Kowal had long argued that the smoke pollution our community suffers in winter would not be tolerated in a metropolitan area and should NOT be tolerated because we are a regional backwater. Eurobodalla Council simply advise people to do the right thing and close off their fire at night rather than let it smoke half primed.
During the conference the NSW biodiversity offset scheme was very clearly articulated...this is the simplified flow chart.
Above: The pretty flowchart above did bugger all to save the 7000m of native bushland reserve that was earmarked and confirmed with community assurity to remain in the new Broulee subdivision, clear felled however, with what appears to be no consequence at all. "Serious and Irreversible Impacts require consent authority to STOP" - seems like our consent authority was scratching its arse at the time - Editor
It was counter argued that NSW now has a regulatory framework that makes it easier than ever to rip out urban trees and through a "biodiversity offset scheme" this does not work for urban densification, and assures cheap houses in urban heat islands
On a more positive there as a move to remove the waste levy for the safe disposal of asbestos in a bid to decrease illegal dumping which was supported.
Another recurring rumble was that NSW Government is the lowest contributor to public libraries of all the states at 7% of operating costs with many feeling that this was just not good enough. Maybe Eurobodalla might like to write to the Member for Bega advising him of the lack of State Funding that supports the continuity of libraries.
Of particular interest to those on the Eurobodalla who continually hear the self congratulatory “we web cast even though we aren’t required to..” well, Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton announced a new uniform meeting code for councils, including mandatory webcasting. “If it’s good enough for State Parliament it’s good enough for councils,” she said.
On another upside a move to transparency & accountability in key focus areas was identified as key to the new model code of conduct for Councils. How these will be measured and administered by the stripped bare “Cupboard of Local Government” is another thing altogether The LGSA reiterated that they are committed to full open financial review of finances of local government. Nothing was said however of the new rules that say the Auditor General's department can not speak directly to ratepayers and answer any questions they have. Seems they don't like questions in this Open and Transparent world they promote.
It was tweeted by several observers that it was extremely disappointing to have the Liberal Minister for Local Government address over 400 councillors and mayors throughout NSW at the annual local government conference and refuse to take any questions from delegates. “Stop talking at us and start listening” one tweeted.
In other areas A motion to bar property developers and real estate agents from councils was voted down
Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council spoke to the conference on economic development of Aboriginal lands.
A motion to manage large kangaroo numbers in rural areas, creating road hazards was strongly debated and then carried. Motion to pay councillors superannuation carried unanimously
Motion for councils to shorten pre-poll period prior to election – carried
Motion for minimum increase in rates of 3% - carried with one attendee tweeting “Never stops amazing me that the government's rhetoric on LG reform never includes addressing rate pegging issue. So many of us are hamstrung by rate pegging constantly being below CPI” Maybe this explains why Lindsay Brown wants to consider moving to Capital Improvement Values and reviewing pensioner rebates in an effort to grab more “pie”. Motion to permit school buses to be used for public transport – carried Motion for NSW to develop processes for management of flying fox camps – carried Motion to protect councils from legal action when issuing stop work notices – carried Motion for NSW govt to ban use of exotic animals in circuses/attractions – lost It was widely rumoured that a decision is expected in a few weeks on Labour's fight for the release of the mysterious KPMG report which has been Coalition's justification for pulling apart communities across the state. So there, a quick update of what went down at the LGSA conference in case you weren't following it on Twitter as some of our keener ratepayers were. I for one look forward to hearing how Lindsay Brown went in the election and also look forward to reading each of their reports.
Above: And at the end of it all they got a going home bag.