A majority of Cairns Regional Council has gone against it's own recommendation, to decide how community grants are decided and dished out.
The Council Grants Policy has been changed in dramatic fashion, to deliberately exclude the community participating in the decision-making process.
Deputy Mayor Margaret Cochrane moved the motion, seconded by Robert Pyne, to adopt the new grants policy. It supersedes the existing policy that covered:-
- Sport and Recreation Grants,
- Community Development Grants,
- Arts and Cultural Grants,P
- Sport, Recreation, Community, Arts and Cultural In-Kind Assistance,
- Community Organisation Sustainability Grants,
- Community Partnership Grants;
The new assessment process for grants will be decided solely by Councillors, with the Sport and Recreation grants undertaking one final round via the Reference Group assessment this year.
This method will come down to local political alliances and what Councillor wants an organisation in their own patch to gain. The existing system was judged by an independent reference group, not dominated by Councillors. A five-level point system determined how each applicant was graded by the panel.
It was a coup for Cochrane, as the subject was discussed at a workshop prior to the meeting where they agreed the existing system was supported. However, when the motion put before last week's full Council meeting, the numbers were set up and Cochrane, Bonneau, Gregory, Blake, Cooper, and Pyne put their hand up in contradiction to the previous agreement.
Mayor Val Schier, Councillors Leu, Forsyth, Lesina and Lanskey did not support the change.
In a blast from the Byne past, Robert Pyne said that they should make such decisions, as they were elected to do so. Both Linda Cooper and Paul Gregory were silent during the discussion, yet supported the move.
"Of course we were elected to make decisions, but we listen to the community when we're making them," Val Schier told CairnsBlog.
"This is why we have the Urban Design Advisory Board, and the Indigenous Reference Group, and the cycling and walking reference group to provide advice, and the Douglas Water Reference Group, and the Youth Advisory Group," Schier said.
"We respect that people have specialist knowledge and interests. We harness their knowledge," Schier said.
Such a change in handing out grants money is at odds with community engagement when it comes to deciding financial grants, as the Deputy Mayor wants to decide who will get money.
There was a process for allocating funding, and there's always been a sports and recreation reference group, and the workshop recommended that this be continued. In addition, it was planned to form a Community Development Advisory Group that would be make up of representatives from local residents' associations. This body would then be consulted and involved about community grants.
"I would have seen the likes Fiona Tulip from Clifton Beach and Pam Bigelow from Yorkeys and others of that calibre from resident groups all over the region," Val Schier said.
Margaret Cochrane moved a motion at the last minute, with no warning, that Council not establish a Community Development Group, and abolish the Sports and Recreation Advisory Group.
"I can't belive you're saying this," Julia Leu told the meeting.
This change effectively gives control to Cochrane, who chairs the Sports and Recreation Committee. Grants will be become evaluated less on merit and more on what Councillor lobbies for their own local Tiddly Winks Pensioners Association.
I urge Robert Pyne to call a rescission motion at the next meeting, and return to the community values he professes so strongly. Robert proudly waves a big community consultation flag, so this decision seems at odds.
The new Local Government Act says that all Councils must develop a new community plan.
"It's all about community engagement," Val Schier says. "It's all about the community being informed and having open and transparent information. These are the things we're meant to be moving towards and they shut the door on that."
"It was shocking, unbelievable," Schier says about the dumping of the community reference group.
The opportunity to set up a Community group would have been a strong arm to Council and been able to used as a valuable conduit with the community.
I hope they come to their senses.