Public Access session presentation: Tuesday July 6th 2021 – Lei Parker, Editor of The Beagle Councillors, I want to say thank you today. This last Public Access session, before you all possibly fade into the history books of past mayors and councillors. Five years ago I was walking along Hikkaduwa Beach in Sri Lanka wondering what I might be able to do for my own community having undertaken various foreign aid volunteering assignments in South East Asia. I became used to dynamic local journalists in India and The Philippines calling out corruption, greed and ego while informing and including the community in order to empower them. I was well aware that the Fairfax media at home was failing my own community and offering a less than mediocre news service that paid little respect to their readers intelligence and barely celebrated spirit of place. What I was also well aware of was that the Fairfax media did little, if anything, to hold Council to account. They simply regurgitated media releases as if they were fact to fill spaces around their advertising. Being aware of underbelly of Council and capable of reading between the lines I was well aware that Eurobodalla Council was doing as it pleased, and was getting away with it, with an audacity. On that far island beach I decided to come home and create The Beagle in order be a watchdog over the new Council, YOU. I grew up in Papua New Guinea. It was common practice that village judicial hearings had a dog tied to a table leg, usually curled up asleep at the feet of the circuit judge. The reason being that it is bad puripuri to tell lies in front of a dog. This is one of the reasons The Beagle was named as it is. Coincidentally, and fortunately, the number of untruths told in Council chambers reduced after The Beagle was launched. You were elected in September 2016 and The Beagle came to be in October 2016. I must also congratulate Eurobodalla Council management as they also played their role in the creation of what has become Eurobodalla’s primary, local news source. Just before registering The Beagle as a Media company and developing the website I saw an advertisement for a job, with Council, looking for an Asset Information Support Officer. A lowly position but in a field where I had a passion for data and, more specifically, a comprehensive knowledge of Council’s asset data. Having worked with Council, in surveying, engineering and then specifically engineering asset data I was more than interested. I applied for the job. Alas, Council decided it didn’t need me, so instead, The Beagle was born. The past four and a three quarter years have been most rewarding. I have taken a simple website and turned it into a very popular “rag of a blog” that is read the world over. This presentation to you today will be read in Argentina, England, Thailand, India and Wagga Wagga. Such is the nature of online news. We have 40% non resident ratepayers in the Shire and they enjoy being kept up to date with news. And what news you have provided to them. Outside the warp and weft of celebrating our community The Beagle has been able to put a spotlight on Council and shone a light into normally darkened corridors. Alas, for the community, there have been more than the State average number of Codes of Conduct raised against Councillors and staff. Alas, I am unable to reveal the nature of these complaints and how many have been won or lost, as Council, YOU, voted to declare all findings confidential. Alas, for the community, members of the senior staff have been found wanting of their knowledge of various Acts, policies and guidelines and have been castigated by higher State authorities for their failures. Again that is Confidential. Fortunately however, The Beagle was there to ensure the public were kept informed and included and even breached confidentiality to do so. That is why Council has now banned The Beagle from any further information regarding Codes of Conduct complaints and outcomes, in case they too be published. This Innes Council will be remembered for many things. One of the key ones was how it dealt with, or failed to deal with, communication and inclusion. It is only by chance that I am able to speak today in Public Access. Had you adopted the General Manager’s recommendation to cease Public Access the community would be all the poorer and this session, and presentation, would not exist. The General Manager offered, by way of background to her recommendation, that “Public Access was developed to enable the community to connect with Councillors”. In recommending it cease in March 2019 she said “Since its implementation, the way we communicate has evolved and Councillors are now more connected with their community. Councillors can be contacted via email or mobile with all contact details published on Council’s website.” All too often over the past four and a half years I have heard the community complain that Councillors fail to return calls and fail to respond to emails. One Councillor even blocks ratepayers email addresses, including The Beagle. The General Manager was correct in a roundabout way saying “Since its implementation, the way we communicate has evolved”. That use of the word evolved would have, no doubt, amused Charles Darwin. The de-evolution of public engagement, for that is what it is, has certainly amused, and angered, readers of the Darwin’s good ship, the HMS Beagle. For interest, The Beagle also derived its name to recognise the role the HMS Beagle played in evolution and The Beagle was created to be the newly evolved face of Eurobodalla media. Free, online, inclusive, timely and committed news to best serve the community. Plus everyone loves an underdog and the tenacity of a beagle, once it is on the scent, is legendary. The General Manager was also correct in saying “Councillors are now more connected with their community.” She should however have elaborated and added “Councillors, who read The Beagle, are more connected” as it has been revealed, all too often, that Councillors are as much in the dark as the community and the first they hear of something is via The Beagle. Oddly there are councillors who state “I don’t read The Beagle” and wear it as some sort of a badge to be proud of.
There are 17,000 published articles to date. Added to this are the 214 weekly editions of the Beagle Weekender The Beagle also has 11,000 followers on Face Book. All eager for local news. With such an audience of informed, engaged community it would be reasonably expected that a councillor, representing the community, might want to be better informed of the diversity of opinion that is voiced in over 60,000 comments contributed by the community, your community, in The Beagle. It has been a pleasure for me, over your term of five years, to sit in Chambers during your very ordinary council meetings and to be the dog in the room, daring you to speak an untruth. I have enjoyed reporting on Council meetings, and digesting you agendas and minutes. I can report that Beagle readers, and the community at large, are more now more aware of their local politics and of your performances.
Above: As the Innes Era comes to an end The Beagle offers a fond farewell to those who sat in Council for five long years, bringing us their visions of free parking in Batemans Bay, no helium balloons on public reserves, and cat bibs. Oh, and for voting on Staff recommendations. Around the chamber I must thank Lindsay Brown for the humour I find in his waffling and his off the cuff, mocking remarks during debate. For Maureen Nathan there is nothing but praise at the wealth of diverse expertise she brings to the chamber, from running a shop to being the granddaughter of a cattle baron. Her libertarian mandates of minimum government and maximum freedom entertain as much as her Dorothy Dix questions, designed to invite key staff to expound their virtuosity. James Thomson, the quiet one. The very quiet one. So much so that it is a rarity that he says anything at all. Except for his occasional Dorothy Dixers. James apparently does all his good work behind closed doors. Quietly. Jack Tait is a random treasure who speaks off the cuff and, when he does, brings amusement to the gallery via his oddly framed, tangential questions on things such as the sex life of penguins or by his hilarious off -piste comments that fly in the face of meeting protocols. Rob I have known for thirty five years. While it might not appear that he contributes much during meetings it is often evident that he is tired of the ineptitudes he sees around him. His nature is to cut to the chase, to get the job done and to seek guidance from where he is able and to rely on experience and appreciate that there are members of the community who should be heard and respected. I call him the Doormouse as he often appears to be asleep but, of late, he has awoken and ably stands in for the frequent absences we now witness of the Mayor. For Pat McGinlay, Phil Constable and Anthony Mayne, you have tried your best to fight the good fight. Yours was not a fight with your peers but a fight with your peers and senior management. You were outnumbered at all quarters. You were ostracised. You were bullied, ridiculed, left on the outer and threatened with Codes of Conduct but still you fought on. In what will be known as the Innes Era you will be well remembered by your community for having stood your ground in the face of adversity. So thank you, one and all for your role in creating The Beagle – if it wasn’t for you “the rag of a blog”, as the Mayor calls The Beagle, would not exist. The Innes Era has provided much entertainment via your follies, fumbles and foibles for nearly five years. It will also go down in history for other reasons. I doubt very much that the eleven minute record for a Council meeting, set in May 2021, will ever be broken. Best wishes for those departing and, for those who intend to stand again, the Beagle dog will be there in the room. Want to present to Council on Tuesday? Here's how