Friday, 12 February 2016

Hamlet without the Prince

This post is about my attendance at a public enquiry meeting in Queanbeyan into the proposal to merge part of Palerang Shire Council with Queanbeyan City Council.  Like my previous post this may be rather boring to non-residents of the area (and possibly to some local residents).  If local politics aren't your thing, come back later when I will have pictures of wildlife to show you!

A major point was the objective of the meeting.  It was to inform the person undertaking the enquiry so that he could report to the Government.  It was not to inform the members of the public who were present.  Their attendance was merely some form of transparency of process - quite a useful concept, but this was not what I had expected.

However what this meant was that Palerang Shire had made a presentation at a similar meeting in Braidwood in the afternoon so those who, like me, hadn't attended that show were missing a fair chunk of the picture.  Having justified the title of this post let us move on.

The choice of venue was interesting.  Presumably the various halls associated with the Council couldn't be used as that might be seen as partial to the views of the Council.  The appointed venue  was a large space adjacent to the reception area of the Airport motel.  I would estimate that only 30% of chairs were occupied which was a surprisingly low level of interest  in the merger or perhaps shows that most people were more familiar than me with the Public Inquiry process.  (Or possibly they were all at home cleaning up debris after the storm a couple of hours earlier.)  An issue with this location was that there was a lot of side-noise as the staff and guests did their thing at reception and the nearby bar: this wasn't helped by the microphone being hard to use.

Note that what follows is my memory of what was said and has no official status.  Given the difficulties outlined in the previous para errors are quite possible!

Getting to business, the first speaker was the chair of the inquiry, John Turner (A/G CEO the Delegate of the CEO of the Office of Local Government - thanks David McDonald for comment clarifying that role).  He explained scope of the enquiry and the range of issues to be covered.  As well as the financial matters this included Community of interest, history, views of residents, serviceability, impact on council staff and - if the proposal is a goer - whether wards were needed.

The first presentation was by Queanbeyan City Council (QCC).  They split their time (20 minutes) between the Mayor (Tim Overall) and the General Manager (Peter Taggart {sp?}).

The Mayor said that QCC hadn't finalised its position yet.  They needed further financial advice and input from a residents meeting to be held next Tuesday (in a Council Hall).  He was personally for the State proposal. He made the point that boundaries need to be based on facilities rather than geography - Majors Creek and Araluen were issues with the current proposal as Burra had been in the past.

The General Manager came to the plate.  Enormous amount of detail.  He had been to the Braidwood Meeting so threw a few points about Palerang's view but I didn't note this. A few thingsI did note:
  • A key point from my view is that there seem to be at least 4 different sets on financial estimates around giving very different outcomes.  
  • Palerang seemed to have changed their mind - over a period of time-  about the backlog of works required from $30m to $m10
  • A point of trivia is that in terms of functionality a guideline is that someone should be ale to drive from one end of a Shire to the other in 90 minutes:  I suspect you'd need a good tail wind to achieve that for shires such as Bourke!
  • There seemed to be a reference somewhere to additional functionality required for aged care (which would wipe out any savings)
  • There will be 11 Councillors under the proposal which means the number per resident will be about 1:5000 in contrast to the current  ~1:4000 (QCC) or ~1:1500 (Palerang)
The next speaker was a man with years of senior experience with the various Councils in the area.  He made the key point that the financial estimates were only assumptions until the merger occurred.  Also concerned about Majors Creek and Araluen.

Next two up (separately) were women from Burra who basically wanted Burra to join with Queanbeyan, come what may.  They couldn't understand why their proposal in 2007 had been rejected.  (From my past conversations with residents of Burra the community is about 50% in favour of the merger with Queanbeyan rather than the united front suggested by these speakers.)

A couple of speakers didn't turn up and the next was Maria Taylor, Editor of the District Bulletin (the only one whose name I was able to catch clearly).  She was concerned that much of the financial detail wasn't publicly available.  Quoted some academics who considered it likely that the mergers would cost a lot, but not actually improve anything.

After another non-starter a person who described himself as an educator spoke.  He lives at Majors Creek and doesn't like the proposal to split the village.  He regards the Burra experience as a warning signal.  He also has concerns about the State Governments preference for big units - eg for schools the State is split into a few big zones (this seems similar to the LLP fiasco).

At this point I decided that I had had enough and came home.  As another resident who attended - and I think, from David McDonald's comment, spoke - was able to send an email with a brief summary, which I got within 5 minutes of getting home, the several later speakers were brief indeed.  It is useful for readers to note David's comments.  While we differ on the proposal these comments give a more complete view of the hearing. I think there was only one more speaker. So only 6 of the 15 registered non-QCC speakers fronted.  While I was present there was no discussion at all of the matter of Wards, nor does David cover that issue.  Due to the reduction in the number of councillors proposed it would probably come to something like 1 from Bungendore, 2 rural Palerang 1 rural Queanbeyan and 7 urban Queanbeyan.  Possibly not a good deal.
Personal View
I am in favour of the proposal by the State Government.  However, the material raised at the Meeting clarified that this isn't really because of any consideration on the agenda of the enquiry, but my view that Palerang Council, both staff and, with one exception, the elected representatives are {expletive deleted} hopeless.

Certainly it is daft to split Majors Creek and Araluen between the two new Councils, but Carwoola has been split for yonks and the sky has not fallen.


David McDonald said...

Thank you, sorry I did not see you there Martin, perhaps you were towards the back of the room?

After the person you mention, an educator (Bill Waterhouse from Majors Creek) spoke, I spoke. Sorry you missed my remarks. I oppose the Minister's proposal and do so as it fails to meet the criteria set out in s. 263 of the Local Govt Act, not because of any dislike of the Palerang councillors nor staff. Indeed, I have very favourable attitudes towards many of the councillors and staff. I reckon that most of them do a great job for the ratepayers of Palerang. They certainly do for my part of the shire.

I am also disgusted at the errors and falsehoods in the proposal document and the lack of transparency in the process, eg the State govt refuses to release the financial modelling that they say they are using to justify the split and mergers. I am concerned that the abolition of Palerang will result in the rural areas of the new LGA being disenfranchised, and our rates being sucked into the City of Queanbeyan, used for awful things like the EDE while the rural area is left to rot.

Then spoke Jenny Richards on behalf of the Wamboin Community Association. That Association (of which I am an active member) opposes the proposal and supports the status quo.

Then spoke Katrina Willis from QBN, a prominent green activist. She expressed great concern with the split and merge process.

Then spoke developer Greg Nye from Bungendore. He failed to indicate where he stands re the proposal, and used his time to attack Palerang Council and its processes.

Then spoke John van der Straaten, a farmer from Wamboin. He expressed concern about the lack of democratic practices in this split and merge proposal, and supported maintaining the status quo.

Then spoke a woman from Royalla, also supporting the status quo, ie opposing the proposal.

The final speaker was a woman from Carwoola who spoke persuasively in opposition to splitting communities (evidencing Carwoola as an example of how damaging this is) and emphasised how a Queanbeyan city-dominated merged council would not understand, and be responsive to, the rural parts of the new merged shire.

On my count, of the 12 speakers, 8 expressed a clear position on the split and merge proposals. Of that 8, 3 supported the government's proposal and 5 opposed it, calling for the maintenance of the status quo. These proportions are similar to those at the three previous meetings in Goulburn, Braidwood and Queanbeyan.

David McDonald said...

PS The person conducting the enquiry into splitting Palerang and merging the western part with QBN City Council, Mr John Turner, is not the a/g Chief Executive of the Office of Local Govt, as you suggested above. He is the Delegate of the chief Executive.

Mr Turner had a long career as a NSW National Party politician. As the OLG website advises at :

'John Turner
John is a former solicitor and Member of Parliament with extensive Board experience. During his 23 years as Member for Myall Lakes, John was involved in a number of Parliamentary Committees and appointed to the Shadow Cabinet from 1996 - 2007. John has a considerable understanding of local government due to his past roles as Shadow Minister for Local Government, Deputy Mayor for the Greater Cessnock City Council and as Chairman for the NSW Local Government Acts Taskforce.'

Flabmeister said...

Thanks for those comments David.

Dealing with the second one first, I must have misheard Mr Turners statement of his role as he was also having trouble with the microphones early on. I couldn't understand how the A/G CEO could be involved in every enquiry so thank you for resolving that. I shall fix the reference above and include a note of your comments for people to read.

The speakers after Mr Waterhouse must have been brief indeed since I left at about 8:00pm and by 8:30 a person from Carwoola - possibly the speaker you mention - had put some brief comments on our community email group. Allowing time for her to get home, the meeting wrapped up no later than 8:20.

As I have mentioned off-line I have been very disappointed with the recent actions and inactions of the Palerang Shire and impressed with most recent dealings I have had with QCC. While QCC may not really know about rural areas all Palerang know to do is to let developers built McMansions on them, while slugging ratepayers for the costs involved. (in a recent Survey the community rejected Palerangs bid to seek a Special Rate Variation, but the Council apparently rejected the Survey results.