David Grace - 2 February 2021

David Grace addressed the Council regarding Council decisions on 2 February 2021.

Due to the COVID pandemic, Council elections were postponed for a year, until 4 September 2021. During this period, the Council has approved projects and actions that are clearly controversial and arguably may not have been approved if elections had been held in September 2020.

If the elections had been held in 2020, the caretaker period would have commenced on 15 August 2020. During the caretaker period, Council cannot make any major policy decisions, enter major contracts over $150,000 or 1% of Council’s revenue (whichever is larger), or approve controversial DAs or projects.

There are also other unlegislated caretaker conventions that Australian legislatures generally abide by, which recognise that every election carries with it the possibility of a change of government and, therefore, significant decisions that would bind an incoming government and limit its freedom of action should be avoided. In this presentation I am asking that the Council recognises this convention, and avoids making decisions that may be controversial, and binds an incoming council to decisions which may not reflect the wishes of the electorate.

Let us look at the projects that were approved during what would have been the 2020 caretaker period, or the early term of a new Council if the 2020 election had been held.
I acknowledge that because the Council elections were delayed all the following approvals were legitimately agreed to by the current Council.

The projects include:

Batemans Bay Regional Arts and Aquatic Centre (BBRAAC).
The tenders for the BBRAAC were considered and selected by the Council at its meeting of 28 July 2020, just outside what would have been the 2020 caretaker period.

This is a controversial project as can be seen by the large number of public submissions and presentations opposing it, in the form the Council approved. The contract was also over the $150,000 limit.

The next Council is now in a position of being obliged to continue with this project, despite concerns the new council may have about the long-term financial viability of the BBRAAC, or its on-going usefulness to the community.

Batemans Bay Community Centre Lease
This first became an issue in October 2020, which would have been early in the term of a new Council if the pandemic had not delayed the elections. A decision to lease the centre was made in December 2020. Once again, this decision was controversial, and has impacted many people who value the services and easy access that the Batemans Bay Community Centre offered them.

Given the community opposition to the lease of the Community Centre it is very arguable that a new Council may have come to a different decision about this issue. Now that the current Council has agreed to the lease any new Council will have difficulty reversing this decision.

Proposed decisions

The council is still making decisions which are controversial. I am asking as a resident that these are put on hold, so they can be discussed during the election period to allow voters to have their voice heard regarding the future of the Shire. These decisions include:

Batemans Bay Bowling Club site
This site is currently leased as a depot for the Batemans Bay bridge project. The lease runs out on 31 July, and it can be renewed for a further twelve months. The actual caretaker period for the current Council commences on 7 August. The last council meeting before the caretaker period is on 27 July. The Beagle on-line newspaper has learnt that the council is in discussions with developers about the use of this site (https://www.beagleweekly.com.au/post/the-facts-eventually-dribble-out).

This site is a valuable community resource, and its use needs to be decided after extensive community consultation, which will not be possible in the timeframe for this current Council.

A decision on the use of this site needs to be deferred so that it can be discussed during the election period, and the new Council can make decisions about the use of the Bowling Club site.

Batemans Bay Waterfront Masterplan and Activation Strategy
The original Strategy put to Council on 23 June 2020, proposed to remove the only boat ramp available to oyster farmers on the Clyde River, let alone other important users. On 8 December 2020, the Council resolved among other things that it:

1. Adopt the attached draft Batemans Bay Waterfront Masterplan and Activation Strategy which maintains the Clyde Street boat ramp, while providing a vision for its removal, should such be proposed in the future.
If the removal of the Clyde Street boat ramp does occur, it would leave only one boat ramp at Hanging Rock for all of the following - tourists, charters, boats, divers and the aquaculture industry. This ramp is not suitable for many of those users as it is in a tidal and wave affected part of the Bay. Oyster punts are not suitable for water with any large wave action particularly when loaded with 1 to 3 tonnes of oysters.

The farmers were not adequately consulted regarding the removal of the Clyde Street ramp and if there were any other alternatives once this ramp is removed. Currently there are no realistic alternatives.

It is likely that any further decisions regarding boat ramps in Batemans Bay will be controversial, and given the unique circumstances of the current Council, I would propose that any decisions on this matter are left to the next Council, after voters have had their say.

Closure of the Batemans Bay Tourist Information Centre
The Batemans Bay Tourist Information Centre will close in February 2021. This decision was made at the 8 December 2020 meeting. The Council moved that:

4.Council undertake a process seeking offers to purchase or undertake a long-term lease of the site of the Batemans Bay Visitor Information Centre, being part Lot 11 DP1257575.in line with Council’s Land Acquisition and Disposal Policy following the determination of market value by a registered valuer.

5. Council take all necessary actions to enact sale or long-term lease of part Lot 11 DP1257575 (Batemans Bay) including subdivision of the land and the lease of part Lot 7011 DP1055108 (Narooma).

Again, this is a decision that is controversial and may have been decided differently if a new Council had been elected in 2020.

Although it is too late to avoid the closure of the Batemans Bay centre, I would propose that decisions about the lease and sale of the Batemans Bay site, and decisions about the lease of the Narooma site, should be left to the next Council after voters have had a chance to make their own views known about the future uses of these sites.

The COVID pandemic resulted in this current Council having its term extended by a year. In that year it has made several controversial decisions that will be difficult or impossible to reverse, and arguably would not have been approved if a new Council had been elected in 2020. It appears that the current Council may continue to make controversial decisions in the seven months leading up to the Council election in 2021.

I am asking the Council to put controversial decisions on hold and make them the subject of debate and discussion in the Council elections, so that voters can have a say, and a new Council can respond to the voters wishes.

Council's reply

Council welcomes public input as it offers insight into the views of the community and in this regard, your contribution was appreciated.

In regard to your submission, please be advised that the Hon Shelly Hancock, Minister for Local Government announced on 12 June 2020, that the NSW Government postponed the local elections scheduled for 2020 until 4 September 2021.  Please see the following Office of Local Government media release New-date-set-for-local-government-elections.

As instructed by the NSW Government, Eurobodalla Shire Council continues to operate and conduct its business in line with the Local Government Act 1993 – Section 318B Postponement of Elections - Local Government Act - Postponement of Elections.