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Susan Cruttenden - 27 May 2014

Susan Cruttenden made the following comments in Non Agenda Public forum at the Ordinary Council Meeting on 27 May 2014.

Transparency and Accountability in Relation to Huntfest/Arms Fair

I appreciate being given the opportunity to speak to you again, but am frustrated by what I and many others regard as council's failure to listen to the electorate, to acknowledge, and then to act upon the wishes of what we believe is the majority of the people in this beautiful shire of Eurobodalla.

The Rate Rubbish and Roads, aspects of your job are handled well, but that is not all you are expected to do, as Mr Cormick pointed out in his "Community Engagement" presentation to the Public Forum on the 11th February. Councils also have responsibility for the social-wellbeing of their electorate.

At the 1997 National General Assembly, the Declaration on the Role of Australian Local Government was developed. Even then, 17 years ago the aim of local government was stated as being to achieve more democratic processes and to secure the environmental, social and economic well-being of their constituents. (Interests of their constituents, -not just of a powerful lobby group).

With the help of powerful allies in the Shooters and Fishers Party and a cooperative Eurobodalla council the South Coast Hunters Club have managed to secure a meeting place for hunting from far and wide, a place where they can arrange the purchase of guns, a base from which to extend their hunting activities, and a centrally placed location from where they can recruit more hunters (Get them while they're young).

They are not concerned with the morality of a Huntfest/Arms Fair, or the long term effects on the region's enviable reputation as the Nature Coast, or the harmful effects it might have on the mind-sets of impressionable young children, or the damaging influence on vulnerable teenagers.

Council is however obliged to consider these things, -not just whether an activity is legal or not.  

ERA, the dominant party in council, came to power promising transparency and accountability, but these have been sadly lacking as far as Huntfest and its ugly offspring, Arms Fair are concerned.

Many Eurobodalla residents have passionate reasons opposing guns and don't wish for a town in the region to be seen as condoning a festival of hunting with promotion of firearms in a public building in the main street of the town.

If we acknowledge that community engagement is important, how are we making our wishes known to Council, and when we do, are they listening?

What attention has been paid to community engagement and democratic processes when little or no information is given out, and those who argue clearly and logically against a dramatic proposal such as a festival of hunting are only given a cursory hearing?

How much respect is paid to community feeling and opinion when there is no explanation/justification given for decisions? (It took four months for receipt of 200 petitions opposing Huntfest to be acknowledged and they were never discussed by council?.

How democratic is it when such a divisive issue is not presented to the people for discussion and consideration? Meetings to decide whether Huntfest should be held were never widely publicised. There were no notices in public buildings or libraries, no extension of time for debate, no surveys of public opinion. No cost-benefit analysis, no trial period.

The only two meetings were held in Moruya, even though the decision affects people not only in Eurobodalla, but in adjoining shires, but in particular Narooma where the Sports and Recreation is located. "Huntfest? What Huntfest?" was the reaction of people who finally heard about it. (Transparency?)

There was a similar lack of information and consultation when the Hunters Club applied for a license to display firearms, in a rushed session before Christmas 2013. This dangerous addition to Huntfest was similarly poorly advertised, -not advertised at all in fact. Those who managed to find out through freedom of information made their restricted presentations to council, but were not given any extension of time to debate or discuss an issue which is likely to have such far reaching consequences for the community. (The hunters may have celebrated the decision, but most people were incredulous. ("Arms Fair. In the middle of downtown Narooma? You've gotta be joking?")

Letters, e-mails. Submissions, petitions since that time have largely been ignored. So much for ERA's promise of accountability.

Is it good for the well-being of the shire when the wishes of a powerful outside group prevail over the wishes of the people who live here?

My question is: Will council arrange an independent survey of residents to decide one and for all if the majority wants this dangerous precedent of a Huntfest/Arms Fair to be part of life in our town for the next four years?

Susan Cruttenden

Council's Reply

No response has been provided.