Reintroduction of Stock on Roads Permits

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The East Gippsland Community Action Group Inc. raised serious concerns at East Gippsland Shire Council’s intention to reintroduce the requirement for permits to move stock on roads.  This in fact was a Local Law that had been abolished back in 2005.

The Group considers the control should remain under VicRoads jurisdiction.  It is remarkable the Shire Council would consider taking over this responsibility and the associated legal implications.  In addition, imposing permit fees (and additional public liability insurance costs) on users and the cost to the Shire Council and administrative effort has not been properly considered.

An extensive submission has been lodged with the Shire Council and numerous press releases sent to newspapers.  See below:

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Article published in Stock & Land on 20th September 2017:

“Call for transparency on East Gippsland Livestock movement permits”.

 

Stock & Land

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Article published in the East Gippsland News on 27th September 2017:

“The devil is in the stock on roads detail”.

 

EAST GIPPSLAND NEWS 2017-09-27

 

Acknowledgement to “East Gippsland News”.

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This is the formal submission and background information to East Gippsland Shire Council regarding movement of stock on roads. Prepared and presented by Linette Treasure.

 

On 17th October 2017 a number of persons presented verbal submissions to Council regarding their proposal to reintroduce the requirement for Movement of Stock on Roads permit. This followed a great number of written submissions all opposing the new Local Law. 

One of the presentations (from Linette Treasure) addressed underlying concerns with the process: “There is an old saying ‘The price of democracy is eternal vigilance.’ And certainly it felt like deja vu when we read in the local paper the Council’s intention to reintroduce a permit system for the movement of stock on roads. From the account in the Bairnsdale Advertiser it was clear that neither the councillors or their staff who were making the recommendation knew what the permit would entail or indeed the legislative framework that has been in place for many years.

The issue of a permit requirement for movement of stock on roads was thoroughly thrashed out and removed in 2005 when the Shire’s own lawyers as well as advice from an independent barrister confirmed there was no legal requirement for a Shire to take the responsibility which is covered by legislation administered by VicRoads. Why was this system again proposed? Whose idea – when there are still senior staff who were involved back in 2005 and would have had access to the old files, including the legal advice? Back then the issue attracted huge attention from ratepayers, from farmers increasingly burdened with bureaucracy and from ratepayers subsidising unnecessary permit administration.

Since amalgamation which was supposed to have made local government more efficient and less costly, but rates have become an onerous burden as bureaucracy has become top heavy; increased staff numbers and salaries of senior staff have risen way beyond a fair thing. (Even today why should seven staff be present at this meeting session?) There is now deep concern that local government is no longer a democratic system and that councillors once elected, are now controlled by senior staff in closed sessions. There is another old saying, ‘Dark things grow in secret places.’ And in local government if decision-making takes place beyond public scrutiny, to be simply rubber-stamped in the public meetings, there is no knowing what pressures have been brought to bear, or on what information decisions are based.

The issue for which we are here today – of Council’s intention to reintroduce a permit system for stock movement, raises serious concern about proper process. Under delegated authority, Councils may make Local Laws but must follow specific process. Laws cannot be taken lightly and once signed off by the Minister can only be challenged through the Supreme Court; Local Laws carry penalties – in this case $1,000 for a first offense. When a Council moves its intention to create a specific Local Law it is then obliged under the 223 process, to advertise its intention (including details – which must be provided) and then after receiving written and oral submissions to consider carefully all information before making a decision.  This whole process has been botched.  Councillors had no idea what they were proposing in the new local law and there were no details available to the public as required under the Act. There were contradictions and omissions that I believe were sufficient to invalidate the whole process but which if it had gone through virtually gave an open cheque to administrators of the permit process.

I believe what has happened points to serious process problems that need to be addressed by senior staff and Councillors. Council if it is to act as intended in our democratic system must be more responsible to what it allows to happen. What has evolved is an unhealthy lack of separation of powers – between the decision-makers and the enablers. When the CEO or staff make recommendations, that is all they are – recommendations, not directions. And Councillors, if you don’t understand what is implied, insist on more information.  Do your homework, find out! This should be your real work as a Councillor, not simply attending social events as a public-relations figure.

And finally, as well as being more responsible to researching your decisions there needs to be integrity in responding to submissions. I am aware of decisions being made prior to hearings. This amounts to sham consultation, rather like charging a person, then judge and jury deciding on the case before hearing evidence. After the commencement of the 223 Process, four Councillors assured me the proposed Permit was not going ahead. And while I was pleased for the outcome, I felt disturbed by the serious lack of responsibility to the 223 Process, its negligent preparation and lack of respect for consideration of hearings.

Because of this inappropriate and unresearched proposal, people have spent an enormous amount of time on research, preparing submissions, media and community interaction. There has been a lack of respect by staff to those seeking information.

Councillors let this be a wake up call – don’t be afraid to open discussion and to step up to take charge. The people voted for you to be their representatives. This means taking personal responsibility, not merely following recommendations.”

Linette Treasure (former Councillor 1973-1977; 2003-2005)