Deb Stevenson - 2 February 2021

Deb Stevenson addressed the Council regarding the Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund at the Public Access Session on 3 March 2020

Presentation to Eurobodalla Council Community Forum Tues 2 Feb 2021 re: Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund Phase 2

Good morning. Thank you for this opportunity to address Council. I am presenting as the Chair of the SHASA (Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance) Repair Café Committee in relation to the Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund Phase 2.

SHASA was one of over 40 grant applicants for Phase 2 of the Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund which was promoted as an opportunity for organisations to receive funding to enable them to “deliver an event or project aimed at rebuilding communities after the bushfire, generate combined community participation, create a positive community identity and celebrate the social life of our communities’’.

We were notified by email on 10 November 2020 that our application for a Repair Fair had been unsuccessful. The only reason given was that there were many quality applications but insufficient funds. There were 8 successful applicants.

I subsequently rang and emailed Council seeking more detailed feedback about why our application was unsuccessful and which projects had been funded. I eventually spoke to the contact officer who told me simply that our proposal did not have a ‘close enough nexus with the bushfires’ and that the Disaster Relief Committee had made a decision not to make the successful proposals public.

I found this response astonishing. Having had extensive experience administering large federal funding programs and assessing grant applications, I was surprised and concerned by the lack of accountability and transparency that Council, through the Disaster Relief Committee, had demonstrated in administering Disaster Relief fund. I believed that the community and businesses who generously donated to the fund and the over 30 unsuccessful organisations who invested time and resources in applying for the funding, deserved to know which Phase 2 community projects were successful and why.

Consequently, I wrote to Council on 3 December 2020 requesting that the Disaster Relief Committee reconsider their decision not to publicise the successful applications and asking them to provide comprehensive feedback to unsuccessful applicants so that they could better understand the reasons for their failure to win funding.

The response I received from Council on 24 December basically outlined the history and purpose of Phases 1 and 2 of the Disaster Relief Fund, as well as the total amount of funds available and total amount applied for. It restated parts of the application form about grant allocation being dependent on the amount of funds available and the Disaster Relief Committee having the final say on the merit of applications and respecting the privacy of applicants, such that a list of successful applications would not be made public. There was no new information about why the SHASA application had been unsuccessful.

So I again wrote to Council on 10 December 2020 saying that it was still unclear why the SHASA project had been unsuccessful compared to other applications given that we believed our project was very closely correlated with bushfire recovery.
In the absence of any comprehensive feedback from Council about our project application I again asked:

1. which Phase 2 community projects were successful in meeting the criteria stated in the application form; and
Deb Stevenson
2. the legal reasons why Council is withholding this information from the public given that the Phase 2 community projects were advertised publicly, were funded through public monies and were open to community organisations who operate in the public arena to run an event or project which involved public participation.

I also asked for a copy of the Disaster Relief Committee’s assessment of the SHASA application which, from my experience in administering public funding programs, is a routine and necessary part of the process of allocating grant funding.

Apart from a sarcastic 4 word email from Cllr Tait, I have still not received a written response to my most recent letter which was received by Council on the day I sent it, over 3 weeks ago.

This whole process throws into question Council’s genuine commitment to implementing the principles of openness, accountability and provision of feedback stated in its Community Engagement Framework and Participation Plan (2019) as well as its Customer Service Charter which states that Council will respond to letters and emails within 10 working days.

Perhaps we need to look to the adjoining Bega Valley Council’s Community Recovery Contribution Program to find a better, fairer and more transparent model for distributing public monies to the community:
Meanwhile, it looks like I will have to resort to Freedom of Information legislation to find out basic information that should be freely available to the community.

Thank you for your attention.