Eurobodalla Shire Council Public Forum Presentation
10 September 2019
My name is Jim Bright. I’m a resident of Narooma. I’m here today to make some comments on the agenda item regarding the rating system review.
I’ll start by indicating my full support for the comments and recommendations made by Mr de Jager in his presentation.
I will now focus on some aspects of the relevant Staff Report that is contained on pages 119 and 120 of the agenda papers.
My view is that the Staff Report is contrary to acceptable minimum standards of public administration for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are as follows.
The report provides no obvious explanation to our councillors and our community for the apparent absence of any community consultation prior to the formulation of the proposed submission to the Office of Local Government. (The General Manager is proposing to provide that submission to OLG by the deadline of this coming Friday.)
The various guidelines and instructions, that have been issued by OLG over the past few months in relation to this particular matter, certainly identify the (unsurprising) need for community members to be given an opportunity to have input before any final position is adopted by the NSW government.
This clearly reflects the fact that this is a matter that will be highly controversial throughout the community – with strong views on both sides of the debate.
However, as best I can ascertain, the overwhelming majority of the Eurobodalla community would still have no knowledge whatsoever about this State government review of the current local government rating arrangements. In my view, as a minimum, the ESC should have taken steps, shortly after being notified by the Minister in June, to bring the situation to the attention of the general community. Quite properly, the council also should have let the community know of its intention to make a submission to the government review and should have invited comments from the community.
It may be that there is a valid reason why these things did not occur (although I can’t immediately imagine what that reason might possibly be). If there is a valid reason, it should have been spelt out to the community through the medium of this Staff Report – regardless of whether some explanation was already given to councillors during one of their confidential Tuesday briefings.
Another substantial deficiency in the Staff Report relates to the organisation called the NSW Revenue Professionals that is referred to in the report.
The Staff Report attaches great importance to the consistency that exists between the views of our council’s staff in their proposed submission - and the views contained in the report of this impressive sounding organisation.
Now I reckon that there would be very few (if any) of the members of our community who would ever have heard of the NSW Revenue Professionals – and I reckon there’s every chance that a number of our councillors would be in the same boat.
In such circumstances, the Staff Report should have provided councillors and the community with some background to that organisation - if its views were to be put forward by our staff in support of their views. But the Staff Report made virtually no attempt to do that..
The facts are that that organisation is a ‘council staff’ association that is registered under the NSW Associations Incorporation Act 2009. Full membership is open to any council employees who work in the rating and revenue sections of NSW councils. There’s no membership requirement for any such employee to have relevant formal qualifications or a minimum length of relevant experience or anything else. You simply pay your membership fee and you become a member.
So against that background, it would probably not be too surprising that the views of the members of the NSW Revenue Professionals might not be inconsistent with the views of our council staff - some of whom are quite possibly members. This additional background should have be contained in the Staff Report.
To be quite clear – I’m not saying that the views of the NSW Revenue Professionals should not be taken into account by our councillors. This is the sort of information that is relevant to our council’s decisions. But councillors and the community need to know exactly what this organisation is.
On page 120 there is section entitled ‘Community and Stakeholder Engagement’. That section contains the following lone sentence.
“A copy of Council’s submission to the Rating System Review is attached to this report and will be made available to the public via Council website.”
The future availability on the ESC website of a finalised council report hardly represents any satisfactory type of community “engagement” - past or future.
As suggested by Mr de Jager, if a majority of councillors do decide today to allow the General Manger to forward the proposed submission to OLG this week, it must clearly state that it does not necessarily represent the views of the body politic and that it does not reflect any community views flowing from a community consultation process in this shire.
The look of many around the chamber as Mr Bright read his presentation