The Bundaberg Council Chambers. Photo: Mike Knott
The Bundaberg Council Chambers. Photo: Mike Knott

Big read: Issues to take from council’s December meeting

THE agenda for the last Bundaberg Regional Council meeting of the year focused on important issues such as Moneys Creek, a report on the Sister Cities delegation, and the '10 Gigaberg' project.

There were about 20 people in the public gallery of Tuesday's ordinary council meeting, although half of these were council staff.

Upcoming election candidates Scott Allison, Geoff Augutis and Tim Sayre also observed the process.

Pastor Errol Buckle also offered a prayer, and ended up becoming the doorman for councillors entering and leaving due to perceived conflicts of interest.

Pastor Buckle liked doing it, as it gave him the opportunity to stretch his legs during the 80-minute meeting.

There were debates, contradictions, and confirmation of due process. Some councillors were suffering from a cold, and coughed their way through the discussions, beginning with:

 

Moneys Creek

AT LONG last, we have an exchange of ideas being openly debated and challenged in the council meeting.

Bargara councillor Greg Barnes, often the maverick in the council chamber, pushed for further action to be taken to fix the poor water quality and fish deaths at Moneys Creek.

His initial plan announced early this month was to create a taskforce, which he would initially lead, but the language of his motion has changed within the fortnight to fit to the powers of local government.

 

Moneys Creek.
Moneys Creek.

 

Cr Barnes's motion in the meeting was to create an advisory committee reviewing past environmental reports and to urgently make recommendations to resolve the long-lasting problem.

His key ally was Cr Blackburn, who seconded his motion. It is no secret that in the past, they have not seen eye-to-eye. But throughout the meeting, they showed signs of unity.

Deputy mayor Bill Trevor argued against the motion in a deep voice blasting throughout all corners of the chamber.

Cr Trevor said he agreed something needed to be done to solve Moneys Creek, and that action had been delayed, but he said there was a Burnett Mary Regional Group study soon to be released which would be relevant to Moneys Creek.

He also said an advisory committee already existed, and that a new committee had a short time-frame before it was hindered by bureaucracy.

The council will be limited from making decisions once the election in March was officially announced.

Councillors supported Cr Trevor's recommendation to wait until the BMRG made its recommendations.

Cr Barnes said the BMRG will not directly address Moneys Creek's issue, although Mayor Jack Dempsey disputed this.

 

Asian delegation

A TWO-page document is approved three months after the council's five representatives visited Bundaberg's Chinese and Japanese sister cities for 10 days.

Cr Ross Sommerfeld formally moved for the delegation report to be published on the council's website. He was seconded by Steve Cooper.

For a moment the Mayor mixed the councillors' names up when he asked Cr Cooper, instead of Cr Ross Sommerfeld, if he wanted to make further comment.

Councillors laughed as Cr Dempsey quipped; "I was bedazzled by the beautiful Christmas tie."

Cr Sommerfeld had nothing further to say.

But Cr Barnes did. In October he resigned from the Sister City committee, although it was never made clear why he decided to.

He questioned how much power the committee had to make decisions as an advisory committee, and if it should have its recommendations and minutes formally approved by the council.

 

Greg Barnes having a cup of coffee outside the Bargara Bakery.
Greg Barnes having a cup of coffee outside the Bargara Bakery.

 

He asked if the council had the power to determine or reject recommendations from the advisory committee.

Chief executive Stephen Johnston said he needed time to respond to the question, considering that the role of the Sister City committee was defined before he entered his position.

Delegation member Scott Rowleson interceded by saying any such items would go to the council.

Cr Dempsey said the regular sister cities delegation had many economic benefits for Bundaberg which extended beyond the council.

It increased opportunities for school exchanges and further development in arts and culture.

But Cr Dempsey believed a future council should consider reducing the delegation number to two representatives.

 

Register of delegations

CR BLACKBURN carries the council's governance portfolio.

Delegating additional powers to the CEO falls in the governance section, and it was a motion brought to the council.

Yet Cr Blackburn would not support the motion, and has made her position clear in the last meeting, so Cr Dempsey did instead. He was backed by Jason Bartels.

Cr Dempsey said the council had taken the advice of the Department of Local Government, Local Government Association of Queensland, and King & Company Solicitors, before recommending further decision-making ability be given to Mr Johnston or to council executives on his behalf.

Council staff accumulated 220 hours of work time to determine that 103 recommended powers be given to the CEO, Cr Dempsey said.

Cr Dempsey said this would make the council more efficient by reducing bureaucratic red-tape.

"There are over 60 current pieces of legislation that councils in Queensland have to comply with," he said, then muttered to the CEO, "have you got a list?"

"Not on me, no."

 

Bundaberg Regional Council CEO Steve Johnston.
Bundaberg Regional Council CEO Steve Johnston.

 

The mayor continued. "In order for the council to operate effectively and efficiently, and that's about cutting red tape … it is necessary to delegate many (powers) to the CEO, who in turn delegate currently 70 per cent of delegations to other staff.

"This allows councils to focus on strategic issues."

Cr Blackburn said giving a chief executive more powers did not necessarily make a better council. Councillors could be left out of decisions which concerned the community, such as land clearing, and it impacted their credibility.

She said some of the legislation had existed for decades, so she questioned the timing of passing responsibilities onto the chief executive.

The motion was passed, but Cr Blackburn, Cr Peters, and Cr Barnes voted against it. Cr Dempsey, Cr Bartels, Cr Trevor, Cr Wayne Honor, Cr Rowleson, Cr Sommerfeld, Cr Cooper, and Cr John Learmonth supported it.

 

Flood hazard areas

THE council updated its flood hazard areas identified in flood hazard maps, which replaces previous areas it declared last year.

Cr Sommerfeld said there had been major upgrades which had altered previous flood areas, including KFC in Bargara Rd, and these need to be considered.

"Four developments have resulted in changes to the flood hazard area," he said.

"These works have included the construction of new roads, drainage infrastructure and earthworks resulting in various changes to ground elevations."

Changes also address minor inaccuracies following past State Government mapping, and there had been council investigations following some property owners' concerns in Bargara, Coral Cove, and Sharon.

 

Gigaberg in closed business

COUNCILLORS discussed 12 separate items which included requests for water relief, specialised supplier agreements, and to vary a project's terms to be eligible for the council's Open for Development Infrastructure agreement.

Members of the public gallery who were not council employees left the room, and returned for councillors to formally approve the confidential items. The most controversial discussion ended up being about the 10 Gigaberg Options Analysis.

The council already has announced its plans to increase Bundaberg's internet speed to 10,000 Megabytes a second. A brief check-up online shows Telstra's premium NBN plan offering about 85 Megabytes a second during the busy evening times.

Councillors voted over the findings of a 10 Gigaberg report they received.

They would further investigate the delivery of the project and the finances needed.

Cr Blackburn interjected, saying she would vote against it. There seemed to be confusion as councillors put their hand up but at the same time wanted to object or raise concerns.

 

Cr Helen Blackburn.
Cr Helen Blackburn.

 

Cr Blackburn wanted to debate the matter, while Cr Dempsey first opposed discussing a confidential item with the public gallery present.

He quoted local government regulation to say the topic could be confidential if details prejudiced the interests of the council or allowed someone to gain a financial benefit.

He said concerns could have been raised privately. "That request was put forward to everyone in the room to councillors," Cr Dempsey said.

Cr Barnes said he would not debate the issue, but that he understood councillors could discuss a confidential item publicly if it did not prejudice the outcome or identify people.

Mr Johnston confirmed this was the case and that Cr Blackburn could discuss her concerns if she did not breach confidentiality.

"No, I'll just vote against it," Cr Blackburn said.

"After all that!" Cr Barnes exclaimed.

"I know," she said.

 

Council closure

Cr Dempsey summarised the challenges the area was facing while closing the meeting at 11.23am.

"We are still going through terrible drought declarations," he said.

"We hope we will be able to have some form of relief from those levels of government.

"At the end of the day people are just hoping and praying for rain, because certainly we need it.

 

Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey wished Bundaberg a Merry Christmas at the closure of the council meeting. He is pictured with Santa's helpers Morgan Everett, Claire Dobbins and Renee Dewhurst.
Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey wished Bundaberg a Merry Christmas at the closure of the council meeting. He is pictured with Santa's helpers Morgan Everett, Claire Dobbins and Renee Dewhurst.

 

 

"And today's not over, and there's certain things that could happen, particularly with fires we have in the region."

He wished Bundaberg a festive and happy Christmas and hoped to see attendees next year.

The next meeting would be held on January 21.