Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Newcastle Council: ‘democratically dysfunctional’

Newcastle Greens
23 September 2009

Greens Councillor Michael Osborne today declared Newcastle Council democratically dysfunctional, after councillors voted down a Greens proposal to open secret councillor workshops to the public and the media.

“The first year of this council has seen unprecedented use of secret, behind-closed-doors sessions between councillors and council staff, held outside the requirements of the Local Government Act,” Greens councillor Michael Osborne said today.

“In many of these sessions, issues are discussed in detail and de facto decisions are made on a nod-and-a-wink, out of the view of the public and the media – exactly what the Department says should not happen in such sessions. This practice circumvents and undermines the open government provisions in the Local Government Act.

“Last night, I proposed that the council open these sessions to the public, and incorporate workshops protocol into the council’s code of meeting practice, as recommended by the Department.

“Amazingly, a majority of Independent and Labor councillors thumbed their noses at the Department’s guidelines - only Clr Mike King (Independent) and Clr Tim Crakanthorp (Labor) voted to support my proposal (Clr Mike Jackson (Labor) was absent).

“While the council mouths empty clich├ęs about its commitment to openness and transparency, and leads the celebration of 150 years of local democracy in Newcastle, the elected council hasn’t even been prepared to observe basic democratic practices,” Clr Osborne said.

“In its first year, this council has shut down previous avenues of community input (such as Community Forums), slashed the number of publicly accessible council meetings, and increased its use of confidential sessions and informal councillor ‘briefings’.

“We haven’t seen such a closed, secretive council in Newcastle for nearly two decades.

“The public and the media are now seeing precious little information, debate or discussion in official council meetings on crucial local public policy issues, and local democracy and the public right to know are now being sacrificed in favour of secrecy.

“While some of the councillors who voted against my proposal complain about people in the community being too suspicious or negative about council, the fact is that this culture of secrecy is now the norm in the current council, and ordinary Newcastle citizens are beginning to realise this.”

Clr Osborne said that he intended to contact the Department of Local Government about his concerns, and would discuss the issue with members of the local community.

“Now that the community’s elected representatives have refused to act to protect local democracy and the public right to know, ordinary community members will have to consider what options they have to defend this,” Clr Osborne said.

“Something has to be done: people who care about democracy aren’t just going to stand by and accept this.”

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Guidelines for workshops

At the Council meeting tonight, most Councillors voted down my motion to develop guidelines about workshops, including outlining the nature and purpose of the gatherings, and the circumstances in which they will be used.

Cr Tate stated during the debate that "this argument is hardly worth having" and Cr Sharpe said when he read the motion he "felt squirmish".

What do you think?

Here's who voted that we don't need to let the public know...

And, here's who voted that we do need to let the public know...

Cr Jackson was away, but stated that he supports developing the guidelines.

Council meeting 22 September 2009

At the Council meeting tonight, Councillors considered a range of issues, including placing the draft Voluntary Planning Agreements Policy, the draft Residential Development Strategy and draft Urban Renewal Corridor Guidelines on exhibition and adopting the Port Stephens Council Section 94 Plan - Inclusion of site specific cross boundary chapter for Fern Bay and Fullerton Cove.

Council also considered my Notice of Motion to ensure transparency in Council workshops. This is what happened:


Council incorporate appropriate protocols, procedures and guidelines in its Code of Meeting Practice covering the role and conduct of workshops or other similar gatherings of councillors that draw on council resources but that occur outside the provisions of sections 9 and 10 of the Local Government Act.

That these protocols, procedures and guidelines include provisions that inter alia:

a. outline the nature and purpose of such gatherings, and the circumstances in which they will be used,

b. specify that – unless otherwise determined in accordance with adopted council policies and procedures – such workshops or gatherings will normally be open to the public and the media (as observers), and will be publicly notified on the council’s website,

c. duly recognise and give appropriate priority to the public interest, the public right to know, the responsibilities of councillors to the community, and council’s commitment to openness and accountability,

d. state and reflect this council’s commitment to openness and transparency, and

e. incorporate relevant components of Part 13 (Workshops) of the Department of Local Government’s Meetings Practice Note (No.16) of November 2005, and any other relevant advice from the Department.

Councillor Sharpe gave notice of a foreshadowed motion that being that Council reaffirms its commitment to accountability and transparency and confirms it will continue to conduct workshops based on Department of Local Government guidelines.

During discussion Councillor Claydon questioned whether there was a possibility the matter could be considered as part of the review of the Code of Meeting Practice.

Councillor Osborne indicated that he could see his motion implemented by Council by including the protocol in the current review of the Code of Meeting Practice but wouldn't accept Councillor Sharpe's foreshadowed motion because the Department of Local Government Guidelines did not outline a protocol for workshops.
Following the mover's right of reply the motion was put to the meeting and Councillor Osborne called for a division which resulted as follows:

For the motion Councillors T Crakanthorp, M King and M Osborne.
Against the motion The Lord Mayor, Councillors G Boyd, A Buman, S Claydon, S Connell, B Cook, B Luke, N Nelmes and S Sharpe.

The motion was declared defeated on the division of three votes to nine votes.

Councillor Sharpe was then asked to move his foreshadowed motion.

Council reaffirms its commitment to accountability and transparency and confirms it will continue to conduct workshops based on Department of Local Government guidelines.

The motion was put to the meeting and Councillor King called for a division which resulted as follows:

For the motion The Lord Mayor, Councillors G Boyd, A Buman, S Connell, B Cook, T Crakanthorp, M King, B Luke, N Nelmes and S Sharpe.
Against the motion Councillors S Claydon and M Osborne.

The motion was declared carried on the division of ten votes to two votes.

Council reaffirms its commitment to accountability and transparency and confirms it will continue to conduct workshops based on Department of Local Government guidelines.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Global Climate Wake-Up Call

Today, people met on several places over Newcastle as part of the Global Climate Wake-Up Call and sent a clear message to world leaders: Go to Copenhagen and act now on climate!

Coordinated with local people and, a global web movement with a simple democratic mission: to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want. “Avaaz” means “Voice” in many Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European languages.

Thanks to Kate Ross for organising the Newcastle CBD group (pictured above), Lawrie Hallinan for organising the Tighes Hill group and Bev Henwood for organising the Adamstown group.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Special Council meeting 15 September 2009

An Ordinary Council Meeting was held on Tuesday, 15 September 2009 at the United Services Club, 55 Watt Street, Newcastle, which was the first purpose-built council chambers with the first meeting in the building occurring 125 years ago.

The meeting lasted 35 minutes (perhaps a record?) and considered a Lease of Council Owned Premises Various Beach Refreshment Kiosks on Crown Reserves, the Election of Deputy Lord Mayor, the House Numbering Policy, the Conduct Review Committee, a tender for the City Wide Floodplain Risk Management Study and Plan - Stage 2, a number of Amendments to the Newcastle LEP, the Excavation and Lining of Cell 8 at Summerhill Waste Management Centre, the Processing of Concrete, Brick, tile & Rock for the Summerhill Waste Management Centre, the Investment of Temporary Surplus Funds, Councillor's, General Manager and Senior Officers Expense Registers and the IPART Revenue Framework for Local Government Draft Report.

Thanks must go to Mark Metrikas, Honorary Assistant Secretary of the United Services Club for organising the special meeting.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Let's get Australia moving on solar feed in tariffs!

A feed-in tariff is a premium rate paid for electricity produced by a renewable source such as a grid connected rooftop solar system or wind turbine, usually over and above the market rate.

National gross feed in tariff programs have been established around the world, resulting in increased uptake of solar and wind power systems by home owners and businesses.

We've waited long enough for the Australian Government to act decisively - it's time to push the issue of national gross feed in tariffs; particularly after the recent Council Of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting where principles tabled were far removed from how a feed in tariff system should operate.

Fractured and inadequate state run feed in tariff systems simply aren't good enough. They do not reward system owners suitably and do not recognise the true value that grid connected solar power systems can contribute to stimulating our economy and lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. Lend your support to a gross feed in tariff program that will actually work and make Australia a leading nation in the uptake of clean, green solar power!

Sign the on-line petition here.

To the Parliament Assembled,

Re: Renewable Energy Feed In Tariffs

We, the undersigned, request that Parliament implement a nationalised, simple and uniform renewable energy gross feed in tariff of $0.80 per kWh as soon as possible, rather than relying on individual states to develop and maintain their own systems, most of which offer far below what is required to encourage the uptake of renewable energy systems.

It is crucial that Australia implement a gross feed in tariff model over a net feed in tariff scheme. A net system will only pay on surplus electricity produced, which provides little incentive for home owners and business to make the substantial investment in solar and wind power equipment.

A gross feed in tariff program should pay a minimum of 80c per kilowatt hour of electricity generation which is fair compensation for the production of clean electricity by privately funded installations. The program should operate for at least 15 years and include an initial 6 month period whereby rebates currently in place are still available to allow the solar industry time to adjust and to stimulate uptake in these troubled economic times.

This rate and commitment will give a much needed boost to investment in and uptake of technologies much cleaner than low-emissions coal, with the added benefit of generating thousands of new jobs in the clean energy sector.

Countries such as Germany, a nation with far less solar resources than Australia, have proved the effectiveness of the gross feed in tariff model for many years. Germany now has the greatest solar power capacity in the world and has generated hundreds of thousands of renewable energy sector jobs due largely to their gross feed in tariff program. Australia is lagging far behind and as a consequence, our greenhouse gas emissions are increasing.

Australia has extensive solar resources and we should be making better use of those rather than focusing energies and investment on the long term viability of environmentally destructive coal-fired power generation.. Emissions controls such as Carbon Capture and Storage require as much as 20 percent of the electricity a power plant generates and the long term safety of such processes is still unproven.

It is only with the full support of the voting public of Australia that the Government will meet its goals of lowering greenhouse gas emissions and the people are ready to play their part if given the proper support and tools to do so. It is far better, safer and more economically viable not to produce emissions in the first place, and solar energy and wind power offer proven emissions free power generation.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

What we need to watch

When Newcastle installed the 'ClimateCam' it was a great step forward to highlight electricty consumption across the City.

But the 'ClimateCam' ignores all the other CO2 emissions (like those from transport) and is not in talking about the CO2 emissions from the electricity consumption. It is a 'ClimateCam' that ignores climate!

It is time for Newcastle to catch up in the game.

Newcastle should convert the 'ElectricityCam' into a true 'ClimateCam'.

A website has been launched to keep track of atmospheric CO2 globally, check it out here. Here's a model for Newcastle to use.

The world's top climate scientists say we need to get atmospheric CO2 levels to below 350 parts per million (ppm) - as I write this atmospheric CO2 levels are almost 386 ppm. All our governments need to put investments into a transition away from fossil fuel dependency and recognise that ‘business-as-usual’ and high risk technological fixes to unsustainable economic activity are not credible.

A just transition is needed to ensure that the costs of change do not fall on vulnerable workers and communities, or that failure to change falls on future generations.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Secret Dept of Housing Plans...

Tonight, the Department of Housing gave a presentation to your Council behind closed doors.

This is what they presented (you probably won't find this on the web anywhere else!)