The Public Have a Right to be Heard in East Gippsland

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Statement by Linette Treasure following submission to East Gippsland Shire Council (See full submission below)

The public Hearing Process re. Proposed Lease of 2 Gibbo St Benambra to CopperChem – before senior shire staff and the East Gippsland Shire Council at 4 pm on 24th April 2018.

“Although there were other people present in the public gallery, I was the only member of the public to present a verbal submission to this 223 Hearing. The lease had been available as an attachment to the Minutes of the EG Shire Ordinary meeting March 6th. I had researched the proposed lease and discussed it with a number of other people who considered the terms not in the interests of ratepayers. They had not realized they could make a submission until after time for this had run out. As the only community presenter I felt a deep responsibility to present the breadth of concerns and so that I did not forget points or become distracted through nervousness, I prepared my submission in writing so that I could read it steadily and clearly.

However when only into my second paragraph I was interrupted by Cr Reeves shouting at me. He shouted that I was being offensive to Council. He shouted that he did not want to put up with what I presenting and I was out of order. He shouted that I was not addressing the matter of the Lease and I must desist. Things became more unruly then with Cr Pelz supporting Cr Reeves and Crs Ellis and Buckley protesting that I had a right to be heard. (It was like being in a court where a witness who was giving evidence was interrupted and shouted at by a member of the jury.) I stopped trying to read and I looked to the mayor for instruction as he sat hunkered down in his seat but then he indicated to me to continue. I tried to explain that I considered the context of the decision-making of the lease integral to my submission as the terms of the lease appeared ill considered.

But then again as I recommenced reading, Cr Reeves shouted louder and louder. I felt deeply intimidated but kept my eyes to what I was trying to read and I raised the volume of my voice so Councillors might hear what I had prepared. I steeled myself to remain steady and my voice strong as that other voice shouted over me. I did not burst into tears or flee from the room. But eventually I stopped because the presentation had degenerated into a brutal parody.

I waited and then when there was quiet I asked the mayor if I could finish reading my submission – which I then did without further interference. However because of the noise and denigration of me I doubt that councillors absorbed important details or respected my submission. I had tried to raise serious issues but felt that I had failed. I hope I left that room with dignity but inside I felt as ineffective as a broken bird that had flown into a plate glass wall.

I believe that the 223 process regarding the Lease of 2 Gibbo St Benambra should be recommenced as it was not conducted as per the intent or proper process of the Local Government Act.”

 

24th April 2018

Submission under Section 223 of the Local Government Act 1989

Proposed Lease 2 Gibbo St, Benamba

“Good afternoon Councillors

In the Bairnsdale Advertiser 19th March it was stated:“ East Gippsland Shire Council will purchase the former Benambra Primary School site for $90,000 and lease it to the new Stockman mine owner, CopperChem, for 19 years.”

Speaking on behalf of many concerned ratepayers I object to the intent of the purchase and lease to benefit at our expense, a private company. There is no mention in the lease of shared community use and earlier statements that it was to be purchased for community use appear to have been untrue.

In studying the lease I cannot understand how in the interests of the East Gippsland Shire it could be responsibly proposed and so as the context to this submission I question the processes which have lead to this. Ratepayers are concerned at the lack of openness in Council decision-making with Briefing Sessions deciding outcomes based on incomplete or biased information. Often the public are unaware of important information before decisions are made, and more and more it appears that the Councillors themselves are unaware of implications when making their decisions. If Briefing Sessions were open to the public a broader and more democratic discourse would be the result and the possibility of biased control by bureaucrats lessened. As it now stands, the possibility of corrupted process through the influence of a few, is very real.

As with the issue of the proposed mineral sand mine at Glenaladale, the serious implications of the new mine at Benambra are being quietly evaded with Councillors avoiding informed contact with concerned community. The long-term risks to East Gippsland’s health, water, food production and Lakes system are enormous. The Local Government Act which declares as its basic intent that all meetings of Council be open to the public in the interests of transparency and accountability, also sets in place processes to allow the public to have input to decision making. This is expressed in Section 223 of the Act as a requirement before selling or leasing of Council property.

So today’s Hearing needs to be considered seriously and not be regarded as a mere formality to something already decided. To pre-empt this 223 process (as reported in the Bairnsdale Advertiser19 March) would be a serious breach of process. The Act requires Council to take into account matters raised in Hearings before arriving at a decision. Some years ago failure to do this cost the East Gippsland Shire more than $1,000,000 in Palmer’s Road attempted sale debacle.

I do not believe that Council should be subsidising a private mining company with ratepayer funds and I am concerned that most councillors are unaware of the risks posed by the mining project The Local Government Act states:” The primary objective of a Council is to endeavour to achieve the best outcomes for the local community having regard for long-term and cumulative effects of decisions.

Surely it is immoral to allow a toxic time bomb to be placed at the headwaters of our Lakes system needing to be controlled for one thousand years. The dam will require a wall 45 metres above the valley with a surface area from 8 to 32 hectares. The tailings dam must remain covered by 2 metres of water forever to prevent an acid chain reaction occurring. The previous smaller mine left behind a leaking dam of 700,000 tonnes of toxic heavy metals tailings.

So from this most serious context I wish to draw councillors’ attention to details of the intended Lease to CopperChem at 2 Gibbo Street Benambra. Disturbingly there appear to be no detailed costings to what Council is committing long term financial responsibility. With the lease locked in for at least nine years, costs have not been detailed and appear to be open ended. Benambra will be expensive to service for tradespersons or equipment. It is one of our most outlying areas.

Why should the East Gippsland Council be subsidising an international mining company. The terms of the lease would never be considered in normal business. Take the annual rent of $5,500 – including GST – at around $100 a week this would not get you a storage container. And this rent is not to be reviewed for at least nine years! (Perhaps to follow similar logic, Council could set the CEO’s salary not to reviewed for nine years, or better still set the current rates not to be reviewed for 9 years!)

The lack of detail is seriously negligent as set out under “Council fixtures and fittings – lighting, heating and cooling, carpet and curtains as well as other equipment – details as yet to be determined.” Council will be responsible for structural maintenance of the building, floors, walls, windows, roofing, doors; also electrical wiring; plumbing; guttering; downpipes; provision of hot water. The school building is old – of 1940s/50s style and over a 19 year period could end up very expensive to maintain.

Other Council responsibilities include safety audits (These alone would cost more than the annual rent income.)

As per Schedule 4 set out in the lease, Council is responsible for “construction and repair of car parks including line marking and signage” – even though Councillors were assured by staff that this would be CopperChem’s responsibility. An approx. $10,000 contribution a year by the tenant towards maintenance costs overall is totally inadequate and only represents the outlay by Council of purchase of the property – to be for private use of the company for a period up to 19 years.

The Lease appears against the interests of East Gippsland Shire when considered over a 19 year period. In law can a Council act to benefit a private company at the expense of ratepayers ???

The fundamental flaw of the Lease is that it has been formulated as a Retail Lease when it should have been as a Commercial Lease. Through Retail leases the law protects and weighs in favour of small tenants against the power of big business: it places on the ‘landlord ‘ conditions beyond requirements in a Commercial Lease. Why is an international mining company being given favour over ratepayers in East Gippsland when our socio-economic demographic is one of the poorer in the State and our rates are among the highest?

While “outgoings” are referred to it is unclear what these are and who pays for them. However as a retail lease it would most likely be the responsibility of the shire.

I consider the proposed Lease of the property at 2 Gibbo St, Benambra to be disturbingly negligent and over a 19 year period would commit the shire to an unknown level of costs that could come to total millions of dollars. The Lease is for the benefit of a private company and should not be funded by East Gippsland ratepayers.”

Linette C. Treasure