Public Forum Submission by Jeff de Jager
Public Forum Submission by Jeff de Jager regarding -
A big thankyou to the Mayor and General Manager for initiating the KPMG review into the operation of the Batemans Bay Pavilions – it finally has put some light on the behind the scenes apparent deliberate obfuscations and prevarications that have bewildered many in the community over the past 7 years.
Over those years, community members made many unsuccessful attempts to Council to release actual factual information about the Pav project and its genesis, the purchase of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site. These requests for information were largely ignored and so were many community generated warnings about costs, design and operational matters, along with suggestions and recommendations for improvements. Subjects covered in these community inputs included comparisons of reticulation and filtration systems and their relative energy consumptions: such information was easily requested and obtained by community members from independent professional specialists but unwelcome within Council.
Anyhow, at last we are now aware that the costs associated with owning and operating the Pav are indeed crippling - the $4.6 million figure exceeds many of the feared outcomes that members of the community believed may have been enough to have Council consider an increase in rates in order to cover them. To date, thankfully, those fears for increased rates appear likely not to be realised in the near future.
One of the largest components of the high costs is depreciation. This cost was not included in the 2017 consultant’s business case but its non-inclusion was clearly identified and was the subject of a disclosure. It was also disclosed by the consultant that their assumptions and calculations were based on a very limited study by an Adelaide university of a handful of aquatic centres. Those red lights exhibited by the consultant appear to have been ignored along with pleas from community members as early as the Extraordinary Council meeting held on 29 August 2017 – six years ago.
What was the rush to proceed without full and proper information? Was it really to get the grants as we were told? Or was there some other motivation? Who knows?
While the terms of reference for the KPMG review have focussed mainly on the Pav’s actual costs and how they compare with the so-called business case, it has nevertheless highlighted the seemingly selective information at times used by staff to inform Councillors and the inexplicable lack of or inadequate referrals of the project’s status to Council’s own Audit Risk and Improvement Committee.
The KPMG review also lists as “Stakeholders Consulted” six council-related people and two executives employed by the Pav’s management contractor. Only two of the council-related Directors mentioned were employed over the duration of the project and furthermore, strangely, significantly missing from this list are past Mayors, past and present Councillors and the past General Manager and involved Directors who participated in the decision making process over the years. It is not known what, if any, information from council’s files was made known to KPMG in addition to data relative to operating costs.
To be sure the review’s findings do highlight the nature of the unacceptable level of costs and will be useful in determining what has to be done. The review also has called attention to the need for improvements within Council’s management - including the enhancement of the role of the Audit Risk and Improvement Committee – and none of these needs for improvement should be ignored.
The limited ability though, for KPMG to consult with past decision makers (and indeed interested community members) is typical of some of the limitations imposed by some in Council in the conduct of the Pav project. In my view, the big limitation of the review is that it was unable to determine the sources and reasons for the past decision making that has now resulted in the current calamitous financial position. It follows that, without such full knowledge, learnings and warnings to prevent such mistakes being made again in the future will not be available.
In closing, I remind you, Councillors, that the KPMG review findings are just that – that is, they are findings, not informed recommendations. It is up to Council today to adopt those findings and, please, I urge you to go further to ensure further reviews and any necessary changes are implemented above and beyond the single recommendation in GMR23/031 before you “THAT Council receive and note the Bay Pavilions Financial Performance Review, Final Report, 27 June 2023”.
Jeff de Jager