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Category Archives: Brindabella

When is Community Consultation Engaged ?

Tina-01

Tumut Mayor Trina Thompson

This month (March 2013), the Council has set up a number of meetings to consult with residents on where we want to be and an action plan on what needs to be done in the next ten years to get us there.  This is standard process, one that needs to be actioned within nine months of electing a new council.

This year they set up a number of public meetings in Batlow, Gundagai, Adelong, Brungle Hall and Talbingo.  For residents in those places, that was very useful.  For residents of Brindabella Valley, it was less than helpful.  Despite corporate planning advice that EVERYONE had been sent a postcard advising these meetings, no one in Brindabella Valley received one.  Moreover, a number of Tumut residents were also left out.

Taking some initiative, six members of the Brindabella Valley drove the 1.5-hour drive to Tumut to take place in the ‘consultation’.  This consisted of a 15-minute presentation on Integrated Planning & Reporting (IPR), followed by a few slides on income and expenditure, and ending with a request to fill in the first part of the survey.

There were approximately 35 people in attendance, including 5 Councillors and a number of Council staff.  Community members were able to air their concerns.  There was even a debate about whether governance was the same as community engagement.

This raises some interesting issues.  Governance is the responsibility of the body-politic, not the Council staff, nor the community.  Governance is about ensuring the organisation has achieved what it said it would do; in other words, being accountable for its performance.  It requires plans that include targets (and standards by which to judge the achievement of the standards) and reporting.  Council has the IPR, few if any key performance indicators, and some very dubious ‘averages’ by which to compare itself to other councils.  It is the Councillors’ job to watch over the Council staff and provide the guidance to ensure the Council stays on track.  This is a far cry from what really happens.  Anyone who has attended a Council meeting and then read the minutes will be aware that the minutes reflect only the decisions; nothing else is reported.

So who governs the Councillors?

General Manager Bob Stewart

General Manager Bob Stewart

There is a Code of Conduct in place which Council staff and Councillors must pledge to follow.  Currently, both staff and body politic can be scrutinised by respective departments in the NSW Government and the NSW Local Government Ombudsman.  This will change soon when, for example, the NSW Department of Planning & Infrastructure devolves all of the development decision-making to Councils (except for the largest infrastructure investments).  It looks like layers of bureaucracy.

In the words of Dr Anne Thurston, transparency is vital to breaking the cycle of poor governance.  Councils are accountable to their ratepayers – this includes both Council staff and the body politic, the Councillors.  This accountability would be greatly enhanced if information on income and expenditure, and measures of achievement were made broadly available AND comment invited from the community.

As one ratepayer very cogently put it, ‘be very careful when you use the phrase “community consultation”.’  In most experiences, we have seen decisions made secretly and the community consulted after the fact in a cynical exercise with no intention of using their input.  The corporate services staff were very anxious to say they fully intended to include all comments.  Whether this will have any impact on the final Strategic Plan remains to be seen.  However, this ratepayer notes that no intention was made of engaging the community in developing the solutions to its problems.

The community is sick of tick-and-flick jobs.  It’s time to get genuine community engagement on the main billboard.  It is really good to ask the community for what they would like to have, but do it BEFORE modelling solutions.  Study the suggestions, look for commonalities and then build a few ‘straw man’ models.  Put these straw men out to the community and ask them if this solves their issues.  Get the community engaged in building their own community.  Get them to set the measures of achievement (e.g. How will we know when we have a great community?).  The community will watch and take part in implementing improvements.  Again, this requires transparency.  This participation engenders commitment to the final model as well as the process of building it.  This process is not governance, but it is engaging.

Let’s be absolutely clear here.  Ratepayers pay for the Council and some of what it does (other governments fund the rest).  The Community has a right to be part of the process, to be informed, and to be engaged.  Ultimately, Council (both staff and body-politic) should be accountable to the Community it serves.

What do you think?

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in Brindabella, General, Shire

 

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More Chips Have Fallen

Tina-02

Tumut Mayor Trina Thompson

In a follow-up to the post ‘When the Chips Are Down’, we regret having to post the decision by the new council to approve the subdivision of Brindabella Station.  This decision now has the ‘concurrence’ of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, but only because they could not be 100% certain of being able to successfully defend a refusal, should it be challenged in the Land & Environment Court.

Is it really a co-incidence that the new Tumut Local Environment Plan (TLEP) was gazetted by the NSW Government 2 days after the Tumut Shire Council (TSC) approved the subdivision?  Everyone knew that the subdivision would have been rejected under the TLEP.  Looks like no one needed to pay any attention to that, despite all sorts of legal precedence that they should.  While we are bewildered that the legislation can be so summarily bent to suit some people’s requirements, we have not given up the fight.

brian-barlin

Brian Barlin Owner

In the meantime, the owners of Brindabella Station have been very busy selling their undersized properties.  If you have a cool $3-4 million or so, you could buy all 3 lots and amalgamate them (wonders will never cease).

Clearly the local government and the state government planning systems are unable to do justice.  Worse yet, there are major changes planned by the NSW Government to devolve all planning decisions down to local government level (except for major infrastructure) projects.  There is, of course, nothing in the proposed changes that would enable better governance.

Tumut Council Manager Bob Stewat

Tumut Council General Manager Bob Stewart

So, if local government makes a decision, there will be even fewer avenues for appeal, except for the onerously expensive Land & Environment court. Most people, particularly retirees and farmers, cannot fund that sort of appeal; perhaps Council were planning on that?  After all, they use ratepayer funding to defend court cases.

Do you want a council who can make arbitrary decisions, accountable to no one, especially its ratepayers?  Where is the so-called transparency?  And is it surprising that this year’s community consultation blatantly omitted the Brindabella Valley area from its list, supposedly because of ‘logistics’.  You’d think that, given the almost complete lack of services delivered out here, they could at least afford to come out to talk with us once a year.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Brindabella, General, Shire

 

Miles Franklin’s name – NOT FOR SALE

The many faces of Stella Franklin, may the values she stood for be everlasting in Australia of her strong sense of injustice and disgust at misrepresentation. She found abhorrent elements of preoccupation with materialism in some big houses. No one could own her. No one could buy her or sell her. Commercialise bits of her achievement on a whim.

STELLA MARIA SARAH MILES FRANKLIN

The things she was not! Stella Miles Franklin was born at Talbingo in the home of her mothers family 14th October 1879 and lived her childhood there on visits and at Brindabella before the family moved to another farm at Thornford near Goulburn.

Henry Lawson assisted in the publication in 1901 of her first book ‘My Brilliant Career’ tongue in cheek contemporary analysis of a lot of Australian women then and issues rather timeless. It was a time of great excitement and expectation for a new nation at Federation and after 2400 years of democracy women were being granted the opportunity to vote for their government, perhaps even contemplate personal property rights which had excluded people from the right to vote, self determination independent of marriage partners.

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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Brindabella

 

WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN-

A STRONG BRINDABELLA COMMUNITY IS FORGED

A strong Brindabella community effort is in progress getting ready for the 2012/13 fire season now upon us. As if having some 50,000ha in and around the valley plus extensive tracts of private land beyond the valley (in excess of 100,000ha) is not enough concern, we also have huge areas of National Park and Forestry that call upon our firefighting expertise and support during times of emergency.

A unique and beautiful valley with extensions toward Tumut including private forests has engendered a very strong community resolve to look after what we have and each other when the chips are down. This was well demonstrated in the 2003 fires that ultimately devastated Canberra. Local effort saved much of Brindabella – yet not without some property and asset losses unfortunately.  Fact is, local brigade intervention contributed greatly to a substantial reduction in property loss, aided by visiting brigades. The scale of the 2003 fires has never been experienced before in our region and even with a huge numbers of visiting brigades, the situation was dire.

The January 2003 fires became a 3 week campaign that brought this community closer together than ever before. Life long friendships and respect have been forged in what was literally a war zone where we were under relentless attack from our flaming enemy. Reliance on each other in very stressful circumstances builds an inner strength that travels the road of life with you forever. Nor shall we ever forget the support from outside of Brindabella either. It was simply outstanding (fire support, water bombing, catering, Salvation Army and the list goes on and on) – something for which this community will be forever grateful to those who assisted during these fires.

 

January 18 – destination Canberra (note the scale of this fire to fire fighting appliances situated on site early afternoon at Koorabri)

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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Brindabella, General

 
 
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