Thursday, 7 February 2008

The Death Throes of Mareeba Shire - Part 2

CairnsBlog contributing writer and candidate for Tablelands Regional Council Divison 8, Sid Walker, further unravels the mystery of Mareeba Shire Council's 'special meeting'

I was chatting to a friend yesterday who also read the minutes of the Mareeba Shire Council’s notorious Special Meeting, a meeting already discussed in CairnsBlog here and in Part 1 of this series.

He remarked that Myola might have been a distraction from the main business of the day.


While You Weren’t Watching

That may be an overstatement, but it’s certainly true that other matters of enormous significance to Tablelands residents were resolved by that closed meeting.

Like a great conjuror, Mayor Borzi performed this magic while punters like me were fixated on his pet frog.
Before Myola was even mentioned in the Special Meeting, Council had already approved EIGHTY amendments to the Mareeba Shire Planning Scheme. The 80th of these itself contains 20 specific sub-amendments.

That’s lotza zoning changes all around this vast Shire – one a minute? Fast work guys!

Perhaps most of these 100+ changes to the Scheme were well-considered, thoughtful improvements to zoning in the many different parts of this ‘Shire of Diversity’? That is possible – and I imagine the Mayor may say something like it when he next surfaces for the media. But is it likely? You tell me.

I’d thought Council’s discussions about Myola inadequate, because it hadn’t fully considered public submissions. But compared with these revisions to the Mareeba Shire Planning Scheme, Myola was a model of due process. At least the public were invited to comment about Myola - even though our submissions fell into a black hole.

In the case of the 100+ revisions amendments to the Shire Planning Scheme throughout the Shire, there appears to have been no public notification or open public process at all. Perhaps we missed that too?


Cassowaries and Toxic Kids

These numerous rezonings are hard to decipher. One needs more information to make sense of what they mean, who benefits and the rationale in each case. That, needless to say, is not in the minutes.

A few decisions stand out.

Kuranda folk will be particularly concerned about a large swathe of blocks between Black Mountain Road and the Barron River that have been rezoned as ‘rural residential’. That, unless I’m mistaken, is not only attractive forested river-frontage. It is also prime Cassowary habitat.

Another tidbit. All height restrictions have been removed throughout the shire.

Why? What can they have in mind? Is it high-rise at Speewah, a rocket base at Dimbulah or a Big Frog on Myola heights? The mind boggles. Maybe it’s a great idea, whatever it is… but how about canvassing community opinion first?

Items 65 & 73 “extend the Noxious, Offensive and Hazardous Industry zone and Future Residential zone as indicated on Map No. 7”.

That's nice! Just the clean, green image we are trying to build in this area with its rich agricultural and tourism assets. In this case, a map is provided, which also indicates that a new future residential area will be adjacent to “noxious, offensive and hazardous industries”.

Perhaps the children who grow up there will glow in the dark? It could become a new curiosity for tourists visiting the Shire of Diversity, like vanishing forests and extinct wildlife.
Was it Legal?

Did Mareeba Shire Council break the law when passing so many significant amendments to the planning scheme at an unadvertised Council meeting, held in secret, following what appears to have been no public process whatsoever?

I’ve spent a few days working on this now, and I still haven’t got a definitive answer. The more I look into the Local Government Act and Integrated Planning Act, the more loopholes I find...

At this stage, the most I can say is that if it IS legal to behave like this, then the legislation governing local Councils in Queensland is a joke.

If it ISN'T legal - how about the State Government enforcing the law?

Only two things about Mareeba Shire Council cheer me up.

First, it will be extinct in less than six weeks, even in the worst possible case.

Second, it doesn’t have an army.


Captain Bligh to the Rescue!

Even so, judging by what this extraordinary crew did in its Special meeting in 125 minutes, six weeks is way too long to wait for relief.

The Bligh Government – especially Planning Minister Lucas and Local Government Minister Pitt - must surely have known that rogue Councils might try to race through unpopular proposals and outrageous decisions before the curtain falls in mid-March. Around here, at any rate, the State Labor Government is starting to look flat-footed.

From the perspective of the new post-amalgamation Council, what’s happening is alarming. A string of last minute decisions by the Borzi Council could set up the new Tablelands Regional Council for substantial compensation in cases where ill considered last-minute decisions simply must be overturned in the public interest. That may be a conscious strategy.

Mareeba Shire Council met again on Tuesday, February 5th. I was unable to obtain the agenda the day before. I’m told the minutes will be available soon. That’s Democracy, Mareeba Shire Council-style. Not exactly world best practice :-)
Incidentally, I notice the minutes of the notorious Special meeting recorded that “the aforementioned minutes were confirmed on 5 February 2008.” I read that on February 2nd!

Was it a typo? Does Council habitually record approval of its minutes in advance? In a moment of paranoia, I wondered if the Borzi Council has built a time machine? In that case, we really are in trouble. Five and a half weeks could become an eternity…


The Big Sleep

There’s another very large story here. It’s a story that few ever speak about – especially candidates for political office. It’s the story of the story-tellers. Where is the so-called mainstream media on this?

As far as I can see, there hasn’t been a single report about the Mareeba Shire Planning Scheme revisions in any of Rupert Murdoch’s local newspapers that regularly cover Mareeba news – the Cairns Post, the Tablelands Advertiser and the Tablelander.
Could it be the editors decided to bury the story? Are they an integral part of the Mushroom Treatment machine? Surely not.

And yet, I know at least some of the journalists working for these papers knew about the Mareeba Shire Planning Scheme revisions days ago. So why aren’t their newspapers telling the public? The truth will forever be hard to find while a de facto print media monopoly is in deep slumber – or pretending to be asleep.

Cynics sometimes describe the scores of Murdoch-owned newspapers around Australia as little more than PR for big business, the war machine and the local development lobby. Personally, I think that’s a very vulgar accusation.

Surely the North Queensland News Limited press will prove the cynics wrong? They have an opportunity to do so right now.

A AAA Rating for Mareeba

I feel like an innocent who tentatively lifted a manhole cover that was emitting a rank odor. Instead of a small hole and a bit of muck, I find myself exploring vast chasms and noxious rivers. The deeper I descend, the worse it gets.

What’s been uncovered here – mainly just from reading the latest Council minutes with a critical mind - goes beyond minor bad practice. It’s hard to find the right word for it, so I’ll settle for one that rarely attracts litigation. I’ll call it lunacy.

The answer to this lunacy?

The answer is the Bligh Government, which should assign Mareeba Shire Triple A status:

- A is for Anna Bligh’s personal Attention.
- A is for taking Action – ASAP!
- A is for putting in an Administrator

I trust also that Ministers will find a way to nullify resolutions of the notorious Special Meeting, should it be confirmed that they were made contrary to law.

Perhaps CairnsBlog readers would care to write to Premier Anna Bligh, GPO Box 611, Brisbane QLD 4001.

Even better, email her at mailto:premier@qld.gov.au. It won’t take long. Why not do it now?

If you’re feeling cautious, just tell her you're that you’re appalled by the recent behaviour of Mareeba Shire Council - and urge her to take the ‘appropriate action’.

If you’re feeling like me, I suggest you ask Anna Bligh to sack the Mareeba Council and nullify the decisions of its Special Meeting on January 29th.

That’s really all you need to say.


Coming Soon - Part 3

Sacking a Council and overturning its decisions happens rarely – and that’s exactly as it should be. No-one want to see everything run from Brisbane or Canberra. No-one wants local government that’s cowed and timid. Only clear evidence of entrenched gross misconduct are sufficient grounds for dismissal.

I believe that in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I’ve already established that the Mareeba Shire Council has acted in a disturbingly undemocratic, furtive, biased, irrational and irresponsible manner on various matters of considerable public interest.

By the time she gets your emails, Anna Bligh will probably be better briefed than you are yet. She’ll know even more about why the Borzi Council simply has to go. She’ll have an idea of what's in Part 3 of this series.

Like the local News Ltd papers, some members of her Government know rather more about Mareeba Shire Council and its outrageous behaviour that they have so far chosen to tell.

You’ll find out what I mean in a couple of days, if you read the next article in this series on CairnsBlog when it’s published.

The mainstream media may still pip us at the post on this story, but if past experience is any guide, it’s a fairly safe bet you’ll read it first in CairnsBlog.

Stay tuned.

6 comments:

Tony Hillier said...

Reading Sid's disturbing reports — and other recent postings on the blog — one can only feel contempt for local mainstream media. Even allowing for the fact that the Cairns Post is staffed by cadets and has an overtly commercial agenda, its coverage of local issues is pathetic. And it has the hide to up the price of its Saturday edition!

Anonymous said...

I suggest you read Schedule 1 of the Integrated Planning Act 1997.

Mareeba Shire Council has not adopted either the proposed Myola amendments or the proposed General Scheme amendments.

The resolution relating to Myola appears to be in accordance with the requirements of Part 2 Section 16 of Schedule 1. This is a decision to proceed with the amendments following consideration of the public submissions under Part 2 Section 14 of Schedule 1.

These amendments now need to be returned to the State Government for further consideration under Part 2 Section 18 of Schedule 1.

The Myola amendments have not reached PART 3 - ADOPTION STAGE.

As for the General amendments, the resolution is simply the first step of the Schedule 1 process. These PROPOSED amendments have not even progressed to the first State Interest Review.

IF they get past the first State Interest Review, they WILL BE PUBLICLY NOTIFIED and any person may make a submission.

Again, I suggest you read the Integrated Planning Act 1997 and make the necessary corrections to you blog.

Syd Walker said...

It is useful that our ‘anon’ legal expert has provided copious amounts of detail about the workings of the Integrated Planning Act as he/she understands it.

It would be more useful, needless to say, if his/her post was not anon. In any event he/she may well be right. It may well be that the amendments to the Planning Scheme resolved by Mareeba Shire Council did not formally require consultation as they were the initial stage in a process where later consultation was required.

No correction to the article is merited because I did not claim that the actions of Council where it passed the amendment were unlawful.

I said I didn't know. I asked a question which unfortunately, despite some efforts I had been unable to resolve at the time of publishing the article.

I considered waiting until that and other points of detail were resolved. However, by the time Part 2 of my story was published on CairnsBlog, 8 days had already past since Council had decided on suggesting many radical amendments to the Mareeba Shire Planning Scheme.

To my knowledge, no other print media had bothered to follow up this story and report on it to the public.

Eight days is a very long time for people in this area to learn about these proposals from Council, even if they don't have the immediate force of law.

I therefore decided to go public with what I knew, rather than wait any longer.

Your anon legal advice is a contribution to this debate, and I thank you for it.

Irrespective of whether Council’s resolution was legally conducted and irrespective of weather Council's amendments to the Planning Scheme have the force of law, it was still in my view, utterly outrageous for the Borzi Council to suggest major amendments to the Planning Scheme without first canvassing the views of the community as a whole.

Who's idea were the 100+ amendments? Why should only Council and Council insiders have a right to set off on this first stage of amending the Planning Scheme without the views of the general community being sought?

Had the nature of the amendments not been so controversial, I as a resident of the Shire would not be so concerned to bring this matter to the public's attention.

However as my article indicated several amendments were highly controversial and I could produce more examples of items proposed by Council which I believe many people in the 21st century would find shocking.

Incidentally, do you usually provide detailed legal advice without putting your name to it?

Farctman said...

Tony Hillier: And the Barfly was such a beacon of journalistic excellence under your editorship? LOL.

But at least the old Barfly could not be accused of having an overtly commercial agenda -- it went broke!

Tony Hillier said...

Dear fartman (sic),

One of the reasons the old Blowie went to the wall was because advertising revenue previously provided by Cairns City Council and agencies was withdrawn as a direct consequence of us having the temerity to run a weekly council surveillance column (It offered mild criticism compared to some of the Cairns Blog postings, incidentally, but was frowned upon by the mayor and his cronies, who first tried to bully us into submission and then kicked us in the solar plexus by withdrawing advertising). Interestingly, when Council Watch questioned why one full council meeting was stopped mid-flow to acknowledge the presence of one Tom Hedley in the gallery, we also ceased to receive advertising from the latter's pubs.

We never claimed that Barfly was "a beacon of journalistic excellence" but we at least did our best to shine a torch — with strictly limited resources, I might add.

At least we attempted to address a variety of significant issues, not only local issues, but also national and international issues (hopefully with a modicum of intelligence, integrity and humour), in addition to covering the local arts and entertainment scene.

I never ceased to be amazed (and humbled) by the number of people who, even a couple of years after its dmise, tell me the place isn't the same without the old Blowie

Anonymous said...

Thanks for passing that information on, Tony. I used to read "Council Watch" and wondered what happened.
One of the councillors recently told me that Byrne controls Council meetings. He has the microphone control and if any of the Councillors say anything he doesn't like or he just wants to shut them up, he then turns off the microphone. The councillor who told me didn't seem to see it as controlling behaviour.