Myth making for a progressive conservative

Posted: March 19, 2017 by admin in Uncategorized

Hi

A lot of political messaging is about building strong and believable myths that people are prepared to stand behind and promote.

I think this is particularly so for people who want to conserve what they see as valuable in their community, and in their understanding of what makes their country worth defending.

So  what are the myths that a progressive conservative would want to cultivate and use?

And just to make it clear, I am very aware that some Australian myths have led us down paths I hope no one  wants to follow. We don’t need to resurrect the White Australia Myth, or that we have “Terra Nullius “, or that we are here to dominate rather than to tend the land that nurtures us. They are myths that have no place in our present or future Australia.

I am also aware that myths are not “true”; they are stories we make up to explain ourselves. They are full of stereotypes, half truths and exaggerations, and most would shrivel at the first attempt at logical examination.  These do not make them any less powerful, or any less useful. It means we have to first decide which myths we want to use, be aware of their contradictions, and then make them tell the story we want to project about the Australia we are hoping to build.

I think there are three different categories that we can use: national myths; cultural myths; and union myths. These, of course, all overlap. I have deliberately  put in Union myths, because I think that there are many people who would normally be strong Labor supporters who feel that their heritage of being a worker, and having their safety, rights, and the value of their work being respected by the Union, has been betrayed by the Labor Party. If we can recognise and value their myths, we may find that instead of going to the PHON or to the other radical parties such as the Australian Conservatives, they look to more progressive parties that represent their myths.

National Myths

I’m using this term to mean how we describe our “Australianness” to people, and how people from other parts of the world perceive and describe us.  I’ve listed three here, and there are many more.  What other myths fit in this category?

  • We are larrikins, a bit easy with the truth, but well meaning with it, so we can spin a good yarn, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

 

  • We are proud of Australia, but that does not extend to patriotic fervour that you see with the Americans.

Most Australians would be a bit put off by a neighbour hoisting an Australian flag in their front yard, and most of us would not be comfortable with school children making oaths of loyalty.  Howard and Abbott tried to turn this myth around, as have the radical groups like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party (PHON), the radical nationalists, and the Australian Conservatives. We have the opportunity to work this myth to our advantage against these groups, as well as the Liberal Party.

 

We need to cultivate the conservative myth that being proud of Australia is done not by waving flags, or making a massive hullaballoo about Australia Day, but by quietly demonstrating the positive qualities that make us proud to be Australian.

  • We value freedoms that we have fought for both physically and politically.
    • We are sceptical and critical of those who want to “lead” us.

We expect politicians and other public figures to listen respectfully to us, and not try to silence us.

  • We value respectful debate.

We are not a people who will tolerate bullies who use racist or other taunts to try to win an argument, and those people will find that they are not respected.  I am hoping that our response to the Racial Discrimination Act 18C controversy is that these clauses (you also have to read 18D which is where the defences against 18C are listed), is merely a declaration of what respectful debate in Australia looks like. People who want to repeal these sections are radicals who want to overturn our Australian traditions of respectful debate.

  • We value the right to demonstrate and to make our views known on the street.

Traditionally Australians have used the street to make their views known and attempts to criminalise street demonstrations have been unsuccessful.

  • We recognise that unjust laws need to be changed, which means they will be broken

Australians have been fighting unjust laws since before Federation, and many have found themselves shouted down as criminals as a result. This ranges from people fighting for Unions in our early history, to Aboriginal people breaking the unjust “guardianship” laws that oppressed them, to people who are gay fighting for their rights in our time. We support people who follow in this tradition and stand up against unjust laws.

 

Cultural Myths

 

These are myths that we use to describe ourselves, and what it means to be Australian.  These are the traditional ones like “helping your mate when he’s down”; “support the underdog not the tall poppy…”hmm bit of a mixed analogy there; “cooperation is better than competition”;  “the fair go”, to name just a few.

 

All of these myths have holes running right through them, and there are myriad examples of where the myth bears no relation to the reality in our culture. Despite this, they are powerful ways that we explain and understand ourselves.  We can use these myths to get the support for our policies from our communities. We can also make these myths work for us in disputing the legitimacy of policies proposed by other parties.

 

For instance, the proposed changes to the Social Welfare system, and the sustained victimisation and bullying of those using the system by Centrelink  go strongly against both the myths of the fair go, and helping a mate when he’s down myths, which can explain why the Government is not finding its changes being accepted.  In a different society with different myths, such as “you can achieve anything if you work hard enough” they may have found it easier,  and this is why the Liberals and their supporters work so hard to change our store of myths.

 

The traditional myths that the liberals and their radical allies, such as PHON and the Australian Conservatives are trying to demolish and replace have led to incredible innovations which Australians should be proud of.  We built one of the fairest social welfare systems in the world, at times well in advance of the rest of the world in what we provided. For instance we were one of the first countries to provide a liveable Old age pension, and an invalid pension. The Liberals and their radical allies attempts to destroy this system, is an attempt to negate the myths which are so important to many Australians, and they are trying to impose myths which are foreign to many Australians…our job as Conservative Progressives is to defend the myths which have led to the building of a world leading social security system, and to attack those who want to impose myths which lead to a society where the poor and those in need are left to rot on the streets.

 

Union Myths

 

There is a strong tradition of Union Activity and achievements in Australia, going back to convict days, when, on this day March 18 1834, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to banishment to Australia because they had the courage to form a union to get fair wages for their labour.  We have built a strong Australia with at least basic  rights for workers because Unions have been a strong presence in our industrial and political history.  This is not to say that the Unions have also not had a negative influence in Australia. The White Australia Policy was strongly supported by many elements of the Union movement, and the destruction of the ALP in the 1950’s by conservative elements that infiltrated the Unions led to years of conservative rule.  The influence of the Movement is still apparent in Unions such as the SDA which is more interested in maintaining its influence on the ALP  to prevent needed reforms such as Same Sex Marriage  than in representing its member’s interests.

 

However the radicals in the Liberal Party,  have worked for many years to reduce the influence of the Unions in Australia, and have almost succeeded, with less than twenty percent of workers beonging to a Union.  These radicals have replaced the myths of collective action, looking after your mates, with myths of individualism, of competition that in the end corrode the advances that workers have achieved through their Unions since the early 19th Century.  As progressive conservatives it is time to support the Unions and the myths that support them.  The Unions have been instrumental in building many of the structures that we want to support in the New Democratic Party…workers being paid a fair days pay for a fair days work, workers knowing that they will have a decent job, with decent pay if they want it, support for workers to get the education they need to build their skills so they can advance in their trade. Like the Unions, we support collective support for those who are unable to work, and we support people who choose to work in non-traditional ways, including parenting their children or following creative endeavours.

 

Many who previously would have been Union members and who would most likely have been supporters of the Labor Party, have been alienated from both by a combination of challenges. Following my theme of myths,  one of these challenges has been the replacement of myths of mutual help, with myths of competition and individualism. We need to challenge this change, and show how individualism and competition hurt workers.  Workers are starting to see that they have been short changed by this shift, and we can take advantage of this to show how the more traditional myths can be translated into our present day.

 

One of the challenges for us is that we now have a workforce that is atomised, powerless, and scared. We need to work with the unions to change this, so that workers know they are strong and powerful, and have the right to demand a fair days pay for a fair days work, and to know that they can expect to come home from work uninjured and capable of having a family life.

 

To conclude, myths are powerful ways of selling our message, and they are particularly powerful when we are trying to defend what our ancestors have built with their sweat, and at times blood, in the past. We need to identify the myths we want to use, and start to construct the stories around them that will resonate with our fellow Australians.

A review of

 Get Up, Stand Up Uniting populists. Energizing the defeated, and battling the corporate elite

 Like many around the world at the minute I am watching the events unfolding in London and the rest of the UK loathing the senseless violence and greed that is being put on show. Along with that feeling was the sense that this was inevitable given the twenty years of Governments that were more concerned to keep the rich happy with endless tax cuts and bail outs than to serve the people who elected them.

Why  hasn’t there been more civil disturbance similar to London across the world, as the social fabric of countries have been ripped apart to staunch the self inflicted wounds of their financial elites.

In Get Up Stand Up, Bruce Levine proposes that a major reason is that our society as a whole is acting as anyone who had been abused chronically would act.  “How does one gain complete control over human beings? One reduces their self worth, self respect and self confidence, ultimately creating the belief that without their abuser, we could not survive.”p 49

We learn to be helpless, we become passive, we find ways to reconcile the dissonances that are around us all the time – the public purse is suddenly trillions of dollars lighter, but we are assured by those who lightened it that we will be better off for it – as an example, and we lose our integrity as we acquiesce to those who abuse us in this way.

We also find that instead of having solidarity with others around us, we become increasingly isolated:  students who in earlier times would have had the freedom to ask difficult questions, and then take some action, know now that they will be burdened by debt as soon as they study, and the yoke of that debt weighs heavy when they consider what their job prospects might be like if they are seen as a “troublemaker”…better just to say what the lecturer wants to hear, and then go home and chill out in front of the TV or PS3. As Levine says “When people are kept isolated from one another, they will not have their doubts about authority validated. They are less likely to consider that there are others such as themselves who could potentially band together, achieving greater strength and enough power to overthrow a tyranny.”p52

We accept that we need to be under surveillance in most public places, because otherwise bad things will happen to us from bad people. We never ask what or who we are being protected from, or whether we are losing more being “protected” than we are gaining. If those questions are asked, those asking are seen as being “naive”, or perhaps even one of those who the rest of should be protected from. Constant surveillance is another way to break the will, as many of us who have worked with abused people will attest to.

Another potent way to control is to be the only access to reward, and to punishment. Our society does this in a number of ways.  Going back to the English riots, the Government’s response there is to punish out of all proportion to the crime…six months in gaol for two bottles of water???… The clear message is “if you try to hit us, we will hit you ten times as hard, regardless of the provocation we have given you”.

Along with the punishment the abuser gives gifts, and so does our Governments and the corporates that they serve. If we are passive, and not questioning we will get a job, and get some of the shiny baubles we are told that we need. Of course the job is no longer likely to be permanent, or provide a career path, and it is likely to be provisional on the needs of the employer.  Levine also identifies another way that we are bribed to be compliant, especially those who are happy to go through the hoops: we are trained to believe we are the elite, the ones who are privileged to have knowledge, and to know how to impart that knowledge on others.  Levine writes, “Becoming an elitist encourages identification and loyalty toward a system of hierarchy and elitism as the natural way of life, as system that claims it is reasonable for people to be dependent of experts and not themselves to solve problems in their community. P111”

To dull the pain, the abused turn to drugs or other escapes to avoid the physical and psychic pain that they are suffering. As a society we do the same. We have the opiate of TV reality shows, and to distract people from the robbers in their back pocket, they are encouraged to barrack for their favourite football team-anything to keep them asking questions about why.

Levine spends some time discussing the use of drugs to make non compliant children compliant.  His “anti-authoritarian nightmare” would be “that every would-be Tom Paine or Saul Alinsky get diagnosed as a youngster with mental illness and is quieted with a lifelong regimen of chill pills”. P 108 How often are children diagnosed with ADHD or ODD or even both, when the reason for their behaviour is that they are questioning, intelligent, and don’t tolerate fools too well, even those in authority?

So what do we do?

It’s easy to point out what is wrong: much more difficult to propose practical solutions, and this is the weakness of Get Up Stand Up as well.

I think part of the problem is that many of us who have been activist for a long time are tired. We have worked to change governments- In Australia we hoped that Rudd would be a breath of fresh air, but all we got was the same stale air. The poor souls who barracked for Obama, in the United States feel betrayed as he follows the same path as his predecessor.  We have protested, but now we are corralled in “Free Speech” paddocks away from those we want to hear the message, so they do not need to be disturbed by us. And if we dare decide that “free speech” means more than doing what you are told to do, we are brutalised, and then made out to be the perpetrators of the violence, then you do wonder what else you can do.

Levine’s beginning words in his chapters on how to reverse the abuse that he sees are a good lodestone for those who do want to see real democracy.

“Genuine democracy can only happen only if enough people believe in it, are capable of fighting for it, and are willing to fight for it. The belief in their worthiness comes when at an individual level, there is genuine self respect.

There are many battlefields on which individual self-respect can either be won or lost, and it is in the interest of the elite to make sure that their opponents lose sight of these multiple battlefields.  The family, the classroom, and many of the ordinary events of our day are battlefields of self-respect…

People seeking democracy, in addition to having individual self-respect, must also have collective self confidence – the belief that they can succeed as a group – if their goal is to be achieved and sustained.”  P121

In order to achieve the self respect and resilience that is needed for this battle, Levine points to the importance of building morale amongst those who want a real democracy, not the faux democracy we have at the minute.  Morale in the sense that Levine is talking about is one based on critical thinking, is realistic about the difficulties that may be faced to achieve a real democracy, but provides the confidence regardless to strive for the goal in front of us.

How do we build up the morale of those around us, so that they are willing and capable of fighting for the democracy that is truly of the people?

Success/Morality/Cameraderie

One of the first steps to develop morale, is to taste success.  Too often we are looking to the big successes on the horizon, which seem so far away and unattainable. The stepping stones to that far goal are the small successes at our feet, which we can celebrate right now.  We need to be able to identify both the far goal, and also the goals at our feet, so we can continue to taste success as we tread the path to that far horizon.

Without a moral compass, we can easily lose sight of that far horizon and just follow small successes into the wilderness.  We need to be able to know why we want democracy, what democracy looks like to us, what we will and won’t accept as compromises as we strive on the path, and what we are prepared to sacrifice to achieve our goal. All of these questions are important to answer as we start, and all of them are open to review as we continue.

Following a long and difficult path is almost impossible without companions, and the third essential part of morale is having the camaraderie of fellow travellers on the path you are treading. Instead of the isolated life offered to us by our current economic and political environment, if we are to win this battle we need to be prepared to look out for our companions, and see that we are much more likely to succeed if we depend on and therefore trust each other rather than try to go it alone.

Levine uses the example of the City Life/ Vida Urbana ( an activist group in the United States which advocates for people who are at risk of foreclosure from the banks) as an example of this approach to building morale.  He writes,

“For City Life, morality is both the argument they make publicly to shame banks into behaving differently, and the call to arms they use to maintain morale among supporters and attract new supporters.

However, morality is not City Life’s only energizer. When people come to City Life, they also gain support, solidarity, examples of success and the confidence that they fan gain power.  They  go through a psychological transformation from feeling like victims to becoming activists – not simply for themselves, but for others as well.”p129

Self Forgiveness

Levine uses his abused person analogy to say that we also need to free ourselves of the lies that we have learnt to accept the abuse we have suffered from our corporatist governments, and their masters.  He has six recommendations for this:

  1. Forgive yourself for believing the lies of the corporatocracy
  2. Stop allowing the abuser’s definition of you to shape your life.

The corporatocracy tried to convince you that you can be completely manipulated through your greed and fear.  This is not true. Your beliefs and values are important to you.

  1. Discover other survivors, Get energized by stories of survival. Form relationships in which there is mutual respect and affection.
  2. Wherever possible set boundaries with the corporatocracy and eliminate or limit relationships with corporatocracy apologists.
  3. Stop beating yourself up for having been in an abusive relationship.  It is a waste of energy, Energy is better spent on forgiving yourself and healing, and then working to change the abusive system.
  4. Use your energy to redefine yourself as a valuable and strong human being who is worthy of respect and can effect change. Use your energy to provide respect and confidence for others.  Increased self-respect and mutual confidence in others provides energy. P135-136

Building Community

Levine writes

“ Social connectedness and genuine community strengthen people. People can share information and receive mutual validation that their misery is not necessarily the result of their own inadequacy.  Fear weakens people, but with genuine community people become less afraid of the consequences of their resistance…The end of social isolation is the beginning of those bonds that provide people with collective self-confidence that they can overcome the elite.”  P136-137

I think that this is one of the most important suggestions that Levine makes in his book.  Over the last forty years, the predominant economic and therefore political paradigm has been the primacy of the individual over the community, and the results are now being seen in the London streets  (and I predict soon in the streets of Chicago, New York and a myriad of other cities in the US).  Part of the reason that violence was so incoherent and so self damaging was that these communities have been systematically broken down since the time of Thatcher, to the point that the only way to express discontent is by rioting on your own behalf, because you belong to no-one but yourself. Building community in these places will provide both healing to the people living there, and also provide a focus for the anger that they are feeling.  Listen to Cameron’s speech and he turns the rioting into the actions of individuals, not the incoherent anger of a community. The elite want this to be the result of criminal individuals rather than angry communities…much better they trash Tottenham, than take their anger to Chelsea.

Respectful Families

Families are where the next generation will learn how to relate, and if the family members are isolated and stressed we are teaching our children that is what to expect in their lives. Levine writes “ to the extent that adults have themselves lost their integrity, they find it normal and reasonable to pressure compliance and conformity that is detrimental to a child’s development.  This creates rebellion and/or resentment.”  He says elsewhere “In families that care about nurturing self-respect, conflict and disruption are not evils. Rather, there is enough time, strength, and concern to inspect these tensions and make judgements as to most respectfully resolve them”.  P148-149

For those of us working in the social welfare fields, this is a strong call to look at how we interact with the families that we deal with. Are we modelling a respectful relationship with those families, are we encouraging strength, or concentrating on weakness?

Forging alliances with unexpected groups

One of the effective ways that the political elites have consolidated their power is to set those who might oppose them against each other.  The time is right now to not listen to the elites and their mouthpieces, and look to see who are in fact, our allies in regaining our democracy. Levine talks in his book about the connections between some factions of the libertarian right and the progressive left in the United States. In Australia, we need to be having the same conversations with groups who appear at first sight to have nothing in common.

One obvious place are rural groups and the greens. The rural groups have been told the greens are either watermelons, or naive hippies from the inner city, and the greens have been told those from rural areas  are nothing but red necked gun toting conservatives who are only interested in raping their land.  Neither stereotypes are true, and there is a real community of interest between the two groups, that is not in the interests of the corporate class.  This is starting to become clearer for instance in the debate about natural gas mining on farming land. Both the farmers and the greens oppose this for the same reason, both groups want that land healthy and producing food in the long term, not defiled and producing short term profit for shareholders.  There is a similar community of interest in the forest debate. The greens push to reduce old growth logging in favour of plantations is more likely to guarantee jobs and lifestyle for loggers, than the corporate’s short term view of making quick and temporary profits from mining old growth forest. We need to ignore the corporate parties, and look to see what alliances we can make with other groups who are dissatisfied with our current political state.

So where do we go from here?

 

There are now many people who know that our political and economic system is in serious trouble, and we need an alternative. The time has come to make steps to a new way of governing ourselves, which is respectful, human sized, and builds up both communities and our world. This will not be done by starting up yet another party to compete in an already corrupt system. If there is to be change it has to be outside our existing structures.

What better place to change the world but in our lounge rooms?  I would argue that the first place to start our path to democracy, is by talking to our neighbours and work mates and acquaintances, and seeing how they view the world. Refuse to talk in party political terms – talk about what could be done better if we were doing it for ourselves and our community – what types of things would we like to see done in our community?  What would we like to see public money spent on?

Work in your local community. Get involved in local politics. Be active when there are issues of local concern, build relationships with others who are also involved, see where there are common interests that can be built on. What better place to start a human based democratic movement than in your local community!

Work in your workplace. How can you do your work in a way that encourages people to think of themselves with self-respect, that encourages people to see themselves as part of a community, rather than as a cog in a corporate machine? Sometimes the best corporate sabotage is to get someone to smile in the next cubicle, and help them to start to wonder if there is another better world than the one they are in!

Use the communications tools that the internet has thrown up. Twitter, facebook, discussion groups are incredible ways to talk across continents, and across backyard fences to others who are also passionate about democracy and how to take it from the corporates.

See you on the path to Democracy…

David Grace

Levine B E Get Up, Stand Up:  Uniting populists, Energizing the defeated, and battling the corporate elite Chelsea Green Publishing 2011

Background

Prior to 2003 several changes were made to the Local Government Regulations concerning the types of investments that local councils were permitted to accept into their investment portfolios.   In general it was only normal bank accounts, term deposits and Government bonds that were designated as approved.    It is said that because of the pressure for better returns on monies placed with the banks and Government coming from outside the Local Council environment that the menu of “Approved Instruments”  was widened to accommodate higher earning products that naturally one would believe would have higher risks and thus more care would be necessary when considering including them into  portfolios of “approved investments”?

It was the challenge to get higher returns on funds invested and rate-pegging(the stipulation that rates could only be increased by a percentage amount set by the State Government which was somewhere around the inflation for the current year) that forced local councils to widen their horizons and consider Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs)  in an attempt to maximize the return of funds invested.

I suspect the rationale behind this was to ensure that Local Shire Councils would require less grants, rate increases and other type of external funding.

Why is this so?

People ask me “why do you keep harassing Council regarding the expected losses as nothing can be done about it?” My answer to that is, “we need to know what happened so that we ensure in the future that no investments will be made into similar debacles we now know as the sub-prime mortgage crisis.”

We are in our current predicament because there was not enough shared information or understanding by almost all the parties involved in purchasing the CDOs.  You could almost say that the only people in the Know were those creating, manufacturing and some organizations marketing these instruments!

http://www.smh.com.au/business/lehman-hid-true-nature-of-products-20110531-1feqi.html

However, there is something positive that can be achieved from this mess.  If we gather and make widely available information and knowledge about how these toxic assets were purchased, we all will then have better understanding and be a little wiser when similar schemes are proposed.  Hopefully this will avoid the present situation, which sees all affected parties taking costly legal actions in an attempt to retrieve some of the financial losses made via CDOs

So……………..

How could the present situation have been avoided?

There are three simple ways we could have avoided this mess:

  • firstly by not following the HERD ;
  • secondly,  getting competent advice from other than those organizations marketing the CDOs; and
  • finally,  ensuring that ‘due diligence’ is done so as to gain a good understanding of the products sold as ‘investments’  were investment vehicles that were suitable for the Shire Investment Portfolio.

Let’s go through each of these points:

  • Not following the herd

The herd is a term used in financial markets which describes those of us at the bottom of the knowledge food-chain.  At the top are the investors led by the pProfessionals who receive the first bite at the news & other types of facts relevant to the financial markets. Then there are the Bankers, the high income clients and the rest of us are at the bottom – the herd. The Eurobodalla Shire Council would fall into possibly the second group and the Individual Ratepayers the last group.

The name of the game is to move the money from the ‘weak-hands’ (or the herd) to the ‘strong-hands’ (the predators at the top, following the ecological analogy) to put it in a more cynical perspective.

  • Competent Advice

The Council has a number of sources of what should be independent competent advice. These include:

Council’s internal intellectual assets

As the Eurobodalla Shire Council employs about seven (7) directors to manage the various functions of our Shire, one would have to assume that there is sufficient expertise available to ensure that all the demands put on the Council for public-works and services can be carried out  by  the  specific departments of Council.  Functions that would include the basic job specifications of planning, investigation and other functions allotted to them.   This includes access to the Local Government Association of NSW fund of expertise mentioned previously.

Local Government and Shires Association

The Local Government Association of NSW should have been aware via the combined expertise and experience of all its members about the methods and workings of those marketing investment products to Local Councils.   I believe that the Eurobodalla Shire Council contributes somewhere in the vicinity of $40,000 to this body. Furthermore, with a search of the World Wide Web a mass of information and warnings were available from 1998 onwards about Collateral Debt Obligations.  Her is an example of what is available:

http://www.tavakolistructuredfinance.com/bloomberg5.html

www.streetfortreasurer.com/articles/01-072007-Toxic-Debt.pdf

  • Due Diligence

What in fact seems to have eventuated was that outside advice was accepted from Grange Securities and others who were the final end of the line of Financial Purveyors of Collateral Debt Obligations; the very same organization apparently that sold, advised and supplied CDOs manufactured by Investment Houses and  Investment Departments of Banks;  hardly in any persons language – INDEPENDENT!   Was there possibly a ‘conflict of interest’?  Grange Securities acted as Agents of these firms and was eventually sold to Lehman Bros for millions of dollars.

http://www.moneymanagement.com.au/news/lehman-brothers-buys-grange-securities

What Grange and Lehman received as fees or commissions is not publicly available because of the present Court proceedings in Sydney.   The original presentations by both Grange Securities and Lehman Brothers have been requested from the Eurobodalla Shire Council but this information was refused on the grounds of the current matters being contested in the Supreme Court.

When they do become available I will post the presentations up so that we can all see what the Council was being told (and sold) by Grange Securities.

Coming up:

In my next Newsletter I will attempt to show that these CDOs were not in fact Investments at all but a kind of OPTION or INSURANCE POLICY.   Whether or not the advice received by Councils spelled this out in detail cannot be ascertained until after the Court cases which could be well into the 2020 perhaps!     We are now spending good money on legal fees attempting to retrieve some of the losses incurred through the purchase of financial instruments that it is alleged were sound and would deliver.    The question is – did we expect to get cents in the dollar back or a reasonable return?

Joe Potts

June, 2011

Everyday democracy

Posted: August 9, 2010 by admin in Uncategorized

Democracy is something that we take for granted, but like all good things we need to work at it to keep it functioning well.  Wollongong residents got a clear idea of what happens when democracy is allowed to falter, with the revelations of the ICAC enquiry earlier this year, and the subsequent sacking of the Council, with no elections in sight until 2012.

Wollongong Against Corruption was formed to build a stronger democracy in Wollongong and to develop a culture which does not take democracy for granted. Last Saturday I attended a conference organised by this group, which had many ideas that we can adapt in any local Government area.  As NSW has local government elections in less than a month, it is a good time to think about the type of democracy that we would like .

The first and strongest message for me was that we need “everyday democracy”.   This type of democracy involves individuals taking responsibility for ensuring that the best decisions are made, that our system of government is fair and just, serves the people, and our Councillors and other politicians work regularly with the community to ensure that we have a strong democracy. Like everyday foods, everyday democracy is something that has to be worked at and sometimes can be humdrum, but with some imagination and commitment it can be very satisfying, and ensures we have a strong and healthy constitution.

The representative democracy that we are familiar with could be called “festival democracy”: we have lots of excitement and spectacle every three or four years, we vote, and then we don’t do anything very much until the next time. Festival fare is sweet and tasty, but in the end isn’t very filling, and if it is your main source of sustenance, its easy to get lazy, fat and corrupted.

Participatory or Community Democracy is defined by the Wollongong Against Corruption group as “a process whereby all citizens have greater rights and responsibilities in in how their localities and cities are governed”.  In order to do this we need to:

  • Find ways to get people actively involved and informed in political life
  • build capacity in local communities to engage constructively in policy making and problem resoultion
  • build structures in local communities where citizens can take an active, and valued role in decision making
  • build decision making structures that are based on concensus and collegiality
  • Ensure that decisions are made that are accountable to the public,and we are all given the information we need to know why a decision was made.
  • The list looks daunting and at first sounds very idealistic, but it is not: if we want to,  there are practical down to earth things we can do now to build Community Democracy.

Active involvement

People want to be involved in decisions which affect them and their community. When they are given the chance they will become actively involved. We all know of meetings that have been called where many hundreds of people attend because they want their voice to be heard.

For those of us who want Community Democracy, our job is to find ways to encourage people to have their voice heard in a meaningful way.

Councillors and other politicians can do this by engaging the local community in decisions which affect them in a way that shows that their views and decisions will be taken seriously.  This might be a village or town meeting to discuss local planning issues, or even better, legislate that all developments have to go past a village or town meeting, and the resolutions of that meeting have to be included and discussed in the report before the development can be considered by Council. Developers and some Councillors might object that this will involve unacceptable delays, but this process may mean that there is more community support for a project, less delays as a result of objections and protest, and even some creative ideas from people who will be directly affected by the development.

We can have Council meetings that cater to the needs of the electors rather than the Councillors. This might include having night meetings, and also encouraging community debate at Council meetings.  Community debate should be seen as the life blood of the Council, rather than a nuisance to be endured, and a well chaired meeting can easily include Community involvement which does not lead to unwieldy decision making or overly long meetings. If the mayor or other councillors do not have the necessary chairing and meeting procedure skills to incorporate community input, the cost of training them in these skills would be a good investment of Council funds.

Council can sponsor newsletters and village specific websites where information and debate can be encouraged.  I’m not talking about the propaganda newsletters we get now, but real forums where people can be informed about issues that will affect them, and where they can have a direct involvement in resolving the issue.

All of the above can be done by the new councillors elected in September.

We who are already active can also do our bit to show that active involvement will achieve results.  Many people believe that they are only one person, and their voice doesn’t matter.  Others have become cynical about being “consulted” and then the decisions and recommendation being ignored.

We need to make sure that our meetings and decision making styles encourage community involvement, and respect for all the voices that make up our community. This might mean actively seeking the voices of people who are not usually involved in community activities, developing meeting styles that encourage people who are not confident speakers to put their points of view, building a consensus approach to decision making which accommodates less confident participants.

If this is not already the preferred style of active community groups, it is not a hard thing to make these changes.

Build capacity in local communities to engage constructively in policy making and problem resoultion

One of the barriers to active involvement are people’s perceptions that they are not knowledgeable enough to make a constructive contribution to the issues of the day.

Two things need to be done here.  The first is to help people realise that they are the best experts around in knowing what is right for them, and right for the community they live in. The second is to provide the community with the technical knowledge and tools they need to become involved in policy making and problem resolution.

The first point will resolve itself as people become more comfortable with taking an active role in Council affairs. Once community input is taken seriously, people see that their suggestions may very well be put into action,and community members will quickly realise that they do have expertise which they need to use wisely.

In our complex world, there are technical requirements that are not easily accessible to community members, and often expert help is required to get the best result.

John Hatton made a very interesting suggestion at the Making Community Democracy Work Conference. He proposed that Councils make staff available to the community who are responsible for providing support and training in issues which will be considered by the Council.  These staff who, although paid for by the council, would be recruited and employed by the community, could help with applying for grants, making submissions and reports to Council from Community members, provide advice to community members on technical issues, or find suitable advisors if they are not qualified themselves. These staff members could also advocate on behalf of communities at an administrative level.

John also reminded us that there is a vast pool of expertise in the community itself.  We have people trained in town planning, law, social and physical sciences and all other types of skills and trades who are part of the community. We need to tap into this pool, and make use of the expertise that is there.

As community activists we can work to identify and build community skills, provide community support for people providing their skills for community benefit, and find ways to build up skills in our own community.  We could find ways where community members work and learn skills from each other, or connect community members to mentors who can pass on skills.

With a little effort and goodwill, we can tap into the wisdom and expertise that everyone has and use it to build a stronger, more confident community.  What we require from ourselves as community activists, and also from our politicians is the will to give back this power to the communities, and support them when they use it.

Build structures in local communities where citizens can take an active, and valued role in decision making

This follows from the last point.  Local communities need structures that they can use to be involved in the decisions that affect them.  These can be physical structures, like adequate meeting rooms that are affordable for all groups to use, to ready access to the internet, to ways that decisions are made in the Council which encourage and value community involvement.

Physical Structures

We are social animals, and we like to physically meet each other, so it is important that our villages and towns have places where the residents can meet.  These meeting areas need to be affordable and accessible for all who want to use them.  It is not good enough to have meeting rooms which are not available if you do not have enough money to hire them, or are not accessible to people such as those with disabilities. There are meeting rooms and public halls dotted across our shires, and it would not be difficult for the Council to conduct an audit of these, make this information available publicly, and work with the groups who own them to encourage the fullest possible public access to the buildings.  Council could also provide the funds to hire halls or meeting rooms when necessary to allow communities to meet and discuss issues of importance to them.

Internet

The internet is becoming an important part of our social fabric, and is one of the most effective tools to encourage community activism and involvement. While websites are best developed by the communities themselves, to meet their own needs, the Council could provide support to the communities, both in hosting websites, and providing technical expertise where needed.  Of course there will be many in the community that will be able to develop and maintain their community’s website, and the Council may not need to be involved at all in day to day management of the website. In some ways this is preferable, as the networking and discussion capacity of the website is controlled by the community rather than the Council.

Council Structures

Council procedures and meeting styles can be an impediment to encouraging everyday democracy.  Many of these procedures and styles were developed to discourage people from taking an active role in council affairs, and can be changed to make people want to be active participants in their Council. If we had a council that was committed to “every day Democracy” we could have an audit of procedures in the Council which is designed to identify what can be changed to encourage community involvement in Council matters. Of course this audit would need to be carried out independently and with strong community involvement.

Community structures

Community consultative structures are important tools to develop confidence among community members that they can have a constructive contribution to local affairs.  These structures need to be built by the community with the support of Council.  Some towns may use traditional progress associations to consult with their communities. Other places may develop quite different structures.  The role of the Council is to provide whatever support is needed to the community to build the consultative structure that is best for them, not most convenient for the Council or its staff. There may also need to be consultative structures built for different community groups, including indigenous groups, youth and children, the homeless, and young families.  Each of these groups will have their strengths and weaknesses which will need to be accommodated in the consultative groups that they develop.

The key to all this is that the Council is the helper not the director in building these structures.  A consultative structure that is imposed will at best appear to work, but it will be unlikely to engage the people it is meant to represent.  A consultative structure that is built by the group that owns it is much more likely to represent the views of its constituents.

One of the best ways that the Council can tell the community that it really wants to have “everyday democracy” is to give every encouragement to strong, independent and well functioning community consultative groups.

Build decision making structures that are based on consensus and collegiality

One of the biggest turn offs for most people to active involvement in politics is the unedifying sight of ignorant and unnecessary brawls masquerading as debate. People know they can argue in a civilized way at home, and don’t want to have anything to do with abuse in public life.   One of the best ways to encourage “everyday democracy” is to encourage a culture in the Council that is based on civilized debate, and an ethos of collegiality.

It can be assumed that all Councillors are working for the common goal of making the best decisions possible for the Shire.  On this basis, the Councillors are colleagues working together. Of course there will be differences, but as abuse would not be an acceptable way to win an argument in the workplace, the same should apply in the Council chamber. An abusive workplace does not encourage openness or innovative thinking: neither does an abusive chamber.

The new Council can make reforms to the way that it conducts itself in the Chamber, so that people are encouraged to take an active role in the debate.  One easy reform would be to recognise that the chamber is a work-place and therefore the rules of workplace harrassment and abuse apply in the chamber.

Community activists could encourage civilised debate in the Chamber by recognising Councillors who debate well.  Perhaps we could contribute an award to the local Business Awards recognising the best debater in the Council. The media could also encourage good behaviour by the Councillors in the way it reports Council business.We all can play a part in ensuring we have good well reasoned debate in the Council.

Many matters before the Council are not contentious, and some that are can be resolved through negotiating.  The Councillors can be trained in  negotiation and conflict resolution, and be expected to use these skills in their dealings as Councillors.

These are not hard reforms to make, and can make a real difference to the atmosphere in the Council.

Ensure that decisions are made that are accountable to the public,and we are all given the information we need to know why a decision was made.

The Councillors and other politicians are servants of the people, and are therefore accountable to them. Despite what some politicians would like to think, their first loyalty is to the people who pay them, not to the political party that they support. On this basis, the electors have every right to know what decisions are being made on their behalf, and the reasons these decisions are being made.

Councillors at Wollongong Council lost sight of this basic fact, and a culture of corruption was able to develop.  What can we do at local government level to ensure this doesn’t happen in other Shires?

The first thing to do, is to ensure we encourage everyday democracy, where there is a strong culture of active community involvement in our local politics. Corruption thrives best when there are few people watching or taking an interest.

The proposed Wollongong Charter supports Independent Hearing Assessment Panels which “make use of expert independent specialists such as planners alawyers.  They are designed to reduce lobbying by developers and provide a check on in undue influence on decision making. They make recommendations ot Council and include community representation…Major and controversial assissments would include representation from elected representatives of [relevant]community forums.”(Wollongong Against Corruption: Wollongong Charter for Ethics and good Governance: Draft 16 August 2008 Page 15)

Second we need to put mechanisms in place to ensure that decisions are made transparently, which means that both Councillors and senior officials are obliged to keep detailed written records of all their dealings with individuals and organisations that may benefit from their decisions. These need to be public documents and readily accessible to the public.  There need to be substantial sanctions against Councillors and Senior Staff who do not report relevant meetings or decisions that were made at these meetings.

Third we need to ensure that there are mechanisms in the Council which actively support whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are the canaries in the mine, and unlike the canaries, we need to make sure they survive when they give us early warning of corruption. We can make it clear that any suspected corruption is to be reported to senior management, and that they are obliged to investigate any allegations that are made by staff.

Fourth we need to ensure that political donations are banned. Political donations lead to split loyalties, and therefore erode democracy. The politicians are servants of the people, and their only loyalty is to them. Donations dilute and can corrupt this relationship.

Fifth transparency requires that the financial records of Councillors and senior staff are also made public to reduce the possibility of corruption.  Financial affairs would include assets, loans, business partnerships and relationships, donations and gifts.

Sixth the use of confidential reports and “Commercial in Confidence” needs to be kept to an absolute minimum. Decisions about these categories need to be made by more than one person, and they need to give detailed reasons why it is in the public interest  to keep the matter in the report confidential. If it cannot be shown to be in the public interest,which would not include protecting a corporation or individual from public debate of their proposal, then the report should be discussed in open Council.

Seven Freedom of Information should be affordable.  The Wollongong Charter proposes that Public information should be available at no cost(apartfrom printing). The Charter goes on “We have too many cases where the public is denied access to information which is collected by public servants, paid for by the general public, and yet denied to the general public.  In all cases where information is withheld Council must convince the Ombusdsman…of reasons why information requested by the public should not be available to them.”

If Democracy is something we value its worth working for.  Everyday Democracy needs some more effort than the festival democracy we’re used to, its not as glamorous, but it will keep our democracy, strong healthy and vigorous.

As I watch one the most lacklustre, disappointing federal elections I’ve ever experienced, I’m very tempted to just throw up my hands and give up. But instead of just moaning about what is happening, I thought it would be interesting to look at what would make a truly democratic Australia. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Lots of small parties, and independents
  • MPs who see their first responsibility is to the people who elected them to Parliament, rather than to their party, or worse the people who made the most donations
  • Publicly funded elections, with political donations made illegal
  • Restructuring our government structure so that most power is at a regional level
  • better use of the internet to make community decision making a reality
  • ensuring there are a range of views at the policy advice level. Perhaps having a parliament where there is a much stronger role for committees and enquiries in the decision making process.

The Victorian Council of Port Fairy has had a residential devolopment refused on the grounds that it could be affected by rises in sea levels as a result of climate change in the future.

The decision, which was made by an advisory committee to the Victorian State Government, is made on the basis that the land in question is bounded by a river on one side and the sea on the other, and it is likely to be inundated if there is a sea level rise.

This decision could have implications for parts of Eurobodalla Shire where there are areas which are bounded by rivers and the sea.

You can see the transcript of an interview on am with Moyne Shire James Purcell here

http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2010/s2830795.htm

After a break, mainly to do with finding myself employed again, I’ve decided to update the Peoples Council for 2010.

Now there is a People’s Council twitter which is on the left sidebar, and I now also have a facebook presence!  You can go to the facebook  site by clicking here.

I’ll be doing some other innovations on the site, all designed to encourage people to become actively involved in deciding the direction of our local area.

Council meeting 20 October 2009

Posted: October 19, 2009 by admin in Uncategorized

Hello again. After a bit of a break, I’m back in harness and below are my picks for the October meeting of the Council.

There is nothing particularly juicy in the agenda, although there has obviously been some work done with the Moruya airport on their leasing issues. You can see the report here,  and vote and comment on it here

There is also a report on pricing for community markets which is important for the many groups that organise community markets for their fundraising efforts You can see the report here,  and vote and comment on it here

Other  interesting reports are the quarterly review and the monthly financial review.  The news on the failed products from the global financial crisis is still not good, but it is not as dire as it seemed to be at the beginning of the year.

The Council is carrying out a number of reviews which are worth reading if you are interested in taking an active interest in local affairs.   These include:

A survey of motorcyclists using Eurobodalla’s roads.

This survey is timed to coincide with the spike in motorcyclists going to and from Phillip Island. Council’s Road Safety Officer, Karen Sydenham, says all motorcyclists travelling in the Southern region can find the surveys at known refreshment areas and copies can be downloaded from Council’s website www.esc.nsw.gov.au under Road Safety on the ‘Community’ menu.

Eurobodalla Heritage Study

The Shire’s new heritage advisor Pip Giovanelli is inviting anyone who knows about or owns an item of heritage value to the Eurobodalla, to come forward and share your interest in the history and heritage of our region by participating in a community-based Heritage Study.

The study, supported by the Heritage Branch of the NSW Department of Planning, will be carried out by Pip Giovanelli , together with an enthusiastic Heritage Advisory Committee and a working group that contains some interested community members.

Mr Giovanelli says the purpose of the Study is to review and update the existing 1997 Heritage Study and to prepare a list of heritage places and items valued by the community. “We’re calling for expressions of interest now from residents for the working group and for nominations of heritage places,” Mr Giovanelli said. “When it’s compiled, the information will be of great value to Council for planning decisions, tourism and the way history and heritage are promoted and managed in the area,” he said. Find out more.

DCPs on public exhibition from next Monday

On Monday 19 October, Eurobodalla Shire Council will commence public exhibition of the first four of a suite of new Development Control Plans (DCPs).  These plans will cover the following areas – Batemans Bay Regional Centre, Moruya Township, Narooma Township and Residential Zones.

According to the Director of Development and Natural Resources at Council, Lindsay Usher, the proposed amendments will streamline the development application process by reducing the number of DCPs needed to be considered when preparing a development application. Under the new DCPs, only one DCP will apply to a parcel of land. “The full suite of DCPs will replace all of Council’s current DCPs and will be exhibited progressively over the next twelve months or so as they are completed,” Mr Usher said.

There will be three public information sessions to explain the plans at the following venues:

Batemans Bay Moruya Narooma
21 October 2009 20 October 2009 22 October 2009
6pm – 7pm 6pm – 7pm 6pm – 7pm
Soldiers Club Council Chambers Narooma Golf Club

“Planning staff will be available to discuss the DCPs throughout the exhibition period at Council’s administration building in Moruya.  A hotline 4474 1084 has also been set up for DCP enquiries. Information will also be on our website at www.esc.nsw.gov.au, and at our three local libraries as of Monday,” Mr Usher said. Find out more.

Review of Eurobodalla’s Cultural Plan

The Tilba Tea Pot, 17 Bate Street, Central Tilba is the place to be if you want to put your views about the direction of Council’s Cultural Plan. If you are interested, come along to the monthly Arts Exchange at the Teapot at 11am on Thursday 22 October

Council’s Cultural Planning and Development Officer, Monika McInerney, says she is very interested in hearing of the thoughts of arts practitioners, workers or creative participants in this forum on the cultural plan, facilitated by Mandy Hillson and Susan Conroy who have been engaged by Council.

“Susan and Mandy have been investigating current arts and cultural initiatives, the facilities they presently utilise and reviewing our current and future aspirations and potential infrastructural requirements,” Ms McInerney said. “We would love the input of interested members of both the arts and broader community.”

“The information obtained next Thursday and during Mandy and Susan’s investigations will inform Council’s effectiveness in developing a forward plan on the Shire’s infrastructure needs for performing and visual arts,” Ms McInerney said. For more information, please contact Monika on 4474 1061.

This is a presentation I am planning to make at the Council meeting on 25 August.

I’d welcome any feed back on what I had to say.

Breaking down silos: Developing a partnership between Council and the Community

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this important topic today.  At the staff meeting to discuss the changes that the General Manager is making to the Council, Mr Anderson talked about the need to get rid of “silos” which had formed in the Council , and to redevelop a culture where staff saw themselves working for a common goal in a united organisation.

I would like to extend the silo analogy, and put it to the Council that we need to break down the silos that have formed between the Council and the Community, so that we work together to keep our Shire a wonderful place to live and to work.

How do we do this? Communication is the key and I’d like to talk on three ways that I think the Council could improve its communication with the people that it serves

The first is consultation.

Consultation can range from the most cursory “This is what we are doing, and you’ve got a week to get used to it” to a detailed conversation with those who will be affected by the decisions that are being made.

In my opinion the Council errs far too much on the cursory side of consultation.  We see consultations that are not well organised, or have the appearance of being an afterthought.

Consultation done well can save time and effort, as it allows residents of the Shire to feel that they have had a say in the decisions made by the Council; it identifies where there may be conflict, and provides a means to resolve it; it can also throw up new ways to address the issues that the Council is considering.

Putting some resources into improving consultation skills with Council staff could be a very good investment for the Council. I’m not talking about employing more consultants: what I am talking about is developing consultation skills within existing Council staff.  Most consultation does not need to be complex or expensive, and there are real advantages in having staff who are involved in developing policies engaged in consultation. They can directly hear what people think of the proposed changes;  it also gives the impression that Council staff are interested in what the people that they serve think.

I would hope that all senior staff have good consultation skills, and if they don’t , they are given the opportunity to learn them.  There may also be a case to have some staff who are specialists in consulting, and who do the planning and execution of Council consultation

I would also like to see consultation to be an integral part of any new policy or reform or change to any planning instruments.  Twice in this year, councillors have had to include a consultation process to major reforms such as the LEP.  A consultation plan should have been an important part of the report on the LEP. What I am suggesting is that part of the template for any report is provision for a consultation plan. If there is no need for a consultation, the section can be removed, but the staff member writing the report will be reminded of the importance of consulting with the people they serve.

One of the best ways that the Council can tell the community that it really wants to have “everyday democracy” is to give every encouragement to strong, independent and well functioning community consultative groups.

I put it that the role of the Council is to provide whatever support is needed to the community to build the consultative structure that is best for them, not most convenient for the Council or its staff. There may also need to be consultative structures built for different community groups, including indigenous groups, youth and children, the homeless, and young families.  Each of these groups will have their strengths and weaknesses which will need to be accommodated in the consultative groups that they develop.

The key to all this is that the Council is the helper not the director in building these structures.  A consultative structure that is imposed will at best appear to work, but it will be unlikely to engage the people it is meant to represent.  A consultative structure that is built by the group that owns it is much more likely to represent the views of its constituents.

Better use of the Internet

The internet is one of the most powerful tools for having much more participation in Council activities.  It is now possible for the Council to have almost real time conversations with residents;  efficiently provide drafts of policies for comment and revision by interested residents, and engage in and start debates about important issues using the net.

I would like to see the Council start to make use of these very powerful tools to develop a much more responsive and consultative culture.

One way may be for Council to sponsor newsletters and village specific websites where information and debate can be encouraged.  These forums would be run by the local community but supported by the Council: real forums where people can be informed about issues that will affect them, and where they can have a direct involvement in resolving the issue.

Of course there will be many in the community that will be able to develop and maintain their community’s website, and the Council may not need to be involved at all in day to day management of the website. In some ways this is preferable, as the networking and discussion capacity of the website is controlled by the community rather than the Council. It is important though for these people to know that they are seen as valuable partners with the Council in developing democracy in the Shire.

None of these new tools need to be expensive, and many of the younger staff would have a very strong  grasp of how this technology could be used in the Council. Perhaps some of the younger staff could be given the opportunity to experiment with some of these new web tools

Using community skills

Eurobodalla Shire is a place where many  people come because they have fallen in love with this wonderful place, and are very committed to ensuring that it maintains its beauty.  There are active community associations in many of the towns and villages, and there are also skilled and experienced people who have retired or are not working full time who would, with the right incentives be happy to share their skills with the Council. These incentives don’t necessarily need to be money, it can be that they know they are being listened to, and their skills are being taken seriously.

One of the barriers to active involvement are people’s perceptions that they are not knowledgeable enough to make a constructive contribution to the issues of the day.

Two things need to be done here.  The first is to help people realise that they are the best experts around in knowing what is right for them, and right for the community they live in. The second is to provide the community with the technical knowledge and tools they need to become involved in policy making and problem resolution.

The first point will resolve itself as people become more comfortable with taking an active role in Council affairs. Once community input is taken seriously, people see that their suggestions may very well be put into action, and community members will quickly realise that they do have expertise which they need to use wisely.

In our complex world, there are technical requirements that are not easily accessible to community members, and often expert help is required to get the best result.

John Hatton made a very interesting suggestion at the Making Community Democracy Work Conference last August. He proposed that Councils make staff available to the community who are responsible for providing support and training in issues which will be considered by the Council.  These staff who, although paid for by the council, would be recruited and employed by the community, could help with applying for grants, making submissions and reports to Council from Community members, provide advice to community members on technical issues, or find suitable advisors if they are not qualified themselves. These staff members could also advocate on behalf of communities at an administrative level.

John also reminded us that there is a vast pool of expertise in the community itself.  We have people trained in town planning, law, social and physical sciences and all other types of skills and trades who are part of the community. We need to tap into this pool, and make use of the expertise that is there.

Once again having staff who are used to working with volunteers, and with committees helps the Council to make best use of the human resources available in the community.

In conclusion I am very glad that the new General Manager does want to change the culture of the Council to one that is more responsive to the community that it serves. I wish you the best, and I hope that these suggestions are taken as a token of my best wishes for the changes that you are making.

Council Meeting 28 July 2009

Posted: July 27, 2009 by admin in Uncategorized

There’s quite a large agenda for the July meeting of the Council. The five reports which I think are most interesting this month are;

The proposals include:

  • a. Newstead Pond Bushcare – Control of Noxious and Environmental Weeds;
    b. Long Beach Landcare – Karana Close, Weed Eradication and Revegetation;
    c. Kianga/Dalmeny/Narooma Dunecare – Implementing Plan of Management Remote
    Planting and Weed Control;
    d. Eurobodalla Indian Myna Action Group – Control of Indian Myna Birds;
    e. South Durras Landcare – Pedestrian Access Track to Viewing Platform, Cookies
    Beach.

the Council has endorsed each of the programs and provides support to them

This project is a pilot funded by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, and we should see it in action by the end of July.  A good practical way to mitigate some of the effects we are all having on the environment.

This report is interesting in that it is recommending for economic reasons that the Eurobodalla no longer has a local water testing facility.  Perhaps there is a place for community discussion about when we decide to reduce services for economic reasons, and when we decide that services are too important to make decisions just on economic criteria alone.  Is ensurig we have good and rapid access to water testing facilities one of those times?

This is to confirm a draft policy that had been circulated for comment earlier in the year.

There are also a few notices of motion from the Councillors.

Graham Scobie is proposing that we have a Renewable Energy Display Centre and is also suggesting that Councillors not have their post meeting drinks.

Chris Kowal wants to develop a Genetically Modified – Free, Agriculture Policy. This is interesting in that I’m not exactly sure what Cr Kowal is wanting here.  Is he wanting no genetically food to be sold in the Shire, or just for the Shire not to agree to any GM crops being grown?  Does the Council have the power to stop someone growing a GM crop?  Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be good if there were no GM crops, and I hope that noone is silly enough to decide to grow them here, but if this is just a bit of symbolism without any force, then it seems to be a waste of time.  It would be better to develop some policies supporting people engaging in small scale agriculture, ranging from backyard gardens to making sure our five acre plots become more viable.

Draft LEP

There are also some interesting procedural reports this meeting.  One in particular is to give Councillors exemptions from Pecuniary Conflict of Interest provisions for the Draft LEP, so that there will be a quorum to actually make valid decisions on the Draft LEP.

In some ways this is good. If the Councillors do have a personal interest in the LEP, it does give them an impetus to ensure that it works for this local area.  On the other hand we do need to make sure that the Councillors look after the general good, rather than their interests, which is why there are conflict of interest provisions.  In this case there are other measures which do protect us from Councillors using undue influence, including oversight of the process by the relevant NSW Departments, and it is important that there is a local voice which can be heard in the debates about this important document. What we need to see is a public record of where the Councillors do have a potential pecuniary interest in this matter so we can make judgements about their decisions on the LEP.

Cr Vardon also has a notice of motion confirming that the exhibition and comment period for the Draft LEP finish on 24 July, and that there then be an amended LEP drawn up and open for exhibition for a period of six weeks, which would include a comparison with Council’s adopted structure plan(s) and settlement strategies. This sounds like a very sensible way to work through the process of getting the best we can from the new LEP.

Traffic Matters

There are also some interesting minutes from the Traffic Committees. Some of the resolutions from these meetings were:

In Batemans Bay:

  • to keep the reverse parking in Orient St

In North Street and Orient St

  • 1. The Taxi Zone located in Orient Street, Batemans Bay be shortened to 24m – making
    allowance for two maxi cabs plus one car.
    2. The No Stopping zone located at the southern end of the bus stop in Clyde/Orient Streets,
    Batemans Bay be changed to a “No Stopping – Taxis Exempt 1 Minute Only” zone.
    3. The full length of North Street, Batemans Bay be converted to a 1 hour limit – except for
    the small length of ¼ hour parking in front of the Village Centre and that these restrictions
    be in operation from 8.30am to 6.00pm Monday-Friday and 8.30am to 12.30pm Saturday.
    4. The existing ¼ hour parking restrictions in North Street and Perry Street, Batemans Bay
    be changed to 8.30am to 6.00pm Monday-Friday and 8.30am to 12.30pm Saturday to be
    consistent with the CBD.
  • Further discussion of more parking restrictions in Clyde St.   The proposed restrictions were agreed to. However, teh Council is carrying out a Traffic Study in the “Batemans Bay CBD precinct and one of the desired outcomes of this study is the analysis of existing parking within the precinct and to make recommendations regarding future parking requirements. Issues such as additional pay parking and further changes to the time limits of parking within the CBD should be dealt with after the completion of the proposed Traffic Study.”

There were also changes made in Bodalla and in Narooma. You can see more here and here