Brett Stevenson - 1 February 2022

Brett Stevenson presented to Council at the Public Access Session on 1 February 2022.

A Better Eurobodalla Public Access Presentation – 1st February 2022

Good Morning Mayor & Councillors,

Thank you for the opportunity to address our new Eurobodalla Council.

For those new Councillors who may not know me, I am Brett Stevenson, a co-convenor of the community forum A Better Eurobodalla (often just shortened to ABE).

ABE congratulates all our new and returning Councillors. We look forward to your new leadership team working collaboratively with the Eurobodalla community to fashion a Council which delivers transparency and accountability in local government, and is committed to listening to the residents and ratepayers of Eurobodalla.

While ABE is under no illusion that this is a tall order, we consider that the requisite raw materials, tools and goodwill are all available within the Shire to achieve this target. They just need to be brought together in a systematic, informed and committed manner. This presentation will outline some of the fundamental ingredients required to attain this target.

A Better Eurobodalla (ABE) is dedicated to having open and inclusive government in our region. ABE expects that before governments, at any level, make decisions that will impact their communities, they will undertake broad and meaningful consultation, listen to and share expert advice, and proceed using a transparent decision-making process so that the community understands who makes decisions, when and why.

A Better Eurobodalla was formed in September 2019 around shared values and principles that we believe are vital for effective local, state and federal government. These principles are:

  • Integrity and honesty
  • Transparency of process
  • Open communication
  • Fairness
  • Inclusiveness, and
  • Sustainability

In applying these principles in Eurobodalla, ABE is looking for:

  • Open, accountable and responsive local, state and federal government
  • A shire council with a sustainable, practical vision that can cost-  effectively meet the needs of residents and ratepayers;
  • Local government that actively and accurately represents Eurobodalla residents’ interests to state and federal government; and
  • Councillors who genuinely listen; who tackle key issues of concern and urgency and who safeguard the interests of all of us.

ABE will monitor the activities and decisions of the new Council as part of the transformation process required to address many of the legacy problems confronting the new Council. One aspect we will use as a benchmark for future Council performance is the responses to key governance questions put to candidates from all successful groups at the Meet the Candidate Forum held at Kyla Park, Tuross Head on 15th November. ABE looks forward to these undertakings being reflected in the direction of the new Eurobodalla Council.

Since ABE’s formation, a consistent message we have been getting from community members involves consultation by Council. ABE commends Council on its Community Engagement Framework and Participation Plan adopted by on 26 November 2019. This Plan embodies good principles to guide Council’s approach to engaging the community. They are to:

  • Be open and inclusive
  • Generate mutual trust and respect, and be accountable
  • Engage early and provide information that is clear
  • Be considerate and provide feedback, and
  • Value and acknowledge skills and resources.

Importantly the Plan tells us that ‘Ineffective or tokenistic community engagement can be detrimental to the good faith of the community in the long term’. (P4)

Additionally, in providing direction to staff, the Plan speaks convincingly about engagement levels and methods describing five levels of participation as:

  • Inform
  • Consult
  • Involve
  • Collaborate,and
  • Empower.

Under the heading ‘Consult: What will we say’ and ‘What will we do’ the direction is: ‘We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.’

And under the heading ‘Involve’ the Plan states: “We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and provide feedback on how”.

This approach is laudable and ABE recommends all interested community members should familiarise themselves with the commitments that Council has made in the Plan.

Unfortunately, recent examples have shown that Council’s consultation practice is not always consistent with this Plan and its principles. Critical issues such as the Dalmeny Urban Release area, closure of the Congo North access road, the 39 year old Coila Lake urban development consent (DA2248/1983), closure of the Batemans Bay Community Centre and the extended closure of Araluen Road all reflect problematic public consultation. In order to effectively address these issues, our new Council will need to “walk the talk” of the existing community engagement plan.

Effective community engagement by Council will also be required to forestall the creation of similar problems in the future.

Community engagement is especially important in the Eurobodalla because our region is blessed with an exceptionally skilled, experienced and highly trained population, many of whom have spare capacity to contribute to community development in a variety ways. For too long, resident community expertise, knowledge and experience has been overlooked, or even actively shunned. If our community is to successfully weather the significant challenges of these testing times, we need to harness all available resources to assist with the task.

ABE looks forward to working constructively and collaboratively with our new Council in order to realise the many possibilities inherent in this remarkable region.

Thank you for your attention,

Dr Brett Stevenson
A Better Eurobodalla