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Two Sth East mayors poles apart: Bega votes to recognise Climate Emergency

In her closing remarks before taking a vote for Bega Council to recognise Climate Emergency Bega Valley Council's Kristy McBain said "Climate change goes beyond partisan politics, or state and federal responses. It is critical to mobilise all levels of government in order to inspire change and coordinated policies."

Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) has a history of taking climate change seriously. The Council’s Clean Energy Plan, released in June, was unanimously supported by Councillors. Much like the Eurobodalla Emissions Reduction Plan it covers opportunities and benefits of reducing the carbon footprint of Council’s own operations. A draft of a broader Climate Resilience Strategy (CRS), is being finalised for consideration by Council and the community, applicable to the whole Shire. This mirrors the very initiative that the Eurobodalla community sought of its own council however in order to initiate such a strategy the key driver was that Eurobodalla Councillors had to recognise that there was a Climate Emergency, and once recognised move forward Eurobodalla Councillor Pat McGinlay sought to have Council acknowledge and consequently declare that "we are living in a time of climate emergency that requires focussed and strategic actions at the local government level, for the benefit of our whole community, in both the immediate and longer term." He also sought a requirement that all future or revised existing plans, strategies and substantive initiatives consider the potential impact on climate change and that Council staff, within a reasonable timeframe provide Councillors with a range of options for practical, effective ongoing community consultation mechanisms in relation to climate change. The objective would be to develop initiatives for either Council, Community or joint consideration/action to mitigate the process of climate change or adapt to its impacts within our community. Eurobodalla Councillors (with the exception of McGinlay and Mayne and, in part, Thomson) however refused to acknowledge a climate emergency and humans’ contribution to it, avoided the term ‘climate change’ and rejected Councillor McGinlay’s assertion "we’re at a ‘critical’ juncture on climate issues."

Opponents, including Mayor Liz Innes, argued instead of that Council’s strong record on environment made the declaration unnecessary. Mayor Innes said she was obliged to represent constituents who had their say on environment at the State and Federal elections. This statement was not taken well by the gallery and those watching via Live-Streaming as it clearly showed she was referring to the election of the Liberal Party at a State and Federal level and as such "she was obliged to represent those constituents" concluding, it appeared, that Eurobodalla residents and voters were, as a majority, Liberal voters giving those governments mandates. For whatever reason she appeared to have forgotten that Gilmore was now a Federal Labor seat. For Eurobodalla Council, in absolute resistance to the term Climate Emergency, the motion was diluted to "Council acknowledges and consequently recognises that we are living in a time that requires focussed and strategic actions at the local government level, for the benefit of our whole community, in both the immediate and longer term to address variable and changing climate. And instead of the intention to proactively engage with the wider community, as Bega Council is now doing, Eurobodala councillors voted instead to "Acknowledge the proactive and strategic approach taken by this and previous Councils to address the variable changing climate, including through the Emissions Reduction Plan prepared and subsequently adopted by this Council on the 13 June 2017" Eurobodalla councillors also had to be reminded by one presenter to Public Forum that "For some of you, the motions may not represent the ideology of the political party you align yourself with. To this we ask you to reflect on the oath or affirmation you took when you were elected, which said in part, that you will act in the best interests of the local community, and impartially carry out your functions. In addition, the Local Government Act requires you to consider the long term and cumulative effects of your decisions on future generations." By contrast with the Eurobodalla example of how this issue was dealt with, in Bega today we witnessed Public Forum presenters being live streamed to their whole community to hear (NOTE: Eurobodalla have now shut down live-steaming or any recording of Public Forum so that presenters can't be heard, nor is there any evidence of questions asked by councillors or responses given)

Today the Bega Mayor, Kristy McBain, reminded Councillors of their duty to represent the community and that "the Local Government Act requires you to consider the long term and cumulative effects of your decisions on future generations".   

The intent of the adopted Bega motions today was to make clear Bega Council’s understanding of the critical issue of climate change, prompting speedy response to protect their community and future generations "from the projected catastrophic impacts of unchecked global heating. Few would deny we are in a drought emergency, which is indeed encompassed by a climate emergency."

The motions adopted in Bega were:

1.    That Council’s Climate Resilience Strategy recognise the climate emergency, through the strength, scope and immediacy of initiatives for Council and the community to combat climate change.  2.    That Council requires reports on relevant strategies, plans or initiatives to include assessment of potential climate change impacts.

Above: Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain - Photo Bega Valley Council

With each councillor taking to turns to speak for or against the motion the Mayor as Chair allowed the gallery to applaud at the conclusion of each and in adopting the motion the gallery and a councillor stood and applauded with the Bega Mayor allowing the applause. No applause is allowed by order of the Eurobodalla Mayor in her Council Chambers.

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