Saturday, 26 June 2010

Institute seen as smart for region

From The Herald...

PLANS to establish an institute for energy and resources in the old BHP laboratories at Shortland were described yesterday as a significant boost to research and development in the region.

The federal government announced yesterday it would provide $30 million to Newcastle University for the $42 million project.

State Minister for the Hunter Jodi McKay said the institute would play a key role in running the recently announced, $100 million Smart Grid Smart City project in Newcastle.

"It will have the potential to make a real and substantial contribution to sustainable energy use on both a national and global scale," she said.

Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Peter Shinnick said it was huge news when combined with the new, $90 million Hunter Medical Research Institute building, which is set to open in the grounds of John Hunter Hospital in 2012.

"It's created quite an interesting hub of research and development activity in the Hunter," he said.

"That attracts industry and that attracts business to the Hunter."

Newcastle Greens councillor Michael Osborne said it was a great opportunity to be at the forefront of renewable technology research, but said carbon storage research was a "waste of time" because the process was "never going to be cost-effective".

The general manager of Corky's Carbon Consultancy in Mayfield, David Cook, used to work at the BHP laboratories and welcomed the site's addition to the university.

He said the institute would complement the commercial field and help train people to work in the private sector.

"We've got to get smarter as a country and smarter as a region," he said.

"The more research we can do in town the better."

Friday, 25 June 2010

PM Gillard's first climate challenge: Cancel brown coal export deal to Vietnam

Prime Minister Gillard has been presented with an immediate challenge to show leadership on climate change, with Trade Minister Simon Crean due to formalise an agreement to export massively polluting brown coal to Vietnam in Melbourne this afternoon.

The Prime Minister must step in, cancel this deal immediately and instruct her Trade Minister to focus on export deals for renewable energy technology instead.

"You cannot be serious about climate action if you are willing to open up a whole new massively polluting export industry," said Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne.

"Prime Minister Gillard has the opportunity to stamp her climate leadership on this government and cancel the deal to export brown coal before it is signed, telling her Trade Minister to focus on export deals that will help the climate, not hurt it.

"Brown coal is the most polluting fuel we have. Pumping energy into transforming it into the equivalent of black coal will only increase pollution at home and overseas.

"We simply cannot afford to open up a whole new polluting export industry. Every tonne of this coal burned in Vietnam will come back to bite us with worse bushfires, drought, floods and more.

"One of the key climate failures of governments around Australia and the world has been to see one arm of government cancelling out the efforts of others.

"What use is working with Minister Wong to pass the bill to fix the Renewable Energy Target yesterday if Ministers Crean and Ferguson are going to more than cancel out the greenhouse benefits the next day?

"I and Senator Brown look forward to working constructively with Prime Minister Gillard and her government to get Australia moving forward on climate action."

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Labor must seize new climate change opportunity, say Greens

Newcastle Greens
24 June 2010

Today’s change in leadership gives the federal Labor government a new opportunity to take real action on climate change before the federal election, according to the Greens federal candidate for Newcastle, Michael Osborne.

“The political rot set in for Mr Rudd at the time he turned his back on what he called the great moral challenge of his generation,” Mr Osborne said.

“The crucial early test of Ms Gillard’s leadership will be how she seizes this new opportunity to respond to the challenge of climate change.

“I know that many voters in Newcastle were disillusioned with Kevin Rudd’s failure to take real action on climate change, and will be looking to Ms Gillard to pick up the pieces, and to work with The Greens to develop an effective national scheme to limit carbon emissions.

“Today’s change in leadership gives Labor just one last chance before the federal election to do this,” Mr Osborne said.

“Before the next federal election, Ms Gillard needs to announce a clear, science-based strategy based on rigorous but achievable emission reduction targets and economic restructuring packages that will help Australia and the Hunter Valley move away coal dependence and toward a more ecologically sustainable economy.”

“Federal Labor also needs to stand firm on the proposed super-profits tax on public owned non-renewable resources, which can help ensure that the Australian community gets a fairer share from the one-off use of these public assets.

“The super-profits tax is sound policy, and should be used to provide valuable public infrastructure and funding for economic restructuring in mining-affected regional economies, such as the Hunter,” Mr Osborne said.

“The super-profits tax offers the opportunity to create jobs through an investment in a sustainable future, and Labor needs to carry through with it, and not bow yet again to the pressure of large vested interests, many of whom donate to the Labor Party,” Mr Osborne said.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Newcastle rates system to stay

From The Herald...

NEWCASTLE will retain the status quo when it comes to levying rates, despite concerns about favouring the rich and burdening the poor.

The scheme will calculate residential property levies in 2010-11 using a 50 per cent base rate, with the remainder dependent on land value.

This system was introduced in 2009-10 and councillors voted 7-4 last night to retain it.

It means the average rates bill in Newcastle for the coming financial year will be $918.40, for those properties with the city's average land value of $208,598.

Newcastle City Council is applying a 2.6 per cent rates increase, in line with the state government cap.

Councillors attempted unsuccessfully last night to alter the civic system, to address what some viewed as an imbalance between rich and poor.

Cr Michael Osborne suggested basing rates entirely on land value, with a $603 minimum rate.

"Sixty-four per cent of households will be better off with an ad valorem minimum," he said.

His colleagues did not support the idea.

Cr Mike Jackson called for a scheme with 75 per cent of rates calculated on land value and a 25 per cent base amount.

"What we're neglecting councillors is marginal working families," he said of the 50-50 rates structure.

"They have mortgage stress . . . water's going up, power's going up . . . but we can't cut them a break with rates.

"Lower value properties will be paying more rates.

"They're the people who can least afford to be paying more."

Cr Brad Luke, who supported the 50-50 scheme, said other options would tax people whose land value might have gone up because they lived in a popular area.

"Simply putting such a large burden on those people I think is completely unfair," he said.

Under the 50-50 system, land valued at $1,000,000 will be levied $2660.58 in rates and a $100,000 property $679.34. With a 75-25 scheme, the $1,000,000 property would pay $3531.66 and the $100,000 lot $559.81.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Greens commit to referendum for local government

The Australian Greens will move for an amendment to section 96 of the Constitution - the section which sets out that the Commonwealth may grant financial assistance to the states on such terms and conditions as it thinks fit - to add the words ‘and local government'.

Addressing the Australian Local Government Association National General Assembly today Senator Brown said that recognising local government in the Constitution is ALP policy and was a promise made by Mr. Rudd in the 2007 election campaign.

"But there's been no action," said Senator Brown.

"At the start of the next period of Government, the Greens will present a bill to the Senate for this referendum.

"Previous attempts, in 1974 and 1988, to have the status of local government recognised through a referendum failed because of the confusing nature of the questions put to the Australian voters."

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Anti-rail group fixing to kill Hunter St businesses

Newcastle Greens
3 June 2010

Newcastle Greens today warned Newcastle businesses that the plan advocated by anti-rail lobby group Fix Our City would kill city businesses that rely on loading zones and turnover car-parking along Hunter St.

Newcastle Greens Councillor Michael Osborne said that presenters from Fix Our City who briefed Newcastle City councillors on Tuesday night confirmed that they wanted the Hunter Development Corporation’s Revitalisation Report adopted in its entirety.

“As its alternative to the rail line, the HDC plan advocates a busway along Hunter St that would eliminate loading zones and hundreds of turnover car parking spaces on which already struggling Hunter St businesses depend for their survival,” Councillor Osborne said.

“This is graphically illustrated on page 80 of the HDC report that Fix Our City is backing,” Councillor Osborne said. [see included graphics from the HDC Report]

Councillor Osborne said that he was concerned that the Fix Our City representatives who spoke to Newcastle Council on Tuesday night appeared to be unaware of this implication of the HDC report that they were supporting, despite Newcastle businesses constantly identifying the availability of car parking in the city as a major priority for them.

“They had no real answer to my question about this obvious impact on local businesses of the HDC’s proposed busway – which is surprising from a group that purports to be representing business interests in the city. Since Fix Our City agrees with the HDC’s proposed busway as the replacement for the rail line, you’d expect that they would be have examined the potential impacts of that proposal on businesses in the area of the city that most need revitalisation,” Councillor Osborne said.

“But it was evident on Tuesday night that they hadn’t even considered this potential impact.

“I’m concerned that the vested interests who have been campaigning to cut the Newcastle rail line for two decades are so obsessed with their anti-rail campaign that they haven’t stopped to consider the real implications of the HDC report for city businesses,” he said.

“Obviously, if they aren’t even aware of this aspect of the HDC report, they haven’t made the businesses along Hunter St aware of it either.

“Neither the HDC nor the Fix Our City lobby have any answer to how they would solve this problem for the already struggling businesses along Hunter St, or where the extra and replacement car parking and loading zone spaces that would be required would be found.

“Perhaps the answer is hidden on page 55 of the HDC Report, which lists parking and standing for service vehicles under “possible future uses of the rail corridor”? Councillor Osborne said.

“I’m sure Hunter St businesses wouldn’t be very impressed with that.

“This is just one of the many issues arising from the HDC’s now widely discredited anti-rail proposal.

“The Hunter Development Corporation’s cut-the-rail plan is an unsustainable, outmoded, road-based strategy that will increase the relative share of car trips into the city, increasing car-parking demand, at the same time as decreasing already scarce car-parking spaces.

“The state government has made it clear that nothing will happen without federal funding, and it’s simply unthinkable that a federal government that claims it is committed to sustainable urban development would provide public money to cut a rail line.

“As Professor Peter Newman (board member of Infrastructure Australia) told us on a recent visit to the city, to win federal infrastructure and revitalisation funding, Newcastle needs a plan based on robust evidence and research (unlike the now discredited HDC report), and capable of gaining a community consensus.

“This is what the Gold Coast did, and it’s what Newcastle could do too if the local anti-rail lobby would just drag themselves into the 21st century, stop their silly, destructive, negative, self-interested and deceptive push to cut the Newcastle rail line, and put the interests of the city first.

“If they did this, the Newcastle community could come together behind a plan for revitalising the city and for developing a 21st century public transport system based on rail.

“If they don’t, Newcastle is likely once again to miss out on federal revitalisation funding, and yet another chance will be lost on the rocks of negativity and self-interest.

“The fact is that the anti-rail campaign and their naysaying attitude to the city’s rail line has now become the greatest barrier to Newcastle’s revitalisation,” Councillor Osborne said.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

HDC vision for Hunter St

The HDC report wants no car parks down Hunter St...

Hunter St now

HDC's Hunter St

(from page 80 of the report)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Lord Mayor censured

From tonight's council meeting...


Councillor Sharpe moved a procedural motion to deal with Item 64 before Item 62.

PROCEDURAL MOTION MOTION: (COUNCILLORS S SHARPE/B LUKE) That item 64 - Empire Park Bar Beach - Skate Park Facility / Bat Ball Court be brought forward subject to public interest in the gallery.

The procedural motion was put to the meeting and declared defeated.

1 Council receives the report.

2 Council find the Lord Mayor has breached sections 7.2, 7.3, 7.13 and 7.18 of Council’s Code of Conduct in relation to his failure to adequately disclose and manage a non pecuniary conflict of interests with Almona Pty Limited and companies and persons related to Almona Pty Limited.

3 Council censure the Lord Mayor for that breach.

Councillor Crakanthorp addressed the meeting and exceeded his time limit.

Councillor Buman requested an extension of one minute to Councillor Crakanthorp's address.

Councillor Crakanthorp's address be extended for one minute.

Councillor Osborne gave notice of a foreshadowed motion, that being the recommendation from the General Manager to defer the matter to allow the Lord Mayor and his advisors to comment on the supplementary report from the Sole Reviewer.

The Lord Mayor indicated that when the vote was taken on this item he would step down from the Chair.

The Lord Mayor proceeded to read a prepared statement to the meeting. The Lord Mayor requested that the prepared statement read in his address be recorded in the minutes.

The Lord Mayor exceeded his time limit of three minutes.

Councillor Buman sought an extension of time.

The Lord Mayor be granted an extension of time.

Following further reading of the statement from the Lord Mayor, and a point of order raised by Councillor Buman, the Lord Mayor moved an extension of one minute.

The Lord Mayor be granted an extension of time.

During his address, the Lord Mayor and Councillor Cook moved for a further extension of half a minute.

The Lord Mayor be granted half minute extension.

The procedural motion was put to the meeting and a show of hands was requested which resulted as follows:
For the motion: 5
Against the motion: 7

The procedural motion was declared defeated on the result of five votes to seven votes.

The Lord Mayor's statement read as follows:

"Unfortunately notwithstanding the dictates of natural justice I have not been afforded the opportunity to respond to the supplementary report of the Code of Conduct Reviewer prior to that report being provided to other Councillors.

I have also not been afforded the courtesy of a copy of the original report provided by the Code of Conduct Reviewer nor the brief provided to the Reviewer.

Given that the supplementary report of the Code of Conduct Reviewer has now issued, I am obliged to respond to that report.

The Code of Conduct Reviewer has come to the conclusion that I have breached the Code of Conduct as it applies to Newcastle City Council. For a number of reasons which are set out below I do not agree with that conclusion. The Code of Conduct Reviewer indicates that the Code of Conduct places onus on the individual to decide whether a conflict of interest exists.

The Code of Conduct Reviewer acknowledges that I disclosed to Council the fact of a donation made in the 2007 State Election Campaign by a company, which company is related to the applicant in the matter before Council.

Accordingly I complied with the Code of Conduct in making that deliberation.

The Code of Conduct Reviewer even when presented with the opportunity to do so does not provide any detail of the manner in which such disclosure is alleged to be inconsistent with the Code of Conduct or indeed unsatisfactory.

The form of disclosure is consistent with the disclosures made from time to time by other councillors (and I've got copies Councillors if you would like to read your disclosures).

The Code of Conduct Reviewer then goes on to say that I did not manage the non-pecuniary interest that I disclosed to the Council meeting.

Unfortunately once again the Code of Conduct Reviewer, having had the opportunity of preparing two reports, does not explain the manner in which I fail to manage the disclosure that I made a the relevant Council meetings.

One would expect that as the Code of Conduct Review indicates that it is for the individual to decide whether a conflict of interest exists and that in order to find that a conflict of interest does exist, and has not been properly managed, the Reviewer should clearly indicate the manner in which the disclosure is not sufficient or the manner in which any alleged conflict has not been properly managed.

As a result of this matter arising I have sought legal advice from my own advisors and from an independent Barrister. These legal advisors are to the effect that the report of the Code of Conduct Reviewer is flawed.

They have also supported in the stance in respect of this matter by an opinion from a well respected Local Government commentator. The prominent Local Government commentator, having reviewed all the material, was of the opinion that a reasonable person properly informed as required by the Code of Conduct, would be most unlikely to conclude that I would be likely to have been influenced in any way by the circumstances arising from this matter.

The prominent Local Government commentator also raises the issue that if a councillor is to be criticised for a lack of management or any perceived conflict of interest then the Reviewer should at least specify the steps that he says should be taken.

It would have been easier for me to decline to participate in the decision making process which has been the subject of the Code of Conduct report, however, as an elected Councillor there are a number of issues which have to be considered when making such decisions.

Councillors have roles and responsibilities bestowed on them by the Local Government Act. These roles and responsibilities include as a member of the Governing body of the Council to direct and control the affairs of the Council and as an elected person to represent the interests of residents and ratepayers and to provide leadership and guidance to the community.

It would be wrong for a councillor to use the Code of Conduct to avoid shouldering a burden of these roles and responsibilities. It is also wrong for any persons who may not agree with the decision that a councillor makes to endeavour to use the Code of Conduct to force a councillor out of the decision making process simply because they perceive that a councillor might not support their particular view.

My initial decision to allow the matter to be released to the public for consideration is consistent with the ideals of community consultation and allowing the community to have input into the decision making process of the Council in respect of matters which could be of significant impact upon the community. It must be concluded that persons who lodged the complaints which led to the Reviewer's review, were persons who were opposed to the development of the Maryville markets but who were not willing to allow the community as a whole to express the community's view on such development.

Once elected councillors are responsible for the whole of the community and Local Government area, not part thereof. These people sought to disenfranchise the wider community. The issue which is highlighted is that when a small number of persons are dissatisfied with a decision, that small number of persons are able to lodge complaints against a councillor.

As was indicated in the address by former Commissioner, Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, the Honourable Jerrold Cripps, he said "it unfortunately is the case that in Local Government when people do not get the outcome they want from local council, their first, not all but mostly first response, is that council must be corrupt and therefore identify the corruption reference of a conflict of interest".

Given the circumstances in which the complaints arose on 4 May 2010, the comments made by certain councillors when this matter first came before the Council and in particular that when considering the report of the Code of Conduct Reviewer certain councillors took the opportunity to raise during discussion issues which were not only not relevant to the report of the Code of Conduct Reviewer but have not formed any part of any complaint clearly indicates that the comments of his Honour Justice Cripps have strong relevance and that this whole exercise has all the hallmarks of a political witch hunt.

Indeed the comments made by certain councillors amount to pre-judgement of the sort referred to in the case McGovern versus Ku-ring-gai Council as noted by Justice Cripps in his address. Indeed I have also been accused of endeavouring to influence other councillors to support the view that I took at the Council meeting, the subject of the complaints made to Council.

I challenge any person to bring forward any evidence that I endeavoured to influence any other councillor to either exercise their vote in a particular manner or not attend at the Council meeting on the night the matter was considered." Following the mover's right of reply the Lord Mayor stepped down and requested the Deputy Lord Mayor to take the chair. The Lord Mayor requested the Deputy Lord Mayor to take the vote by division.

The Deputy Lord Mayor put the motion to the meeting and called for a division which resulted as follows:

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

The Deputy Lord Mayor declared the motion carried on the division of ten votes to two votes.

1 Council receives the report.

2 Council find the Lord Mayor has breached sections 7.2, 7.3, 7.13 and 7.18 of Council’s Code of Conduct in relation to his failure to adequately disclose and manage a non pecuniary conflict of interests with Almona Pty Limited and companies and persons related to Almona Pty Limited.

3 Council censure the Lord Mayor for that breach.

Censure rejected

The story so far...

Council considered the report from the Code of Conduct Reviewer tonight (an account is given below).

This follows from:
  • The anonymous complaint dated 19 February 2010, see here and here and here
  • My response to the reviewer's letter dated 6 March 2010, see here and here
  • On 14 March 2010, the NSW Greens State Delegates Council supported my concerns, see here
  • In the week leading up to Easter I receive the "draft" CoC report and send in my reply (though not a single word of the "draft" report gets changed), see here
  • The CoC report to comes to Council on 20 April 2010 recommending censure (not a bad turnaround given Council’s meeting cycles), with councillors deciding to lie the matter on the table until after the result of the court appeal is known, see here
  • District Court decision on 27 April 2010, allowing our appeal against the decision of the magistrate and quashing the decision of the magistrate fining each of us and dismissing the charge without conviction pursuant to section 10 of the crimes sentencing procedure act 1999.
  • The report comes back to Council on 1 June 2010, see below

From tonight's council meeting...


1 Council find Councillor Osborne has breached clauses 6.1(c) and 6.2 of Council’s Code of Conduct, in that he was arrested on 20 December and subsequently found guilty of trespass.

2 Council censure Councillor Osborne for that breach.

The Lord Mayor asked the General Manager to clarify the Court's decision in relation to Councillor Osborne's appeal.

The General Manager indicated that the outcome of the appeal was a "section 10" as circulated to Councillors by memorandum this afternoon.

The Lord Mayor further asked the General Manager to outline "section 10".

The General Manager read from the memorandum circulated to Councillors on 1 June 2010:

• that the court found Councillor Osborne guilty of the offences but directed that the relevant charges be dismissed under section10(1)(a) of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW) (Act); and

• the Court quashed the monetary orders.

The Lord Mayor sought further clarification as to whether a charge was recorded as the charge had been quashed by Court.

The General Manager referred Council to the wording in the memorandum dated 1 June 2010.

Councillor Osborne made reference to a letter the General Manager received after the commencement of the Economy and Civic Assets and Governance Strategic Themes Committee meeting, which started at 5.31pm on 1 June 2010, from the Environmental Defenders Office Ltd regarding the circulation of the memorandum dated 1 June 2010 and subsequent possible breach of section 13(1) of the Criminal Records Act 1991.

Councillor Osborne said the letter stated that through circulation of the aforementioned memorandum the General Manager may have aided and abetted in the commission of an offence.

Councillor Osborne stated that in his view the General Manager's memorandum dated 1 June 2010 and the Code of Conduct reviewer's report contained factual errors

Councillor Buman moved an extension of one minute.

Councillor Osborne be granted one extra minute.

At the end of his address, Councillor Osborne asked the Lord Mayor if he would take the vote by division and indicated that he would leave the Chamber.

At this stage of the meeting, Councillor Osborne left the Chamber.

The motion was then put to the meeting and the Lord Mayor called for a division which resulted as follows:

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

The motion was declared defeated on the division of five votes to six votes.

Councillor Osborne returned to the Chamber at the conclusion of this item.