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Open letter to the Mayor

The Beagle Editor,

This is an open letter to the Mayor of Eurobodalla, Mayor Innes,

This letter has you in focus as the leader of the current Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC).

Background

A year ago, on 18 November 2019, following a battle with your ESC bureaucracy, I finally obtained permission to address – to try to engage with – ‘my’ Council out of deep concern about:

1. the severe bush fire-proneness of the area

2. the general lack of preparedness, AND

3. your refusal to properly consider the Motion put forward in early August 2019, by Councillor McGinlay, to declare a Climate Emergency in the Shire.

(This important Motion was summarily and outrageously dismissed by you and your Council despite the best efforts of three Councillors. The Motion was intended to focus your Council on taking immediate action, with longer-term planning, to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change locally, as the Bega Shire Council had undertaken.)

Speaking with you and your Council was about facing and challenging local level climate change denial in the face of horrifying evidence - it was about safety, duty of care and proper accountability.

I was not aware in speaking with you/your Council, one is required to send a word-for-word paper 24 hours before that one is then expectedly to simply read out. Strange - not a very ‘engaging’ way to interact with ‘your’ community Mayor. On the contrary, markedly controlling!!!! I duly provided an outline PowerPoint containing all my key points in order to be fully transparent and in seeking genuine discussion across the critical issues.

You, Madam Mayor, did not attend as I had feared, given I was speaking on climate change facts and the Council’s lack of appropriate action in light of the growing bush fire threat drawing down on us from the North. In fact, most of the Councillors that did attend, apart from Councillors McGinlay and Mayne, were clearly not interested in what I had to say to the point of rudeness. For example, yawning, not looking at me and tut-tutting. But, worst of all, when Councillors Mayne and McGinlay sought to engage with me, asking questions about my presentation, the acting Chair closed off the discussion using a ‘bullying style’ before I was briskly ‘dismissed’.

Understandably, I am disappointed with the dysfunctional business environment of your ESC that I observed and experienced first-hand. I am also dismayed by your attitude to your community, including your rate payers. I checked, Madam Mayor, before leaving the Council Chambers, and I was informed you were in the building – you just did not come.

Crisis

I fast-forward to 31 December 2019, to the’ hell on earth’ we experienced in the Malua Bay/Ridge Road/Surf Beach area, where I and my family with many others live, and to the experience of that dreadful fire-storm day.

A mega-fire, it had waited just North of the Clyde River for around three weeks, ignored by you Mayor Innes. In fact, you invited visitors to “still come and holiday in the Eurobodalla” declaring “we are open for business”. This despite large tracts of fire-inflicted devastation down and across the coastal lands of New South Wales and Southern Queensland; the Royal Fire Service (RFS) unable to contain the mega fire-fronts. Now, on our door-step, you invited visitors to share the danger!


To wake with the fire inferno already bearing down on us, our daughter frantically moving horses ahead of the flames and on foot, with few fire-fighting trucks in the area, our police overwhelmed and the community unsure where it was safe to go or to be! We are still traumatised by the firestorms immediate, and its ongoing impacts - close to a year later. The toll in the Shire:

- over 500 homes burned to the ground

- around 79% (343,087 hectares) of iconic land incinerated, and

- around 79% of our wildlife destroyed.

Post-script

Understandably, I am angry about your leadership incompetence and about the dysfunctional Council you ‘lead’. However, I must commend Councillors Mayne and McGinlay for their ongoing battle within your Council body to safeguard this Shire and her peoples.

I am angry our Shire suffered so badly and Council's ignorance and neglect not helping us, with its primary (self-interested) focus on the approval/implementation of your disgraceful Rural LEP! The Rural LEP is an old-fashioned and harmful approach to ‘development’ because it lacks necessary attention to sustainability, and is negligent in its footprint that WILL enhance/escalate environmental devastation and biodiversity loss.

Your Rural LEP is an unwise and unfortunately ratified ‘development’ document that ignored contrary advise, including that of the RFS, and of expert community environmental groups in this Shire.

I am angry Mayor that you attended an evacuation centre I was living in temporarily in the aftermath of the main fire-inferno in Batemans Bay as your conduct in that traumatic, tragic time was notably inappropriate. You arrived as though you considered yourself a celebrity and your demeanour was more fitting to attending a gala function! I am still saddened by that.

I am angry your largely disreputable Council was unnecessarily given an additional 12 months to mismanage us by the NSW Government, as a ‘necessary’ Covid measure. What a joke in our case, as your Council failed to meet for many months across the main period of the pandemic threat! There are many other examples of your ongoing mismanagement of our Shire, but let me just cite two more:

- the highly expensive monolith ‘development’ at the entry into the township of Batemans Bay – the Mackay Park Aquatic Centre - that offers the community little except burdensome debt and ongoing exorbitant upkeep costs, and

- your deeply disappointing decisions concerning ‘OUR Community Centre’.

I am angry that we have you and your Council for longer than we should have, given its lack of principles, judgement, character and competence. I NOTE, the Bush Fire Royal Commission has confirmed that climate change and lack of an effective response caused Black Summer; the fire-storms that devastated Eurobodalla were on your watch – your Council, under your watch, was part of the problem.

Lastly, I am offended by your Council attempting to ‘market itself’ and ignore truth in the months that have followed the fires. For example, the Black Summer 2019-20 ‘Living in Eurobodalla Shire Council (self-promotion) sheet, had a front-page heading of “Community Trust Burns Bright”!!!! REALLY!!!! Shame on you Mayor.


Conclusion

I look forward to the much-needed change of management of ESC through the ballot box in the forthcoming Eurobodalla Shire Council election. I, for one, will not vote you back to ANY role in our Shire.

We ARE in urgent need of a Change of Command and a new Council body though, here again, I must commend two Councillors as worthy of our vote, in demonstrating ongoing genuine concern for the prosperity, the wellbeing and the safe future of this Shire - Councillors Mayne and McGinlay.

Voting in a new leadership and Council body WILL bring new hope to our tired Shire. A more skilled Mayor than you have been will bring improved accountability, better engagement with the people of the Shire, Shire-interest not self-interest, with a democratic AND functional ESC business environment, in which Council:

1. identify priority business issues based on knowledge and facts

2. develop effective action plans that are implemented efficiently and transparently, with

3. the outcomes/impacts also evaluated transparently.

In this way, in the future, we CAN look forward to a stronger/better/safer Eurobodalla for us all and especially for our children. A Eurobodalla that is more divergent, more rounded in its developments, for example being premised on an economically sustainable P&D agenda, that includes ‘mining’ clean energy employment opportunities in addition to tourism, with a strategic focus on Care/protection of Country and much needed environmental restoration.


This is not a green issue and I am not a green, though I have no problems with greens, as you appear to. This is about facts and science – its central to our survival, our quality of life.

In closing, I briefly quote from an excellent recent letter in the Beagle written by Tricia Gardiner, “The Community is not happy Mayor Innes”………


Judith Smith

Surf Beach

18 November 2020


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