The newly formed state government department tasked to advise and manage rural lands on behalf of landowners has been forced to apologise to members after letters were sent with wrong and missing information.
Local Land Services (LLS) blamed administration errors for the mistakes, which saw the election postal ballot package to members containing the wrong information for three candidates and the omission of a ‘holding number’, which assists in identifying and registering members hoping to enrol.
And the missing holding number appears to be a statewide flub, after the media spokesperson at head office in Tamworth confirmed it with The Echo.
But it remains unclear what, if any statewide response was made to the mistake.
Byron Shire rural landowner Alan Goldstein told The Echo that when he received the LLS election pack, it was ‘structured in a way to maximise the ways you could turn your vote into an informal one’, and that without careful examination, there are ‘numerous ways you could make a small mistake or omission.’
Goldstein says that more people will be disenfranchised with LSS, ‘because they will not bother to telephone to get their number.’
‘The office person said their office thought this process was being severely mishandled.’
Local Land Services (LLS) replaced the Livestock Health and Pest Authority (LHPA) and Catchment Management Authority (CMA) from the start of the year and was calling on landowners to enrol to vote on a new board.
MP controls board
And, like previous incarnations, Goldstein says, ‘LSS beginning to look as if it will continue in the tradition of not actually producing any real outcomes for the money it collects while performing its functions in an entirely unprofessional way.’
‘The problem with making such criticisms is that it only seems to lead to another review and name change with no real difference occurring.’
Further criticism of the LSS is that the NSW minister for primary industries controls 58 per cent of the vote, effectively negating any democratic accountability.
But a spokesperson for NSW minister for primary industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, told The Echo that, ‘it was appropriate’ that the minister controls the board.
‘The funding base is one-third from the ratepayer, while two-thirds of the funding comes from federal and state government.
‘It’s important the minister has a say on how the board runs.’
When asked if he was aware of the statewide mailout blunder, the spokesperson said he wasn’t.
So what will the Local Land Services do for rural landowners?
While specifics are vague, the new government body claims it will bring together ‘agricultural production advice, biosecurity, natural resource management and emergency management.’ As for accountability, LSS uses language on its website such as ‘administering, developing, implementing, delivery, communicating, consulting and engaging,’ while they are also ‘preparing State Strategic Plans and Local Strategic Plans.’
Education and training will also be part of their services, but comes without further explanation. For more visit www.lls.nsw.gov.au or the class action against it: llsclassaction.com.
A voluntary contribution from Belongil landowners affected by beach erosion is the latest plan by Byron Council to help pay for the remaining amount needed for a rock wall that would cover the last stretch of private and public beachfront in the area.
The topic of ‘interim beach access stabilisation works’ again divided the Greens voting bloc at Council’s meeting on Thursday, with Cr Rose Wanchap siding with Crs Diane Woods, Sol Ibrahim, Alan Hunter and Chris Cubis to support funding the rock wall from an environmental levy.
But if the Belongil landowners come to the party, the estimated $155,000 from the levy may not be needed.
Cr Ibrahim told The Echo that after meeting all the landowners recently, they were open to negotiations and are looking at ways to maintain beach frontage (as rock walls are known to erode beach frontage).
While conceding it isn’t cheap, Cr Ibrahim said, ‘there are other beachfront areas all over the world with rock walls that have been engineered to also have beach frontage’.
He also challenged the argument that all Belongil landowners are required to have removable houses in case of a severe storm, as per a 1980s agreement with Council. ‘Some are not subject to the 1980s Council agreement because they bought before that agreement,’ he said.
Regardless, a foreshadowed motion will see Council wait for legal advice, which is due in a few weeks, and would be considered prior to tenders being called (Crs Cubis, Woods and Hunter voted against).
It’s advice that mayor Simon Richardson says was recommended by a panel of experts in coastal management, who recently met with Council.
A staff recommendation that funds from an environmental levy be used to fund the project dominated much of the debate, with Crs Wanchap, Woods and Ibrahim claiming that that the geo-bags that are currently in place – and that have been largely washed away – constituted environmental pollution and a threat to sea life.
Cr Woods said that in all her years in Council, she had ‘never heard such hypocrisy’.
‘We are told these bags are falling apart and that the environment is being affected. [It comes down to that] some of us want rocks there, and some of us don’t. Every time we get a report that comes before us, it gets delayed… whatever tactics that can be used are put in place to stop it from happening.’
Meanwhile, Cr Ibrahim argued that the works are interim, ‘as rocks can be moved and relocated’.
In reply, Cr Richardson said the issue is ‘not about eco-worrying’.
‘If we truly care about the environment, we wouldn’t have walls there so the turtles and birds might have a beach that they could use.’
While admitting that the walls will happen, Cr Richardson said it was important ‘how it will happen and how to minimise any possible litigation’.
Of the recent meeting with coastal planning experts, Cr Richardson said one of the planners, Angus Gordon, told them either ‘to protect or withdraw’.
‘They all said legal clarity is vital,’ he said.
Cr Basil Cameron argued that without a coastal zone management plan (CZMP), which is in accordance with the Coastal Protection Act 1979, Council could be ‘open to failure’.
‘We need indemnity that the landowners won’t sue us if the works fail in years to come,’ he said. Council’s director of infrastructure services, Phil Holloway, told councillors that staff will meet with landowners next week. Executive manager of organisational support, Shannon McKelvey, added that any agreement with landowners ‘would only be with landowners, not the land’.
I can see paradise by the news desk light, or how I learned to love the council debates
Reporting on Byron Shire Council would be much less colourful if local government masochist Fast Buck$ decided to retire from his public-nuisance hobby horse (it’s a recurring threat).
And while using morning public access as a personal therapy session certainly adds theatre to policy making, it’s also awkward at times.
For example, calling the mayor a ‘small man’ is simply playing the man and not the ball. Serious questions lose credibility in light of such delinquency. And that can lead to the print media using valuable ink and paper to focus on those inane distractions instead.
Is Buck$ the Lenny Bruce of Byron Shire without the Jewish wit?
Regardless, one of Buck$’s bugbears this week was – again – reflective of his personal experiences with local government: Why are some compliance matters against residents kept confidential, given that the defendant is usually not asked if they wish it to remain confidential?
A courteous phone call could alert you to the fact that your activities are being discussed behind closed doors.
Sounds fair enough.
As it happened, councillors agreed that day for general manager Ken Gainger to commence ‘Class 4 proceedings in the Land and Environment Court’ against the use of the property at 3822 Pacific Highway, Tyagarah.
Moving on, it was another full day of policy which had me wishing I had brought more popcorn and pillows.
Creating a noise data history of major festivals held at North Byron Parklands in Yelgun moved closer with all councillors agreeing to consider ‘undertaking independent noise monitoring’ after meetings with those concerned.
Cr Richardson’s motion states that there are ‘apparent inconsistencies in information provided.’
Heads up for possible water restrictions too: Cr Duncan Dey announced that Rous advised him at a recent meeting that as Rocky Creek Dam is close to 70 per cent capacity, water restriction implentation is imminent. ‘I don’t think they made an estimate of when that is,’ he said, ‘but they will probably be during March if we don’t get rain.’
Byron alcohol-related violence
Cr Dey also advised Council that after the recent Byron Bay Liquor Accord meeting, ‘statistics that the police collect are showing a continuing fall… and the general trend through the summer is in a downward direction for crime statistics in relation to alcohol.’
Again moving on, a regional transport plan by the state government that was presented to the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) was met with ‘significant outrage,’ said the mayor.
‘NOROC in general were significantly outraged that it was an incredibly weak and flimsy document,’ he said.
‘It was very scant on any sort of evidential data; it was as atrocious as I think all the member councils expected it to be and it was incredibly disappointing.’
The mayor said no timeframes were given, no money allocated, no action plan or commencement dates were provided other than ‘there will be one’.
In related planning news, the mayor added that he has discovered that the north coast-specific E zones for the local environment plan (LEP) have been on the desk of NSW planning minister Brad Hazzard for four months.
The planned political demonstration against possibly the meanest and dumbest federal government in Australia’s history has been given the green light for March 16.
But March in March, which will see Byron Bay take part in a nationwide action, saw councillors divided on whether to support it.
Crs Woods, Cubis, and Hunter pushed for being apolitical with Abbott and his henchmen and one woman, and an amendment which failed by Crs Woods/Cubis would have seen Council not give the organisers a slight leg up with fees. Cr Cubis said that, while he supports their right to protest, ‘it is inappropriate to pay for the march,’ and to align yourself with the group is ‘a step too far’.
But Cr Cameron’s motion passed, with conditions for the go-ahead including that traffic control and escort be provided by the police and that public liability insurance be in place for the sum of at least $20 million. The event will also be notified on Council’s website and in Council’s notices in The Echo at no cost to organisers.
Lastly, and by no means inclusive of everything that transpired, a request to ‘review’ Council’s plant replacement program by Cr Alan Hunter brought about vivid recollections of the psychological battles played out on BBC’s Yes Minister.
Yes, councillors, there was slight tension in the air as Cr Hunter pushed for a non-threatening sit-down with staff to look over procurement costings for items such as ride-on lawnmowers.
Good luck, Alan!