ITEM GMR22/053: DRAFT CODE OF MEETING PRACTICE – FOR EXHIBITION
Councillors, as I am sure you are already aware, your task in this matter is simple. Nothing could be more straightforward, despite the seeming complexity of the presented multi-coloured documentation.
It is simple because each of you who are here to reform this Council, have already declared your governance principles, in the course of your respective election campaigns. In adhering to those principles, you know what needs to be done.
You have made it perfectly clear that you are committed to an open, accountable council in which its deliberations and all community input to those deliberations must be available to the whole community by every means available.
Not that many years ago this Council, with quite a different majority to the one we now have, fought tooth and nail against the webcasting of council meetings. Eventually, with a new council, webcasting commenced and shortly after, the OLG made webcasting of meetings mandatory.
And the webcasting of Public Forum was included, because for a while Public Forum took place at the commencement of a meeting, within the meeting. Then, with a revised Code of Meeting Practice, it was taken outside the meeting and took place just before the meeting commenced, as we now have it.
Then, at the Ordinary meeting of Council on 11 June 2019, the General Manager recommended the adoption of a Code of Meeting Practice that, based on what I and others regard as fatuous reasons, included the removal of the live streaming of Public Forum, and the removal of Public Access. A majority of councillors voted in support of that recommendation though, subsequently, before the publication of the revised Code, then-Councillor Pat McGinlay convinced the majority of councillors to retain Public Access.
And so, here we are today re-visiting this issue of the webcasting of Public Forum, and considering for the first time the webcasting of Public Access, as well as the frequency of Public Access, and a number of other aspects of the Code, as set out in the recommendation on page 8 of the agenda.
The survey, conducted to ascertain views on some of the issues before you, most significantly the live-streaming of Public Forum, has produced results which cause me to wonder just how this survey was conducted.
The results fly in the face of rationality. They show that a majority of those who clicked their way through the survey thought it was a bad idea for the wider community to see and hear members of the community address councillors, without the need to attend the chamber. Maybe these people misunderstood the question to mean that it was one or the other: either one can attend a meeting in the chamber and witness Public Forum there or, instead, one can watch it from home. Entertainment of this possibility is the only way that I can begin to make sense of the complete nonsense of the survey results on this issue.
To cut to the chase, looking at the recommendations listed, from 1 to 11, because of limited time, I want to address just recommendations 1,4,5,6 and 7, concerning the time and frequency of Public Access, the livestreaming of Public Access and Public Forum and whether a presenter should need to provide a written copy of their intended presentation. Of course, I expect you to address each of the 11 recommendations in turn.
So, those recommendations in turn:
Taking each in turn:
No. 1: It makes perfect sense to resume the earlier practice of holding Public Access immediately before Public Forum, prior to each meeting of council. The schedule presented in column 3 at the top of page 19 of the agenda seems to me to be a sensible one.
Nos. 4 & 5: There is no question that both Public Forum and Public Access should be webcast. The time available for this presentation does not permit me to address the arguments against livestreaming of these forums but I am more than happy to take questions on that later.
Nos. 6 & 7: I am strongly of the view that all that should be required of someone wishing to make a presentation at either Public Forum or Public Access is that they provide a description of the item or items they wish to present on. There should be no requirement for a written copy of the intended presentation.
No. 8: This issue, of the period in which a notice of motion to alter or rescind a resolution relating to a DA may be made, is referred to at clause 16.11 of the draft Code, as shown at page 43 of the Code and referred to at page 21 of the agenda. I suggest that the period be up to 48 hours from the conclusion of the meeting at which the resolution in question was made.
No.11: I ask that you amend this proposed action to read as follows:
“Following a workshopping of the draft Code, a further report be presented to Council on 26 July 2022 to consider adoption of the draft Code of Meeting Practice.”
There is much more that I would like to say on the matter of the Code of Meeting Practice but that will need to wait for the next occasion.
ITEM GMR22/054: CONGO ROAD NORTH
I must declare that until this item appeared in today’s agenda, I was not acquainted with the matter except peripherally.
But when I saw that staff have presented you with the option of either washing your hands of it and having nothing more to do with it – being messy and too hard – or the clearly unacceptable option of having to part with many millions of ratepayer dollars, well, I felt compelled to say something, starting with suggesting a third option.
And that option could read as follows:
That in consultation with the local community, Council liaises with Crown Lands and the owner of Lot 197 DP752151, to provide a realigned Crown Road reserve across the subject land for which Council would assume responsibility for construction and maintenance, with the costs associated with the realignment to be met by the owner.
I dare to recommend that you DEFER a decision on this item, for the following reasons.
There is no urgency, and, it appears to me, you may not have been provided with all the information required to make an informed decision.
In my view, the report you have been provided with is flawed. It makes no more than a passing reference to what is the most significant aspect of this whole matter: the existence of a public road through the property; being a Crown Road reserve, referred to at the top of page 27 of the agenda. This unformed, so-called paper road is the elephant in the room.
This Crown Road could well have been utilised by the public, but it has been almost wholly removed through mining operations. Notwithstanding the minerals below it, the owner of the property in question does not own this road, but has nonetheless removed it. How can that have happened? No member of the public is even permitted to close off a public road with a locked gate, let alone actually remove the road. But that is what has happened here. What part has Council played in allowing this to happen, either actively or passively?
Having deprived the public of access to the public Crown Road reserve, it is surely the owner who must compensate the public; not the public to compensate the owner. What a madness, in these circumstances, to be proposing that the public compensate the owner!
At page 24 of the agenda, the staff report advises you that:
“Council has not been able to establish evidence, including through research by a specialist firm, to confirm the existence of a public road, through prior use of the physical Congo Road North, under The Roads Act 4 William IV No 11 1833. This means the land over the physical road is private land.” (emphasis added)
No, the present absence of evidence, either ‘for or against’, does not mean that it is private land. It means that the status of the physical road is presently unknown. Old survey plans could well provide useful information on this question.
Throughout the report it is very clear that the owner’s interests and preferences are given priority over those of the public. Yet, to repeat, the owner has actually removed what could easily have become a well-formed Crown Road reserve. Rather than talk of accommodating the owner’s wishes and of the payment of compensation by the public, there should surely be talk of penalties for the destruction of a public road, albeit unformed, and of the provision of a replacement public road, through the re-alignment of the now-destroyed public Crown road.
Finally, while there are Congo residents on the north side of the closed road who are no doubt very happy with the absence of through-traffic, there are many more residents, south of the closure, who have been enormously inconvenienced. As their representatives, you have obvious responsibilities to become fully informed on the matter and to do what is within your power to set things right, rather than to wash your hands of it by adopting Option 1 of the staff report.