The Beagle Editor, on public officials …
When it comes to gaining access to information, there is little doubt that Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) is the most obstructive organisation that the Bega valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) has to contend with.
Whether it simply decides to ignore correspondence, reply but not provide the information requested, devote its time & energy dreaming-up devious excuses as to why it doesn’t have to provide information in response to GIPA Applications or simply ignoring the recommendations of the Information & Privacy Commission (IPC), BVSC can muster more wriggles than a cut snake when it doesn’t want to respond.
At council’s last meeting, the shire’s self-appointed head of “law n’ order”, Cr Robyn Bain, decided she would help the community by asking council’s general manager for an ‘update’ on how much it has cost BVSC to process the BVSRRA’s GIPA Applications over the past 18 months.
For its part, the BVSRRA can’t wait to find out how much BVSC has spent in attempting to deny the association access to information that it believes should be in the public arena, although it certainly doesn’t expect that it will be anywhere close to the $22,000 that BVSC spent on legal fees trying to restrict the association’s statutory rights (that’s just the amount we know about).
Anyway, while we wait on BVSC’s latest effort, the BVSRRA is preparing its own report to better educate the community on the issue.
Of course, when it comes to providing access to information, residents & ratepayers would probably expect the state government, its departments & public officials to set a better example than council, in particular given its espoused public commitment to openness & transparency & the fact that the operations of the Information & Privacy Commission fall under its purview.
But you’d be wrong, of course.
In the BVSRRA’s experience, the NSW government is just as tardy when it comes to meeting its public commitments as is council, whilst in some instances, the arrogance & deceit of some public officials is tantamount to a betrayal of the community that pays their salaries.
But, of course, we know that our paid public officials follow the lead that is set for them by our elected politicians & when it comes to the Bega Valley, that responsibility theoretically rests with the current Member for Bega, the Hon Andrew Constance MP.
We say ‘theoretically’, because the BVSRRA believes that Mr Constance routinely sets the very worst of examples when it comes to responding to his constituents, so it should hardly come as a surprise when his minions gleefully mimic his behaviour.
Over the past three years, the BVSRRA has sought to engage Mr Constance on numerous issues, ranging from the disgusting behaviour of the Office of Local Government in the Cr Tony Allen Code of Conduct complaint, to attempts by BVSC to relocate the Dr Evershed Memorial Clock Tower, the NSW government’s push to significantly expand Merimbula Airport, the sham survey used to justify the deregulation of the Sydney/Merimbula Air Route, the so-called TAFE “connected learning centre” & the role of Destination NSW in tourism activities in the shire.
Not only has Mr Constance failed to respond in a meaningful fashion on any of the issues raised by the BVSRRA, but he has also failed to honour undertakings that he would do so, while also failing the broader community by not ensuring that his public commitments are met; not the least of which was his empty promise made some 12 months ago to conduct a review into orthopaedic services at the South East Regional Hospital (SERH); a mysterious review that has yet to see the light of day.
Indeed, like BVSC, when he has sought to take issue with the BVSRRA, it is considered that Mr Constance has more often than not resorted to levelling personal attacks on members of the BVSRRA’s management committee, while ignoring the issues that the association has raised.
For its part, the BVSRRA doesn’t have a “personal opinion“ about Mr Constance, as it simply doesn’t know him. More importantly, the BVSRRA’s opinions are informed by what Mr Constance does or does not do & not by some flaky image contrived by his minders.
The BVSRRA believes that while it might be nice to be liked by BVSC management & elected councillors, as well as Mr Constance, the fact of the matter is that they are all paid public officials who have a fundamental duty to deliver government services without fear or favour to every resident/ratepayer in the shire. If they are not capable of performing on that basis, without letting their personal feelings or prejudices colour their behaviour, they are simply not fit to hold office.
Of course, in the case of Mr Constance, the situation is made somewhat more difficult by his apparent belief that he does not have an obligation to represent all of the constituents in his electorate, particularly those who are publicly critical of his actions or shortcomings, but rather, only those who support him.
Little wonder that government at all levels in this country is in so much trouble.
Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association