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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Just how good is Council's legal advice

All too often over the past five years in the reign of Innes the community have been informed that Council had authority to do this or that "based on legal opinion". For reasons of laziness, indifference or knowing they would be met with a response of obfuscation or told "you can't see it as it is legal privilege" our Councillors have, time and time again, rolled over and accepted that the Council staff must hold "legal advice" and that, most importantly, able to act under "legal advice", without question. Most recently Council have justified their proposed actions on Congo Road based on "legal advice". Normally that would have worked but in this case the Congo community challenged the advice, requested access to see the advice and in the end sent Council into a spin where they have now decided to do not further action until... they get more legal advice. All of this legal advice costs ratepayers. Everytime ratepayers challenge Council over an issue Council scurries off to seek legal advice. Council did exactly this with Coopers Island Road when they decided to ignore the laws of the land and allow an illegal gate to be erected on a Public Road. In the end they obtained legal advice because of the challenges that were mounting from the community. The cost of the legal advice is never known and always borne by the ratepayer. Council conceded, two years after that they could, and should have handled the issue better, had been more open and transparent with the community, and kept the Councillors in the loop. For over two years the message to Councillors was "the public are wrong". In the end it turns out the public were right and, as a consequence, the public gate has been allowed to remain and is now official, the missing fencing has now been replaced with an electric fence, the substandard cattle grid has been replaced on the public road and the area by the weir that has long been a popular recreation fishing spot, accessed by the public road, has had its illegal fencing removed and has been upgraded.

The bottom line on all of this is that Council staff insisted that they were right in how they were dealing with the issue because they had "legal opinion". But what of this so called "opinion"? Does anyone get to see it? Do the community get to see the brief that accompanies a request for "legal opinion"? No. It is considered privileged information by Council staff. Has Council's legal opinion ever been found to be incorrect? Has Council's interpretation of the Local Government Act been found wanting? Have they failed to abide by their own policies and guidelines and applied their own interpretations? Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes. The call by our councillor candidates is to be Open and Transparent yet when it comes to "legal opinion" this remains behind closed doors and unable to be presented for scrutiny. At the very least any of our new councillors MUST insist on sighting "legal opinion" and not rely on staff simply saying they have legal opinion. While we, as the community, might never see that "opinion" at least we might have faith in the fact that the councillors we voted in to represent us did, and were satisfied.


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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