ABE Presentation to Council 20/4/21

(This is a copy of the ABE presentation submitted to Eurobodalla Council for the Public Access session of 20th April 2021.)

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to address Council. I am presenting as Co-Convenor of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community forum dedicated to having open and inclusive government in our region.

ABE has already presented to Council on the need for genuine community consultation, as well as the importance of obtaining and taking account of relevant expert advice before making decisions. This presentation focuses on two key principles that ABE believes are important for inclusive and accountable government – transparency and open communication.

ABE has reviewed Council documents relating to these important aspects of good governance, the most relevant being Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Agency Information Guide (2019) which is a requirement under the Government Information (Public Access) Act (2009). It outlines how Council will engage with the public and how the public can participate in Council functions, stating that: ‘We want to help create an engaged community that works together to achieve common goals, where thoughts and ideas are valued and where community members are empowered with knowledge and have the opportunity to participate’.

However, ABE’s community engagement is telling us that Council is not living up to these commitments in the (now outdated) Agency Information Guide and in some cases it acts in direct contravention to them. This has given rise to what the community perceives as a culture of secrecy within Council which prevents not only the public, but also community members of Council committees and even councillors, from knowing the detail of how and why decisions are made and by whom.

Our discussions with the community have provided the following examples:

1. Tendering processes

Council’s financial management practices such as tendering processes where ‘commercial-in-confidence’ provisions are routinely used to conceal costs and expenditure from the public, and sometimes councillors.  As ABE noted in an earlier presentation, even the independent Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee of Council established under the Local Government Act to review the risks, controls and finances surrounding major projects is not always provided with sufficient information to allow them properly evaluate Council’s financial decisions. This was demonstrated in relation to the Bateman’s Bay Regional Arts, Aquatic and Leisure Centre where the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee was not provided with the construction tender and therefore could not advise councillors before they voted to approve the total budget for the project. When councillors sought guidance from the Committee prior to voting on the project, the General Manager advised that the Committee could not have access to the construction tender because it was commercial-in-confidence. This was based on a dubious interpretation of the Local Government Act and despite the fact that members of the Committee are bound by the same strict confidentiality clauses as council staff and councillors. 

Often the outcomes of tender processes are not publicly announced and nor do they always appear on Council’s contract register. When they do, they cannot always be relied upon to be accurate. While it is a mandatory requirement under the GIPA Act that council keep a public register of contracts valued at $150,000 and over, Council has overlooked this requirement on several occasions.This was the case in relation to Council’s multi-million dollar Technology One contract for a corporate business system which commenced in June 2016 with a completion date of September 2018. By the end of September 2020 over $7 million had been spent and the estimated completion date had been pushed back to December 2021 with a final cost of close to $10 million. None of this was recorded on Council’s contract register at the time, so there was much community speculation about how much this whole project was costing ratepayers. It was not until the issue was raised by a Councillor at the end of 2020 that the cost and details of the contract were revealed and the contract register was finally updated.

2. Council meetings

Under the section on public participationin their Agency Information Guide, Council claims to encourage community members toparticipate in the exercise of Council functions and policy formulation by coming to, or watching webcasts of, Council meetings; engaging with Council at Public Access meetings (like this one) and applying for membership of Council committees or addressing committee meetings. 

However, Council’s record in relation to meetings does not meet this standard.  Meetings are held during the day when it is difficult for residents who work to attend. This contrasts with other councils who hold their meetings in the evening, making them accessible to a broader section of the community.  While Eurobodalla Council meetings are webcast, this does not allow community members who cannot attend live meetings to address Council.  Council’s Public Access sessions are also held during the day which limits participation by working members of the community and the story is the same for Council committees.

The frequency of Council meetings has also limited public participation.  Following the disastrous Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 Eurobodalla Council did not meet until 11th February 2020, some 3 weeks after the bushfire disaster was over and nearly 2 months after their last ordinary meeting in early December 2019. In contrast, both neighbouring Shoalhaven and Bega Valley Shires held extraordinary Council meetings in January to deal with the bushfire disaster and returned to their regular schedule of Council meetings much sooner. During the onset of COVID-19 when bushfire recovery issues were still of critical importance, Eurobodalla Council abandoned its meeting schedule for nearly 2 months between 7 April and 26 May 2020 despite having access to technology that would have allowed them to continue meeting remotely. Council has since embraced this technology and Council meetings have been by Zoom link until very recently.  However, Zoom access to Council meetings is complex to organise for most people and does not effectively facilitate community participation. Public Access meetings continue to be via Zoom for no apparent reason. In addition, the frequency of Public Access sessions has been reduced from fortnightly to monthly and they are no longer broadcast and available to the broader community. This does not live up to Council’s statements in their Agency Information Guide about encouraging community participation.

3. Confidentiality provisions

Council’s Agency Information Guide statesthat ‘elected councillors represent the interests of residents and ratepayers. They provide community leadership and guidance [and] channel communication between the community and Council’. However, in practice, the application of confidentiality clauses across a broad range of council business often prevents elected representatives from consulting their constituents on important matters that will affect them.  

These same confidentiality provisions are also applied to Council advisory committees whose members are unable to share the most basic information with the communities they represent without the threat of legal action. A key function of advisory committees is for information regarding Council matters to be made available for public scrutiny, consideration and comment. The current confidentiality arrangements imposed on committee members by Council effectively prevents any information about related Council business being shared with the broader community.

A number of other instances where Council has failed to communicate openly and operate transparently were raised by the community. These include the extended time that Council’s DA tracker was offline during 2019 which prevented the community from knowing what planning matters were before Council and the process of leasing the Bateman’s Bay Community Centre.

So ABE believes it is time that Council reviews the way it operates with regard to its own policies and guidelines if it genuinely wants to engage the community and encourage them to participate in Council business.

Bernie O’Neil

Co-Convenor

A Better Eurobodalla

ABE Presentation to Council 2/3/21

Note: ABE was the sole presenter to Public Access on 2/3/21. ABE submitted this presentation to Council at 10:12 AM on Monday 1st March, yet were only advised that our presentation was accepted to go ahead and provided with a Zoom link at 8:49 AM on Tuesday morning, 26 minutes before the start of the Zoom session. Councillors Brown, Thomson and Tait, as well as Mayor Innes, all failed to attend this Public Access session without any explanation being tendered.

A Better Eurobodalla (ABE) presentation to the Eurobodalla Shire Council Public Access session on Tuesday 2 March 2021

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to address Council.

I am presenting as Co-Convenor of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community forum dedicated to having open and inclusive government in our region.

ABE has already presented to Council on the need for sound community consultation. This presentation focuses on the related need to obtain and take account of relevant expert advice before making decisions. 

Eurobodalla Shire Council expends considerable funds on obtaining expert advice and, in addition, receives expert advice from various other Government authorities as part of its normal business.

ABE has examined recent Council budget documentation for consultancy information. We found no primary evidence beyond a couple of summary items indicating, in the Council’s December 2020 report, that it spent nearly $1.5 million in the previous quarter on expert advice. Given its size and critical role in decision-making, ratepayers and residents need to see primary evidence to confirm that such advice:

  • meets recognised professional standards;
  • informs the making of evidence based, best practice decisions and is value for money; and
  • is disclosed to the community in an accessible and timely manner including how the advice influences a decision or action by Council.

For this presentation, ABE has researched three areas of Council business where there is independent evidence relating to expert advice and to Council’s performance and accountability. 

Example 1. Obtaining expert advice regarding the construction tender for the Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic Arts and Leisure Centre (hereafter referred to as the Leisure Centre).

At its meeting of 28 July 2020, Councillors wanted to seek advice from Council’s Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee (ARIC) before voting to approve the construction tender and allocate the total budget for the Leisure Centre development.

As background, ARIC is constituted to provide specific expert advice to Council and must (among other things) keep under review the following aspects of the Council’s operations:

  • Compliance
  • Risk management and
  • Financial management

Councillors were concerned that:

  • they were about to endorse expenditure of approximately $69 million to a project without any professional financial advice.
  • the community were unaware of the total cost, and
  • there was no updated business case to inform their decision

However, the General Manager informed Councillors that the Audit Committee could not have access to the tender document for construction of the facility or the total budget amount because it was ‘commercial in confidence’.

Contrary to this advice, the Model Code of Conduct, Council’s Code and ARIC’s terms of Reference, the Audit Committee can, ‘access confidential information that [they] have been authorised to access for the purpose of performing [their] official duties’ (page 5 of the Model Code of Conduct – Guide for Council Committee Members & Delegates).

To clarify this the NSW Office of Local Government was contacted and confirmed in a telephone conversation of 18 Dec 2020 that the Audit Committee canhave access to confidential and ‘commercial in confidence’ information. 

As a result of the General Manager’s advice to Council, the Audit Committee were denied access to vital information necessary to monitor and assess the level of risk and financial management of the project. As ARIC has at least one financially qualified member and is permitted to ‘obtain legal or other professional advice considered necessary to meet its responsibilities’ it would have been the obvious source of expert advice. (ESC-ARIC Terms of Reference).

Without this, Councillors’ subsequent approval of the tender and budget for this multi-million dollar development was without the appropriate professional expert advice.

Example 2. ESC staff advice to Councillors re Capital Expenditure Review for BBRAALC (Leisure Centre)

Also, at the 28 July 2020 meeting, Councillors were asked to endorse the construction tender and total budget for the Leisure Centre, and a report was provided listing all matters that needed to be considered prior to making a decision.

Under the heading “Financial” the following advice to Councillors was provided:

‘The Office of Local Government (OLG) has assessed Eurobodalla Shire Council’s review for compliance with OLG Capital Expenditure Guidelines (Guidelines), issued under section23A of the Local Government Act 1993. The Guidelines seek to ensure that a council’s review of a proposed capital expenditure project is consistent and transparent, that the merits of capital projects can be compared, and that resource allocation can be made on an informed basis by the council. OLG’s assessment concluded that Council’s review meets the relevant criteria of the Guidelines.’ 

It was later revealed (in response to a Government Information Public Access (GIPA) request) that council staff were selective in what they disclosed to Councillors from the OLG’s correspondence,

as the OLG advice goes on to say:

‘OLG notes that, factoring in all costs, the built facility is projected to operate at a loss for the first 10 years of operation. Council must be satisfied of the community demand for the facility, as proposed, and the ability to subsidise the facility from the General Fund.

Council should also consider the potential adverse effect of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the projected revenue of both the built facility and Council.

While Council has generally satisfied the OLG’s capital Expenditure criteria, it is important to note that this response should not be construed as an endorsement or approval of Council’s proposal.’ (Attached)

By omitting the above, Councillors would have assumed that the OLG had endorsed the project – that all risk issues had been considered and financial management had been deemed appropriate and adequate.

Example 3. NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) expert advice on bushfire risk management

This has important implications for public safety, public and private property, public liability as well as the safety of both agency and RFS volunteer fire fighters. Unfortunately, Council ignored key recommendations from the RFS throughout the development of the Rural Lands Planning Proposal. The critical importance of this issue has been graphically highlighted by the Eurobodalla’s disastrous experience in the 2019/20 fire season. RFS recommendations which were ignored include:

i) The RFS requested that Council carry out a Strategic Bushfire Assessment for the proposal, as per the requirements for Planning for Bushfire Protection but this was not carried out.

ii) The RFS identified concerns with the use of open land use tables in high-risk bushfire prone rural lands as adopted in the Planning Proposal, yet this was ignored. This was of particular concern to the RFS, as it opened the way for Special Fire Protection Place (SFPP) activities such as Health Services Facilities, Child Care Centres, and Seniors Housing, to be located in these hazardous areas. These uses require large scale Asset Protection Zones and road infrastructure, potentially impacting downstream water quality critical for oyster growing and commercial and recreational fishing. 

iii) The RFS requested that the results from the draft Bush Fire Prone Land Mapping carried out by Council in 2016 be used to inform the Planning Proposal but this mapping was not finalised before the Planning proposal was formally adopted, and this important additional data was not incorporated into the planning process.

NSW government agencies collective experience of ESC’s refusal to heed expert technical advice is encapsulated in this quote from RFS correspondence with Council after three years of engagement on the proposal:

The NSW RFS provided detailed comments, attended meetings and joint site inspections with Council and other agencies in order to discuss the contents of the Planning Proposal and further explain our concerns. Notwithstanding, the Planning Proposal appears largely unchanged from the previous versions and has not addressed the specific concerns identified by the NSW RFS nor undertaken a strategic bush fire study’.

In summary, it is vital that Councillors are provided with accurate, detailed and timely expert advice in order to make better decisions; and for this advice to be made available to the community.

Bernie O’Neil

Co-convenor

A Better Eurobodalla

ABE Presentation to Council 2/2/21

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to address Council.

I am presenting as Co-Convenor of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community forum dedicated to having open and inclusive government in our region. ABE expects that before governments, at any level, make decisions that will impact their communities, they will undertake broad and meaningful consultation, listen to and share expert advice, and proceed using a transparent decision-making process so that the community understands who makes decisions, when and why. 

While A Better Eurobodalla has presented to Council before on specific issues, I welcome this chance to more formally introduce A Better Eurobodalla to Council, Council staff and residents of Eurobodalla. A Better Eurobodalla was formed in September 2019 around shared values and principles that we believe are vital for effective local, state and federal government. These principles are:

  • Integrity and honesty
  • Transparency of process
  • Open communication
  • Fairness
  • Inclusiveness, and
  • Sustainability

In applying these principles in Eurobodalla we’re looking for:

  • Open, accountable and responsive local, state and federal government
  • A shire council with a sustainable, practical vision that can cost-effectively meet the needs of residents and ratepayers
  • Local government that actively and accurately represents Eurobodalla residents’ interests to state and federal government and
  • Candidates for the 2021 local government election who genuinely listen; who tackle key issues of concern and urgency and who safeguard the interests of all of us.

Over summer ABE has been distributing flyers across Eurobodalla to inform non-resident ratepayers of their eligibility to vote in the September 2021 council election.  Distributing this information at markets across the shire has given us a great opportunity to listen to residents and ratepayers about what is important to them. Interestingly, most non-resident ratepayers were unaware of their right to one vote per property and the requirement to register with council to exercise that right.

ABE has also recently started meeting with prospective candidates for the September 2021 council election. We invite all prospective candidates to meet with us so we can explain what ABE is doing in the lead up to the election and what our community engagement is telling us about what is important to the people of Eurobodalla.  We will report on all these meetings in our newsletter and on the website. 

We have also been writing to Eurobodalla Shire Council on a number of issues and have received replies. I thank Dr Dale and Council staff for that. Consistent with our principles of openness and transparency, ABE is publishing all sent and received correspondence on our website. ABE will continue to write to Council and follow up and report on issues as they emerge. ABE’s approach is to look at Council’s policies and strategies and critique them in relation to their implementation and share that work with the community. 

A consistent message we have been getting from community members concerns consultation by Council. I commend Council on its Community Engagement Framework and Participation Plan adopted by Council on 26 November 2019. This Plan embodies great principles to guide Council’s approach to engaging the community. They are to:  

  • Be open and inclusive
  • Generate mutual trust and respect, and be accountable 
  • Engage early and provide information that is clear
  • Be considerate and provide feedback, and
  • Value and acknowledge skills and resources.

Importantly the Plan tells us that ‘Ineffective or tokenistic community engagement can be detrimental to the good faith of the community in the long term’. (P4)

Additionally, in providing direction to staff, the Plan speaks convincingly about engagement levels and methods describing five levels of participation as:

  • Inform 
  • Consult 
  • Involve 
  • Collaborate, and
  • Empower

Under the heading ‘Consult: What will we say’ and ‘What will we do’ the direction is: ‘We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.’

And under the heading ‘Involve’ the Plan states: “We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and provide feedback on how’

This approach is laudable and I recommend all interested community members to familiarise themselves with the commitments that Council has made in the Plan. 

Now we need Council to live up to these commitments. Unfortunately, recent examples have shown that the consultation practice is not always consistent with this Plan and its principles. Some examples:

1) The Batemans Bay Community Centre: Council’s recent decision to lease out the Batemans Bay Community Centre failed to conform to the approach recommended in its own Community Engagement Plan outlined above. Council did not effectively involve the multitude of community groups affected by this decision, which was also at odds with Council’s previous advice to these groups that the existing Community Centre would continue to be available until the new Mackay Park Centre was completed and operating.  

2) The Mogo Adventure Trails Project: Council was in the midst of undertaking community consultation when a $3 million funding grant was publicly announced for this project. This unfortunate sequencing indicated that the project was already a ‘fait accompli”, with little prospect of meaningful input by the community. The appropriate sequencing would be for a project proposal reflecting substantial community input to be developed, which is then submitted for funding. 

3) The Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic Arts & Leisure Centre: when planning of this project began, community expectations were that it would include both a 50-metre pool and a 500-seat theatre. As these expectations have not been met, there is considerable community disquiet and concern about the functionality of the centre, particularly in light of the Centre’s significant upfront and recurrent financial costs.

As well as being important for effective and responsive project management, community consultation is also a vital component of good governance in the institutional and political context. So, it is disappointing that Council has removed live streaming of the Public Forum element of its fortnightly meetings. Streaming of the Public Forum provides a valuable opportunity for community members to communicate directly with Councillors and the broader community.

Council should be proactively facilitating additional opportunities to hear about important issues direct from the community. For example, our neighbouring Bega Valley Council has run a series of face to face “Councillors in the Community” sessions over the last 4 years, involving Councillors going out in the community to hear concerns and issues directly from citizens. The meetings are held in evenings, so as not to exclude people with day-time responsibilities. If Eurobodalla Council is serious about public consultation, ABE asks that it consider undertaking a similar process at, for example, Central Tilba, Nelligen, Tuross Head, Bodalla, South Durras and Narooma?

To conclude, ABE considers effective community engagement to be a key element of delivering good governance, where a ‘tick the box” approach is not desirable or effective. Community consultation is an area where Council needs to “walk its own talk”.

Thank you

Bernie O’Neil 

Co-convenor

abettereurobodalla.org

ABE Presentation to Council 17/12/20

A Better Eurobodalla (ABE) Presentation to the Extraordinary Meeting of Council on Thursday 17 December 2020 Supporting Councillor Mayne’s Notice of Motion NOM20/009 Regarding Bateman’s Bay Community Centre

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to address Council and the community this morning.

I am presenting as Co-Convenor of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community forum dedicated to having open and inclusive government in our region. ABE expects that before governments, at any level, make decisions that will impact their communities, they will undertake broad and meaningful consultation, listen to and share expert advice, and proceed using a transparent decision-making process so that the community understands who makes decisions, when and why. 

ABE has applied these principles to the issue of the Batemans Bay Community Centre (BBCC), which leads it to support Clr Mayne’s Notice of Motion NOM20/009 to rescind Council’s recent decision to lease out the Batemans Bay Community Centre and instead maintain the centre as it is currently being operated; with a review of those operations and functions being undertaken after the completion of the Batemans Bay Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre.

ABE notes the following aspects in support of this position:

  1. The Eurobodalla community have been significantly impacted by natural disasters of bushfire, drought and flooding, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that Council’s community service and support responsibilities are now more important than ever. 
  • Expert advice tells us that strong community connections are a key to recovering from disasters such as the bushfires and COVID-19, and the decision to lease the Batemans Bay Community Centre will impact a wide range of community groups, including Meals on Wheels (reference our previous submission on this subject).
  • The Batemans Bay Community Centre is an important facility contributing to community service, cohesion and integration. It has a central location in the Shire’s largest urban centre. No other facility offers the same utility as this Centre. 
  • The public forum presentation on 8th December by Kim Sinclair, the CEO of SEARMS, Council’sapparently preferredlessee for the centre, provides important new information which further strengthens the case for not proceeding with the lease of the Batemans Bay Community Centre at this time, as the process has been characterised by a lack of transparent communication.
  • Ms Sinclair’s presentation indicated that SEARMS would not be paying a commercial rent for the Centre, and would also be sub-leasing parts of the centre to other groups. Neither of these aspects were mentioned in the Expression of Interest specifications advertised by Council on 18 September 2020. If they had been, it is possible that other potential not for profit lessees would have come forward, including community groups currently using the centre, such as Meals on Wheels who have publicly indicated they would have considered the proposition of leasing the centre if they had known it could be at a non-commercial rate. All potential lessees should have been made aware if the ground rules for the process had changed so that they could make their decisions in a fully informed way.
  • If Council must go about leasing a community facility in order to gain additional income, it should apply the principle of “minimal community disruption”, and lease one of its other underutilised facilities that will impact fewer community groups than the current lease proposal for the Batemans Bay Community Centre.
  • Importantly, the decision to lease the Batemans Bay Community Centre prior to the opening of the Batemans Bay Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre runs counter to advice previously given by the Eurobodalla Shire Council General Manager to community groups that they would be able to use the Batemans Bay Community Centre until the new Aquatic & Leisure Centre was complete and operational. This lack of adherence to formal Council advice is poor administrative practice, dishonest and undermines community trust and cohesion in these troubled times. 
  • Under these complex circumstances, ABE considers that Councillor Mayne’s recission motion provides a useful “circuit breaker”, which allows all stakeholders to reassess their positions and as well as providing a definitive timetable over which decisions and any required adjustments can be made. It provides a welcome element of certainty in very uncertain times and this will assist community recovery. 
  • In particular, ABE welcomes Clr Mayne’s suggestion in NOM20/009 that a facilitated engagement process with our community should be undertaken regarding this issue, in order to identify a way forward which helps build and enhance our community on the South Coast.

The above circumstances reflect poor administrative practice, lack of transparency and meaningful consultation, and are at odds with informed advice regarding effective post-disaster community recovery practices. As a consequence ABE supports Clr Mayne’s Notice of Motion NOM 20/009 to rescind Council’s recent decision to lease out the Batemans Bay Community Centre, and instead maintain the centre as currently being operated; with a review of those operations and functions being undertaken after the completion of the Batemans Bay Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre. This is an opportunity for elected Councillors to prove their commitment both to the community and to good public administration.

Thank you for your attention.

Bernie O’Neil

Co-Convenor

A Better Eurobodalla

ABE Presentation to Eurobodalla Council 8/12/20

A Better Eurobodalla (ABE) presentation to the Ordinary Meeting of Council on Tuesday 8 December 2020 opposing Agenda item CCS20/054 Lease of Bateman’s Bay Community Centre

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to address Council this morning.

I am presenting on behalf of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community forum dedicated to having open, accountable and inclusive government in our region. ABE expects that before governments, at any level, make decisions that will impact their communities, they will undertake broad and meaningful consultation, listen to and share expert advice, and proceed using a transparent decision-making process so that the community understands who makes decisions, when and why.

ABE has applied these principles to the issue of the Batemans Bay Community Centre (BBCC), which leads it to reject the current lease proposal.

ABE notes the following aspects in support of this position :

The Eurobodalla community have been significantly impacted by both natural disasters of bushfire, drought and flooding, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The Eurobodalla community have been significantly impacted by both natural disasters of bushfire, drought and flooding, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Today’s agenda paper is a repackaged version of CCS20/046 from the Council meeting of 24th November, with the same recommendation for consideration by Councillors. ABE rejected that recommendation, and today’s agenda paper has not presented any additional evidence which would alter this conclusion.
  • The most recent public consultation mentioned in today’s agenda paper occurred back in July 2020, when Headspace wisely opted not to proceed with leasing the BBCC. This extended hiatus in consultation indicates that Council has not really been genuinely engaging with the community for many months now, which is poor practice, particularly in such fraught times as the present.
  • Today’s agenda paper has been padded-out by the inclusion of a number of tables which purport to provide comparisons of various venues across a series of basic attributes via means of a “tick the box” approach, which conveniently ignores critical site aspects such as location, proximity to other facilities, availability of parking, surrounding noise levels and specialised features in the community centre, such as a sprung dance floor. These tables are intended to provide the illusion of false equivalence, and do not really provide a meaningful comparison of facilities.
  • The paper mentions the underutilised capacity at other comparable venues, but makes no mention of how this spare capacity matches with the timetabling requirements of current existing user groups at the BBCC. The paper is silent on whether unwillingly-relocated groups will be able to schedule their existing activities at suitable timeslots for their community members at these alternative venues.
  • The paper trivialises the legitimate concerns of a variety of community groups by characterizing the proposal’s impact as an “inconvenience” for these groups. This does not reflect comprehensive community consultation.
  • The paper is also silent on the proposal’s impact on the availability of public toilets in the Bateman’s Bay CBD area, which is also about to lose the public toilets at the Visitors Centre. Council is failing to provide the most fundamental of public amenities, to the great detriment of both local community members and our tourist visitors, many of whom are incapacitated or aged.
  • If there really is a surfeit of underused comparable Council facilities, as this agenda paper indicates, then why not consider leasing one of these other “underutilised” facilities to an interested party, rather than proceed with the current proposal where 15 current regular users and many other periodic users will have their community activities severely disrupted just to allow 1 new group to use the BBCC. Why couldn’t Council apply a principle of ‘minimal community disruption” in its choice of which community facilities it should lease? Instead Council is evidently placing the chase for more dollars over community needs.
  • What confidence can community groups have in Council’s assurances that Meals on Wheels will have ongoing access to the BBCC when Council’s previous undertaking regarding ongoing community access to the BBCC until the opening of Batemans Bay Regional Arts & Leisure Centre (BBRALC) in May 2022 has been disregarded?
  • The proposal is at odds with both the NSW State Recovery Plan (which states that “Supporting self-help and strengthening the resources, capacity and resiliency already present within individuals and communities are the keys to successful recovery”), as well as Council’s own Eurobodalla Bushfire Recovery Action Plan, which states that Council will “Assist the community to restore confidence and strengthen resilience. This is achieved by coordinating activities to rebuild, restore and rehabilitate the social, built, economic and natural environment of the Eurobodalla community”.
  • This is a time when the community needs all the assistance, support and co-operation it can get, yet Council is basically telling the community that “It knows best”. In this case, it does not.

In the light of the above circumstances, which reflect lack of transparency and meaningful consultation, as well as being at odds with informed advice regarding effective post-disaster community recovery practices, ABE cannot support the proposal to lease out the Batemans Bay Community Centre and asks Councillors to similarly reject the lease proposal. 

Christmas is a time for giving, not taking away.

Thank you for your attention today.

ABE Presentation to Eurobodalla Council 24/11/20

A Better Eurobodalla (ABE) presentation to the Ordinary Meeting of Council on Tuesday 24 November 2020 opposing Agenda item CCS20/046 Lease of Bateman’s Bay Community Centre and in support of Councillor Mayne’s NOM20/007 Reclassification of land

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to address Council this morning.

I am presenting on behalf of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community forum dedicated to having open and inclusive government in our region. ABE expects that before governments, at any level, make decisions that will impact their communities, they will undertake broad and meaningful consultation, listen to and share expert advice, and proceed using a transparent decision-making process so that the community understands who makes decisions, when and why. 

ABE has applied these principles to the issue of the Batemans Bay Community Centre (BBCC), which leads it to support Clr Mayne’s Notice of Motion to reclassify the land and reject the current lease proposal.

ABE notes the following aspects in support of this position :

1. The Eurobodalla community have been significantly impacted by both natural disasters of bushfire and flooding, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

2. Expert advice tells us that strong community connections are a key to recovering from disasters such as the bushfires and COVID-19. 

3. The Batemans Bay Community Centre is used by a wide variety of groups, including Meals on Wheels, and is an important facility contributing to community service, cohesion and integration. It has a central location in the Shire’s largest urban centre. No other facility offers the same utility as this Centre. 

4. As late as May this year, Council was advising Community groups who use the Community Centre that it would remain available for their use until the new Batemans Bay Regional Arts & Leisure Centre (BBRALC) becomes available in May 2022.

5. The proposal for Council to approve entering into a lease with the preferred candidate is  not consistent with Council’s previous advice to community groups. At the very least, Council should respect their previous commitment and allow community groups to use the Community Centre until the Regional Arts and Leisure Centre is open and fully operational.

6. The 1,000 strong petition received by Council on this matter is an indication of community wishes and needs. Genuine consultation that respects community views is good practice.  The current lease proposal will undermine and disadvantage community groups, with Council effectively taking away key community facilities that enable community connections and services at a time when they are critically needed. 

7. The proposed changes to the Batemans Bay Community Centre would be an indication of poor governance and lack of transparency which would set an undesirable precedent for future management of many other significant community facilities throughout the Eurobodalla shire.   

8. We expect that under the current post bushfire and pandemic conditions Council will prioritise community well-being and recovery as a primary concern by actively supporting existing community groups and services. Council should facilitate community groups being able to plan and organise over mutually agreed extended time horizons, and allow community groups to get on with their important activities without any further disruption or unexpected shocks.

9. Council’s management of the Batemans Bay Community Centre is the antithesis of the community-focussed approach to disaster recovery embodied out in the NSW Recovery Plan (November 2016), which includes the following statement “Supporting self-help and strengthening the resources, capacity and resiliency already present within individuals and communities are the keys to successful recovery. Empowering communities to create their own solutions can improve overall social cohesion, and this is critical to sustainable recovery outcomes.”(NSW Recovery plan, page 14).

In the light of the above circumstances, which reflect lack of transparency and meaningful consultation, as well as being at odds with informed advice regarding effective post-disaster community recovery practices, ABE cannot support the proposal to lease out the Batemans Bay Community Centre and risk evicting the wide variety of community groups who currently use the centre. Instead, ABE supports Clr Mayne’s Notice of Motion to reclassify the site for the Community Centre as “community land”, in support of its important role in assisting post-disaster recovery efforts within the Eurobodalla Shire.

Thank you for your attention.

NSW Local Government Elections deferred to 2021

The NSW Government has announced that, as a result of the Covid-19 virus, local government elections across the state will be deferred from September 2020 to September 2021.

This doesn’t mean that the work of A Better Eurobodalla stops.


We are a community forum dedicated to having more open and inclusive local government in our region. So, our work will continue as we talk to community members about what is important for them and bring those issues to the attention of our elected representatives on Eurobodalla Shire Council.

Recently we have suffered through the terrible bushfires of the summer of 2019/20, and now we are living with Covid-19 in an area with severely limited hospital facilities and in a community which is only just starting to recover from the impact of the fires. This underscores the need for an open, accountable and competent local government which can help our community overcome these shocks.

The federal and state government bushfire reviews have now occurred, their reports have been released, and we will be monitoring how our governments respond to the recommendations contained in these widely informed, in-depth analyses.

There is also a very active ‘One Hospital’ campaign taking place in the Eurobodalla. This campaign is attempting to hold the state government to its commitment to provide a new Level Four hospital in our area. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted that we have no dedicated intensive care facilities anywhere in the Eurobodalla local government area. Find them on Facebook to support this campaign.

At the same time, the NSW state government has recently undertaken community consultation regarding the proposed Moruya Bypass, and we will be monitoring future progress on this issue.

The above issues cover local, national and international concerns that matter to us. A Better Eurobodalla believes that local government has an important role to play in taking the concerns of its citizens to state and federal governments and fighting for this region.

Better Eurobodalla would like to hear your views on these and other issues that matter to our community. We would like to know what is important to you so we can take the collective community voice to our local government representatives and ask them to act on our behalf.

Please tell us what you think and let us know.