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Open letter to Council and Councillors

Council's proposed 2.6% Rate Increases along with increases in Fees and Charges at this point in time are despicable and to relentlessly pursue them in order to balance your budget is reasoning so worthless and obnoxious there is little surprise that it has roused community indignation. With a combined Leadership salary in the order of $1.2 million and with NO evidence at all of belt tightening the community are looking at the example being set by Council and Councillors and are more than disappointed that there appears little concern for the financial welfare of the community. Even the councillors have ignored requests to reinstate the fortnightly meetings now that technology is available. Instead they have opted to to halve the meetings. In a vain attempt to raise the meeting schedule as an Urgent Matter at the last council Zoom meeting Clr Pat McGinlay was treated like a leper. In the back rooms there is a scaremongering message of support for the rate rise that the councillors are hearing suggesting that "Bega council is bankrupt and could be sacked".

Once curbs ease the old Normals will be out the window. No doubt we will find ourselves, not in a recession, but in a depression. The community will be surprised at how many businesses will not open their doors once this is over. Yes, there have been Government handouts to prop up businesses under Covid-19 and to assist businesses in the region affected by a downturn in trade. But these grants and initiatives are not enough to keep businesses afloat - the bottom line is profits to afford overheads and whilst profits are flagging the relentless overheads remain. Utilities, rates, rents, loans...

It is nice to think that once curbs ease that "They will Come" with the Mayor announcing once again that we are "Open for Business" but there won't be anywhere near enough shops reopened to turn the region's circumstances around.

Our businesses across the whole shire, not just tourism, have been hammered - we are approaching 10% unemployment nationally and we , as a region were already at 8.9% before the bushfires with one of the worst figures for youth unemployment and under employment in the State as well as experiencing the fourth quarter in a row of recession.

Tourism will NOT be pulling the region out of the depression we will enter once curbs ease. Yes, people will come but with near empty purses, for shorter visits if rents remain high, and will take back them the memories the region has long been known for - cheap family holidays on the beach with the kids. That is what we are good at. 

Each and every region in Australia will be considering their recovery - ours will be around building infrastructure with a commitment of $1.2b in projects being: - $330m for Bay and Nelligen bridges, - $990m to duplicate sections of the Princes Highway from Jervis Bay Road to Sussex Inlet Road, build the Moruya Bypass, and start detailed planning work for the Milton and Ulladulla Bypass and upgrades for the Princes Highway from Burrill Lake to Batemans Ba. - $150m for a regional hospital, - $30m for Spine Road and - $51m for the Mackay Park pool. Adding to that will be the rebuilding of 500 homes and the considerable public infrastructure that was lost in the fires and floods.

Those projects should see an influx of trades and professionals to build our population mass and draw more services to the region.

IT is time to STOP thinking this region is tourism reliant. It was... but the new Normal will dictate otherwise. Now we need leadership. Trusted leadership that the community can look up to and seek reassurance and strength from. One only need to look south to Bega to see what a civic leader does with her councillors on deck since the first week of January. At the present time, as was the case when the bushfires were raging, our councillors and our General Manager are missing in action. There are no messages coming from their ivory tower other than by way of staff recommendations for "business as usual' that includes increased rates, fees and charges and knowingly continuing to overcharge water and sewer to ensure the general fund that pays salaries receives an annual dividend.

At a critical time like this it is more than disappointing that the Mayor failed in her duty when chairing the last meeting to pay respect to and acknowledge Councillor McGinlay.

The Mayor and the other councillors knew that Clr McGinlay had an Urgent Matter. It had been announced prior to the meeting and discussed. 

Watch the VIDEO: When it came time for the urgent matter to be raised it is MORE THAN evident that Clr McGinlay moved forward to click the hand icon for Zoom, as was the protocol. Physical hand raising was only to be used for voting. Video ESC

While the hand icon did not display (for whatever reason) it is clear in the footage that Clr McGinlay moved forward to action his screen. With the Mayor and the General Manager both aware of a pending Urgent Matter it would have been appropriate for the CHAIR to apologise for failing to verify if the Councillor wished to proceed with the Urgent Matter at hand, that was known to her and the General Manager. 

But for whatever reason the Mayor dealt with this poorly and dismissed a fellow councillor, over an urgent matter. Such an action, on video revision, is now considered by many as loathsome. If you look closely at the video of the last meeting it is more than evident that both the Mayor and GM were hostile to Councillor McGinlay's 'interjection' of his Urgent Matter. Watch him mouthing his request to be heard. Finally when he is able to be heard he is dismissed.

Knowing full well that the councillor had made it more than evident that he had an urgent matter to present which called for the return of the original meeting schedule it is clear, by body language, that the Mayor and GM were not at ease with the proposed motion. It is evident that the Mayor as hostile to the idea as she sought to close the Urgent Matter down by cutting off the Councillors final comments that asked a valid question. Keep in mind the meeting had NOT been formally declared closed. To be so dismissed with the Mayor saying an Urgent Motion could be brought forward at the next meeting (seven weeks away) is a new low for our Mayor. 

At this time, when the region is not so much in a recession but actually in a depression, for the GM and Mayor to decide that there be no council meetings, no public forums, no public access, for seven weeks because it might require some degree of effort, is appalling.  As is evident in the video the Mayor DID NOT announce that the meeting was closed and actually failed in meeting protocol. There is little doubt the General Manager, by her body language, sided with the Mayor, whereas she should have advised that the meeting had not been officially closed and that, as such, Councillor McGinlay's Urgent Matter  could and should have been heard.  As the Chair, the Mayor had the capacity to 'reopen' the meeting, on vote if need be, based on the clear circumstances of a technical difficulty. Instead she, and the general manager, chose not to, instead ending the Zoom session by cutting Clr McGinlay off mid sentence. 

To suggest to the Councillor he could bring his Urgent Matter back to the chamber in seven weeks time is considered by many to be a new low for a mayor who is clearly out of her depth.

Meanwhile, and most disappointingly, the rest of Clr McGinlay's fellow councillors showed NO support, knowing the urgent matter was to restore the council meeting schedule, public forum and public access sessions now that they had the technology to do so. 

Welcome to the new normal in Eurobodalla democracy.