Welcome to this week’s Editorial,
This week was saw the Mayor finally announce a Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund for Eurobodalla residents that might see much needed dollar donations come direct into the shire. Up until the announcement it was recommended that anyone wishing to donate should direct their charity to the Salvation Army 2019 November Bushfire Appeal, Red Cross Relief and Recovery, St Vincent de Paul Society Bushfire Appeal, Wildlife Rescue.
Whilst those charities are excellent any donation made intended for Eurobodalla might well find itself elsewhere providing for another equally worthy community. Without wondering aloud at where the millions upon millions that have been donated to date by celebrities and corporations have ended up the reality is that there is little if any sign of it having arrived as ‘mana from heaven’ in the Eurobodalla. Instead what we are seeing are lines of locals trying to find out what funds and help might be available for those who DID NOT lose their home in the fires. These are the Quiet Eurobodallians who have simply lost fridges full of food, wages or incomes from businesses. These are the ones who are falling through the net as their debts continue to mount. Many need to pay rent, buy food, buy fuel, pay rates, pay electricity and soon come up with funds they don’t have to cover excess water fees as they realise that during a Water Restriction Level 3 they were not allowed to use their hoses until actually under threat of fire.
The next disappointment to these residents will be realised when they arrive at the tip with fire affected material and face tip fees. To our south in Bega Shire they have waived all fees to all tips for fire affected material. Not in Eurobodalla though.
So now we hear that the Council has established a Disaster Relief Fund. The frst question one might ask is “Who qualifies and how is it distributed and also accounted for?”
The Beagle has specifically asked Council for the criteria around these funds and who will qualify for them. It is understood that Council has formed a Hardship Panel but they have not stated who is on that panel and what the criteria for qualification will be.
It is known that to extract any money from the Government a ‘third degree’ with proof and reams of paper work will return little for most of the community. To many in the community it isn’t worth bothering. So how will the council be any different.
And does Council have any experience in handling donations?
The Beagle has asked for information around the $11,000 that was left over from the last Raindance Fund Raiser in 2018 and evidence that the funds have been made available to local farmers in need.
The Beagle also has asked for the criteria that Council said they would establish for those funds and the committee minutes of any meetings. Their Financial report 18/19 does not show anything about the $11,000 and only records the Raindance donation of $33,000 being 75% of the $44,000 raised.
Council has advised it is too busy to provide any information. Therefore anyone donating to the Eurobodalla Disaster Fund has NO idea how the money will be distributed, who it will go to, how they will qualify, who will determine who gets what and how the money will be accounted for, managed and reported.
By failing to provide information to the community around how they managed Raindance funds the community would, as expected, be suspicious of donating; as they would to any charity that fails to disclose its methodology and fails to provide open and transparent evidence of fail and equitable distribution.
The community have been asking questions around conducting a review of Council’s response and preparations of the last event however the request for an Extraordinary meeting has not been forthcoming, unlike the Bega Council who have already met to review and initiate improvements.
In response to a query as to why the Mayor and most councillors were reluctant to meet Councillor Pat McGinlay has advised that “I cannot address that in particulars. I can only talk for my own motivation in formally asking on 7 January for an extraordinary meeting (with a preceding briefing) to address the then emergency situation as well as at least three suggestions for consideration of action put forward by councillors.
“As one of 9 elected representatives, I believe that means that our primary obligation as people in a privileged situation would have been to get together as soon as we practically could as an ostensibly local decision-making body, get as best informed as possible under the trying circumstances, and hopefully gain an overview of the situation and then cooperatively discuss potential options and actions for implementation by the council organisation for the overall benefit of our community.
“My request for an extraordinary meeting did not gain traction among councillors.
“A subsequent alternative of a briefing session only, offered dutifully, by the GM to be on 9th January, also met with an unenthusiastic response from most councillors so that was cancelled.
“They will have their reasons of course, and I do not disclose such reasons such as they have expressed, nor critique them. Some I know have been directly and seriously impacted by the emergency situation. Others have their own criteria for directing their time and energy as they see best. Another councillor has now requested today, a briefing a.s.a.p. prior to February, when we have our next scheduled briefings prior to the next scheduled ordinary Council meeting on the 11 February. I have signalled my support to councillors and the Executive team at ESC for this: And that is where we now are. I trust this is a clear and transparent communication from my perspective as a representative of our community.”
So there we have it. The myriad of questions being asked by the community of the councillors will not be publicly aired until the second week of February, but only if the questions are placed on the agenda.
In this year of a local election in September it will be interesting to see how things unfurl because the Councillors would not want for any bad press if they hope to stand again. And the easiest way for them to remain ‘squeaky clean’ is to ensure the questions that MUST be asked remain unanswered.