Lei Parker - 2 February 2021

Lei Parker presented to Council regarding Council decisions at the Public Access Session on 2 February 2021.

Good morning Councillors

Just seven months now until the next Local Government election.

You were given another year in office due to COVID and hopefully we won’t see a repeat that will extend your tenure beyond September 4th.

It is already well known that most of you intend to stand again. For those who do intend to stand it will be interesting to hear your electioneering claims of accomplishment over the past four and a half years.

To help you in your upcoming campaigns I have compiled the a list of accomplishments and milestones. Your first Council meeting was on TUESDAY 11 OCTOBER 2016 where you took an Oath of Affirmation saying:

I solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will undertake the duties of the office of councillor in the best interests of the people of the Eurobodalla Shire and the Eurobodalla Shire Council

Note that there are two elements there:

in the best interests of the people of the Eurobodalla Shire
in the best interests of the Eurobodalla Shire Council

You might recall that first meeting had you select the community representative positions on the Mackay Park Sunset Committee. Back then you had no idea of the incredibly rocky road ahead that the Mackay Park project would be.

Maybe this is a good time to recap.

At that first meeting the Mackay Park Sunset Committee is selected. Their role is to develop and oversee the community engagement process during the investigation of opportunities for the development of the Batemans Bay Mackay Park precinct.

In the evolution of the project you are advised by staff that there was widespread support for the Centre.

You were advised that the community had provided letters of support. You later discovered the letters of support were garnered without advising authors of the permanent removal of the 50 m pool. You have now discovered that many of those authors have retracted their support.

Next thing you discovered in your tenure as councillor was that you were placed in the middle of what has become one storm after another with the community coming at you from every direction.

Unknowingly, (or knowingly), you adopted a Draft Eurobodalla Aquatic strategy that was commissioned by staff and given to the very same consultant who you had do the initial Mackay Park plans and business case.

You adopted that Strategy in a single vote, as part of a multi-item motion package and, in doing so knowingly endorsed a Strategy that had no public consultation and spelt the end, without any debate, of the Batemans Bay 50m pool.

When you did so you failed in your obligations to serve in the best interests of the people of the Eurobodalla Shire and instead voted in the best interests of the Eurobodalla Shire Council endorsing staff recommendations.

During your term you have continued to support a project knowing that it is embroiled in both State and Federal pork barrelled funding.

You have chosen to ignore the evidence put before you that the Otium Business Case is flawed. You have failed to acknowledge that staff, under your delegation, have done all they can to ensure the business case they have put before funding bodies and agencies remains absolutely confidential. This has included considerable efforts to block access to grant applications under official GIPA requests.

You have failed to recognise that that same flawed business case was denied to the Office of Local Government for their scrutiny and you have failed to accept that the concerns raised around the projected incomes in that business case that have not passed muster with members of your very own Audit and Risk Committee.

You have also failed to show any concern that an official letter written by the OLG that outlined their concerns over the long term affordability of the project was withheld from you prior to your voting to award the tender and commit $19 million of ratepayer funds to the $70 million project.

During your four and a half years you have seen a $46 million project blow out to a $70 million Centre burdened with the commitment of $19 million of ratepayers money that was voted on under a further veil of secrecy.

Meanwhile you continue to be lambasted for your continued retreat behind “commercial in confidence” walls when it serves to suit. As does the very popular defence of “operational matters”.

All too often, when staff are asked if Councillors have been made aware of important correspondence from agencies such as the Office of Local Government or the Information Commission the answer is NO.

During your four and a half year term you have been advised, time and time again, by the general public, of key information that is not provided to you by staff who, when pressed, cite that it is “operational”.

During your term you have also been advised, by the public, of many occurrences where Council and Council staff have gone outside of the rules. There have been a variety of breaches, many of them quite serious such as using confidential ratepayer details for personal use, but due to the veils of secrecy that surrounds these breaches, neither you, nor the general public are allowed to be informed.

While there is little that you can do to change the rules in these matters there has been every opportunity for you to intervene and bring to order what appears to many as a pervasive and toxic culture of that remains unchecked under your watch.

While the reputation of the Eurobodalla Council is in tatters, your own reputations as councillors serving in the best interests of the people of the Eurobodalla Shire is tarnished by association.

Your continued majority endorsement of staff recommendations in such matters as the leasing of the Batemans Bay Community Centre, choosing to ignore the outcry of the community, is now widely considered as simply serving to be rubber stamps puppets in the best interests of the Eurobodalla Shire Council.

If we look back over the last four and a half years you will see that the Council agendas are full of reports, policies and recommendations, all provided by staff employed to keep the wheels of Local Government greased.

If you look in detail at these you will see that the staff have a set cycle of duties that are applied to serving the community, irrespective of who the latest councillors might be.

If you all stepped down tomorrow nothing would change and it would continue as business as usual under the direction of the General Manager or an Administrator. Your only role is to be seen as representative of the electors and to rubber stamp processes.

Your disempowerment from the process came on day one when you delegated all but a few of your powers to the General Manager so that she could manage the day to day as an “operational matter”.

You might claim you endorsed this report or that strategy but they weren’t your reports or strategies, you might suggest you had some power over the budget and that you set priorities but the truth is that you did very little but to listen to staff rhetorically deliver their recommendations in briefings and to adopt the policies, strategies and recommendations put in front of you.

This is evident in that only once, in the last four and a half years, you have gone against a staff recommendation and requested a modification.

Your role in diminishing the voice of the community by supporting unwarranted, draconian variations to, what was once best practice Public Forum and Public Access, is certainly one of the lowest points in your four and a half years.

So what have you actually achieved?

The release of balloons is banned at Eurobodalla Shire Council events and in Council-managed reserves. Well Done!

You have endorsed Cat Bibs to be distributed free CatBibs to owners of microchipped and registered cats in an effort to reduce domestic cats hunting native animals and birds. It was a great idea so well done to you for rubber stamping it.

You have abolished paid parking in Batemans Bay. Bravo!
What you haven’t achieved and cannot lay claim to is the State and Federal funding that has flowed into the region.

You cannot lay claim to the Bushfire recovery funds for destroyed infrastructure nor lay claim to the discounts availed around the waiving of fees and charges of which you were generously compensated.

You cannot lay claim to the funding of:

The Batemans Bay Bridge
The Eurobodalla Regional Hospital
The Nelligen Bridge

or the unfunded election promises of the Spine Road Bypass and the Moruya Bypass

These projects would have gone ahead, irrespective of your being councillors. If anything, you simply stamped your approval as was required by due process.

No doubt you are more than aware that you played no role in the decisions of these projects, simply by the fact that you weren’t invited to the announcements and photoshoots. Your role is to simply endorse anything the State Government wants you to endorse that requires a councillor rubberstamp.

Take for example the $3 million granted for the Mogo Mountain Bike track, announced by the local member a week before public submissions had closed. That announcement rendered you redundant other than, as councillors, requiring you to vote in support of the project and to commit to the project with a 25% co-contribution.

Another example is the $5.3 million Batemans Bay Walking Track project that was earmarked by the State and Federal Governments as worthy of being “fast tracked”. Yet Council had made no application for the funds nor does it have any route map, a budget commitment, an environment report nor evidence of any community engagement.

The Walking Trail was a notional thought-bubble that has now been funded to the tune of $5.3 million and has further embroiled Eurobodalla Council in a Pork Barrelling embroglio that is now gaining national attention.

So Councillors, just what are you going to claim as your own personal accomplishments in your term of office as you launch yourself into your 2021 re-election campaign?


Lei Parker