Eurobodalla Council's Ordinary Meeting of May 22nd was less than ordinary. The day opened with two presenters to Public Access offering up their requests to see an extension of time given for submissions to the Draft Rural LEP. Primarily the speakers were concerned that the community hadn't had time to digest the 1800 page document and they wanted more time, suggesting 90 days, to consult with their collective members in Landcare and Coastwatchers. The request for the extension came up under Urgent Business later in the day. Raised by Councillor Anthony Mayne an extension of two weeks was given but only just with Tait and Innes vocally against the extension and Jack Tait adding his own quip to the Coastwatcher presenter reminding her that Coastwatchers had managed to meet their deadline in regards to submissions for the Batemans Marine Park. Other speakers to the pre-Council meeting Public Access session were Trish Hellier (who brought her own microphones suggesting that Council all too often has technical difficulties when she presents). Adding to the jocularity of her presentation which basically reminded councillors that council pays little regard to public petitions, even if the numbers are in the thousands. Follwing Ms Hellier was Peter Bernard of Dalmeny "representing the silent majority" offering up his perspective of how council manages their financial books. The Ordinary Meeting began just after 10am with Brown, Thomson and Nathan absent however Maureen Nathan did come into the meeting a little later. It is noteworthy that Brown and Thomson weren't there as the votes went to the numbers of Mayne, Constable and McGinlay with Nathan supporting while the Gang of Five being Pollock, Tait, Innes, Thomson and Brown were reduced to only a vote of three. The first presenter to Council in Public Access was ex-councillor Danielle Brice speaking to the $750,000 grant from the State Gvernement for the Moruya to Moruya South Head cycleway extension. 2.2km remain however under discussion it was revealed that while the first half was completed for $400,000 the remaining section will require far more than $750,000 and that the bulk of the grant from Andrew Constance will be absorbed by studies and land acquistions along with the need to deal with existing services on route. Councillor Mayne dared to ask why Council staff are so adamant to take the route they have selected over wetlands rather than to listen to alternate ideas that could see the cycleway run adjacent, yet removed from the adjacent road way. He was assured that the funds can only be spent on an off-road solution. This is now to be verified with the Ministers office as there are substantial savings to be made if such a condition is not the case where the cycleway might well be completed with the grant at hand. Councillor Mayne was very much of the opinion that the $750,000 might well be the last of the funding provided and that if Council sticks to its guns and takes the route determined a missing gap in the cycleway will remain for many years to come. Director Sharpe concluded his opinion with a suggestion to Councillors that they shouldn't "Jump to Solutions". The next item of business was the motion to lobby the State and Federal governments to lift their game in regards to the recycling issue. Anthony Mayne advised that while Eurobodalla Council have not been effected by the Chinese closedown of accepting recycled material the shire still had a 12% contamination in its recycling and that there was room to improve this via community education. Following on came the issue of Eurobodalla identifying the priority road works within the shire that they would like to take to a table with State and Federal members to seek a commitment of funding in the short and long term. In all it was a good discussion and finally the recommendation by Phil Constable some 15 months ago has come to fruition so long as Council staff do what they have been instructed to do and to begin to organise meetings as a matter of urgency as there are political opportunities via the inevitable promises that can be made in a lead up to the upcoming elections. In the shopping list were several key local issues including the requirement to have an improved right hand turn at the Cranbrook Road lights due to the increased traffic into Bunnings. While Councillor Mayne recognised the Fix It Now campaign that has been primarily focused in the north of the region he reminded councillors that the South East Area Transport Strategy - SEATS (of which he is a representative) is focused on whole of network solutions that cover Wollongong to the Victorian border and beyond inclusive of the Kings Highway and Snowy Highway. He took the opportunity to than Gary Smith of TeenSafe Moruya for his many years of advocacy and for initiating the Fix The Bloody Highway campaign that is fast gaining momentum with southern communities. In all it was a good discussion and it is recommended that you watch it in the Council Live Streaming archives. The final sections of the day were around financials with some excellent questions coming from Councillor McGinlay who wanted to drill down into the projected wages bill for the year that was looking as if it had jumped a staggering 4 million dollars. He also wanted to know why Council have insisted on taking out loans and opted to pay interest when it has money in the bank. Such a question raised a similar question in the mind of a member of the gallery who began to loudly enquire why Council was paying $80,000 a year in interest on a $2m loan taken out for the purchase of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club. Peter Coggin of the group Our Town Our Say had been asking this question via all the standard channels for some time and was dissatisfied with the answers (or lack thereof) so he bought his question into the chamber, vocalising it from the gallery. Aware that this was not the protocol (and that he could and should use the Public Access forum for his question) he persisted and when asked to desist chose to continue "his line of inquiry". In the end the options were to either call the police to have him removed from the chambers or to relocate the council meeting to an adjacent room which they did. In order to ensure transparency continued the media were invited in and the Ordinary Council meeting continued following all the protocols required until it was advised that Mr Coggin had left the building. At this point Council moved to return to the chambers in order that the live streaming/recording continue so as to not deny those members of the public watching the meeting the opportunity to follow the proceedings and determinations. In regards to the questions raised by Councillor McGinlay about "wages blowouts" and loans it was revealed that the March quarter had not adjusted the capitalisation of wages and that this happens in the final quarter. Once the relevant wages have been capitalised the overall wage budget will return to projected. It was also explained that as the loans taken out were for infrastructure that had inter- generational longevity such as sewerage works it was good practice to share the burden of repayments across several generations rather than simply burden the present generation of ratepayers. With borrowing rates at al all time low it made sense whilst remaining prudent. All in all it was a good meeting. It was robust, democratic, well chaired, achieved some good outcomes and had a bit of theatre thrown in for good measure that reminded all sides that democracy and politics are alive and well in the Eurobodalla.
A Statement from Gary Smith, TeenSafe manager (above) referred to By Councillor Mayne in his Notice of Motion regarding the Princes Highway: Good day to Councillors and members of the public, my apologies for being unable to attend the meeting today.
Teensafe has been running safe driver courses in Moruya for over 20 years. We specialise in practical behind-the-wheel safe driver skill training for teenage L & P plate drivers. We do this because there is limited public transport in the area and the car is our main transport option , most local and long distance driving is on the highway. As safe as we can be prepared for driving, the Princes Highway is inadequate and unforgiving for the traffic flow resulting in crashes and deaths well above the average for the length of highway between Nowra and Narooma. I have used the highway for over 30 years and am increasingly concerned for the safety of family and friends driving any distance. There have been some welcome upgrade works over the years although not enough for the conditions. The highway was not designed for present traffic flow especially with the increase in size and volume of large trucks and caravans.
In my opinion, speed is not the problem, it is a combination of driver fatigue or distraction and there are too few overtaking lanes which can lead to driver frustration.
A fully upgraded safer highway from Nowra to Narooma and beyond is obviously expensive. It is said that NSW means Newcastle Sydney Wollongong when government funds are spent. People in regional areas find it hard to justify the billions of dollars that goes into city roads and tunnels to move endless traffic a few minutes closer to a traffic jam or why two billion dollars could be found for a new city stadium while people are injured or die on our Bloody Highway.
While waiting for a 4 lane highway, what we need now is Council to lobby government to fast track more overtaking lanes and centre barriers to provide a more forgiving highway when a minor driving error occurs. To fund such roadworks, government could increase the fuel excise by 20 cents/litre in city areas and reduce it by 20 cents in regions that have no rail service and limited public transport. City travellers have many public transport options, we have none. Also, an increase in vehicle rego fees for city and reduction for country – there is scope for substantial funding avenues here for a safer highway.
Teensafe has completed designs for posters for a “ FIX THE BLOODY HIGHWAY” campaign (attached) and is preparing to go to print. A local volunteer community group should not have to do this to get a safer highway which is also the lifeline for our shire and essential to our present and future economic wellbeing.
Thank you and safe driving, Gary Smith for Teensafe