Minister Toole’s Belated Response To Background Briefing Program

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Macka 3Update 17 December 2015: Our Submission and the Ministers’ Response

 

 

151008 Letter To Minister Toole Re Background Briefing Program

151217 Response From Minister Toole Re Background Briefing Program

This is the pathetic response received to our submission to the Minister for Local Government  10 weeks after it was acknowledged as received by the Department, bearing in mind that this program and the allegations raised in was aired on 04 October 2015. The Minister suggests that we complain to the Council General Manager or ICAC. Been there, done that, and got absolutely nowhere. 

This matter has progressed even further now with the Environmental Protection Authority becoming involved and allegations of Acid sulfate contamination by local residents seem to be vindicated: 

“The state’s environmental watchdog has expanded an “ongoing criminal investigation” of alleged dumping of building waste at Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie’s family business to include the dumping of contaminated building waste at a council-owned Salt Ash equestrian park.”

Newcastle Herald 17 December 2015Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie faces more questions about soil dumped at a Salt Ash park

TRRA Asks: How much more of this sort of behavior will be tolerated by this Government and its Minister before some action will be taken?  It is all over the press, on the National Broadcaster, raised in Parliament by the Local Member Kate Washington, the subject of numerous Codes of Conduct, letters and submissions from Community Groups, pleas to ICAC, all to no avail. It seems that the only recourse that the long suffering constituents of this LGA will have is at the ballot box in the Council elections next year. The message sent then may focus the Ministers mind on his inaction, and the fact that he might be next! 

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More On This Story:

The Sand Mining Mayor Who Loves A Deal 

Alexander Park Dressage, Salt Ash Pony Club or Bruce’s BMX?

Cabbage Tree Road Sandmine

Will The Port Stephens Ratepayers Ever Get the ‘Cabbage’ from the Cabbage Tree Road Sand Mine? Part 1

This story above was edited 01 August 2015 as further information was received.

Australian Dollar Notes Bundles Stack

There is a fair bit of detail in this article but TRRA think this is necessary to understand the implications of this story, and get all of it properly on the record.

• This information was researched from the 35 newspaper reports and all the Council documents in our extensive TRRA database on the subject, and we feel that it needs to be aired in full. References are included at the bottom of the article.

• We hope the ratepayers of Port Stephens will consider our major articles like this when evaluating the Councils performance prior to the next election in 2016.

This story has been evolving as we researched it and The Cabbage Tree Mine is on The Agenda for the Council Meeting 28 July 2015. We will keep updating this story, on this page, it still has a long way to go.

150221 CQP Mine

 

 

 

Cabbage Tree Sand Mine Part 2

 Will The Port Stephens Ratepayers Ever Get the ‘Cabbage’ from the Cabbage Tree Road Sand Mine? Part 2

More updates on this story as they become available. 

Is Port Stephens Council As Financially Viable As They Would Like Us To Believe?

Australian Dollar Notes Bundles StackTRRA had a conversation with Councillor Geoff Dingle recently about the general state of the finances at Port Stephens Council.

Council’s future strategy was outlined recently in its ‘Fit for the Future’ submission to the State Government in which it stated that it would not be increasing rates by 45% like Newcastle Council, and would stay under the State cap.

• It would rely on income from its investments in The Cabbage Tree Sand Mine, the Newcastle Airport and its Holiday Parks to fund its future needs and address its $29 mill Infrastructure and maintenance backlog that grew by another $3 mill last year alone.

• Projected returns from the Newcastle Airport in the past have been optimistic to say the least and TRRA has serious doubts about the viability of the recent investments in the Holiday Parks and their projected returns. TRRA is also aware of some serious legal challenges that Council may be facing in the near future which may have major financial consequences.

• There may be serious environmental challenges ahead for the Cabbage Tree mine and the Council’s budget. The WSRA Group (Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group) are concerned about the effect on the Tomago water supply, native wildlife, traffic and noise issues and the plan to mine the sand using a dry method of filtering/extraction which may pose a serious health risk. There are many questions to be asked about the tender of this mine which will be covered in a major investigative article HERE.

Geoff has authorized us to publish this Press Release covering these issues.

What Is The True State Of The Books At PSC? Part Two

Financial_Statement_Analysis_blog

Financial-StatementsIn Part One of this series of articles:

Concerning Port Stephens Council’s financial affairs we covered a lot of background material:

 

TRRA Inc. – What we do and Why: How TRRA sees it’s role in this and what  we are trying to achieve.

This Council has form…… Some of this Council’s financial History and lack of transparency in the past.

Here We Go Again…………….! “Council resolve to no longer include business units as part of Councils annual financial statements.” 08 April 2014

Documentation: TRRA Inc. reaction and what we intend to do about it

 

Financial-StatementsIn Part Two of this series:

We report on the reaction of the Government and the Council to our submissions:

 

141124 Comments to Councillors Nov 25 Meeting Agenda item 5

 141202 Submission to PSC Financial Statements 2013-2014

 141121 Letter to Minister re PSC Financial Statements 2013-2014

 141121 Letter to Shadow Minister LG PSC Financial Statements 2013-2014

141211 Letter To Ombudsman PSC Financial statements 2013-2014

141121 letter to Examiner – PSC Not Reporting Business Units

Reaction

1. The first reaction that we got was to the letter we sent to Councillors prior to the Annual Accounts being tabled at the 25 November Meeting. The Financial Report was adopted and the Auditors Report accepted at that meeting (Moved Clr. Nell, seconded Clr. Doohan).This Mayoral Minute accompanied the minutes of the next Council Meeting on 09 December when the penny started to drop that TRRA inc. were going to be a problem.

141208 Mayoral Minute – Annual Financial Reports

‘”The TRRA contends that information contained within these reports was useful and served a specific purpose, particularly in relation to the Holiday Parks. It is suggested that contact will be made with the TRRA to provide a high level of financial analysis to assist them in their enquiries. The submission has been forwarded to Council’s external auditor as required by legislation.”

2. The next reaction TRAA Inc. got was from the Ombudsman, which advised us to flick it to the DLG, which we had already done.

141211 Ombudsman re annual financial statements

3. The next response was from the Minister for Local Government, Paul Toole.  Our letter to Sophie Costis the Shadow Minister had also been bought to his attention.  The Minster indicated that as a result of our concerns he had Staff from his office meet Council Officers on 17 December and they received an undertaking that Special Purpose Financial Statements would be made available early in the new year. 

150201 Response DLG re Special Purpose Accounts

4. We have now received a letter (Dated 03 Feb 2014)  from Carmel Foster, Corporate Services Group Manager, PSC thanking us for the Submission that we sent on 14 December 2014, advising us that Council was preparing the Special Purpose Financial Statements and when they were audited they would be made available to TRRA Inc.

150203 Response From PSC – Annual Financial Statements

balancesheet5. It Absolutely amazes us that our Councillors have just signed off on these accounts without question, given PSC’s recent form on transparency and accountability. This was revealed in the Deloitte Audit on the way they managed the Holiday Parks on Crown Land. The report was very critical of Council for aggregating everything together so that it was impossible to compare the performance of one operation with another, and mixing the business Units in with General Council Funds.  We have checked, and the Councillors have exactly the same information available to them as we have. There is no way that TRRA Inc. are accepting this level of accountability and obviously the Government are not accepting it either.

6. TRRA Inc. will be meeting with Councils Financial Officer Tim Hazel ASAP to make sure that these accounts are presented promptly and contain all the data that we require, not aggregated figures ie;

  • Separate, audited Financial Statements for each of the Council’s Business Units. There should be no expense or problem in producing these accounts assuming that they exist. If they don’t already exist we are even more concerned!
  • TRRA would expect that PSC would, in the interests of its own prudent commercial practice, produce separate Annual Financial Statements for each of its business units and submit these to their auditor. We would expect the auditor to insist that they do this.
  • Council’s executive, all Councillors and the community at large should have the opportunity to scrutinize the performance of each Business Unit to ensure that it is making a worthwhile contribution to the financial viability of the Council as a whole and if not, to ask why
  • Council has previously determined under the various guidelines to classify the following activities as a “Category 2 business”.
    • Property Development
    • Holiday Parks
    • Civil works
    • Newcastle Airport 

7. TRRA Inc. will be pursuing this course of action until we get the transparency and accountability that ratepayers are entitled to.  If it is not provided willingly we will file formal GIPPA (freedom of information) requests and continue to pressure the Minister for Local Government for assistance.  We have already submitted a Formal GIPPA request to PSC for a full accounting on the Samurai Holiday Resort recently reincarnated as the TreEscape Park.

Financial-Statements8. Look out for Part Three of this series!

What Is The True State Of The Books At PSC? Part One

Financial-Statements Part One of a series of articles:

Tim Hazel, Financial Section Manager, recommended to a Council meeting on 08 April 2014 that: “Council resolve to no longer include business units as part of Councils Annual Financial Statements.” This resolution was moved and seconded by East Ward Councillors John Nell and John Morello. The motion was then adopted,  moved and seconded by The Mayor Bruce Mackenzie and seconded by John Morello. This action is of great concern to TRRA Inc. This just means less transparency and accountability by this Council to its ratepayers

TRRA Inc. – What we do and Why

Financial%20Management%20and%20PlanningTRRA Inc. membership consists of ratepayers on the Tomaree Peninsula who really care about protecting their lifestyle and environment. That is why they join and come to meetings. They in turn have elected a Committee of activists who were experts in their field, to ensure that their voices are heard by the elected Council Representatives and Council Staff who control that environment.  Everyone gets a chance to elect the Councillors and the Mayor once every four years, but some obviously do not care enough to inform themselves sufficiently before election day, and don’t worry about it afterwards until the next one. Probably none of them would bother to join TRRA.

Politics and vested interests, as we have clearly seen in the last Council election, often distort the process and we have to wear the result for another four years.  Many of our Councillors do not think that they need to be accountable to the electorate until the next election.  Some I have to spoken to say “I have been elected by the people, so I will do whatever I think is right for the rest of my term, that is what I was elected to do.”  They even go out of their way to make sure we don’t even find out what they did, by invoking “commercial in confidence etc.”  Others actually consult with groups like ours and talk directly to their constituents to find out what they want of if they have changed their views!

On our Committee we have had many people from diverse backgrounds,  Some have retired, some are still working.  It is a moving feast because people travel or move and are not always available, some people are more passionate about certain things than others. In the last few years we have had input from Business Consultants, Managers, Lawyers, Accountants, Union Officials and people with PHDs in Environmental Planning, Privacy Commissioners, retired Teachers and Public Servants with expertise in preparing and making complex submissions to Council and various Government Departments.

We have had a small team of qualified people analyse the PSC Financial Statements for 2013-14 as we do each year, and we have some serious concerns, but we are not prepared to release the result at this time. When you read the rest of this story you will understand why.

This Council has form……

Businessman and ComputerIn 2010 we had a major disagreement with Council Management about a proposed rate rise, and the way that they were administering their Council owned Holiday Parks. They were also operating some Parks on Crown Land and questionable Council run businesses associated with this activity.  Enquiries from TRRA and articles in the Newcastle Herald lead to the Crown commissioning Delloittes to audit their books .  There was an adverse finding, and although the Crown had no objection, TRRA Inc. then had a two and a half year battle with Council management through the GIPPA freedom of information process, involving the Office of The Information Commissioner and the Minister for Local Government to get access to the audit. By the time we did it was ancient history and Council had complied with the schedule forced on them by the Crown to disentangle the Council Funds from the Crown funds (everything was in one bucket and even the auditors had to guess who was entitled to what). Council were told in no uncertain terms that there must be transparency and accountability in future in the way that these business units were operated. The Deloitte Report cost $75,000.00 (it has 75 pages = $1,000.00 a page!) and our copy is a scanned one, so it is too big to post here. Suffice to say: the Trust Fund was frozen, and Council was given 2 years to sort it all out.

120312 Crown Respose To Deloitte Report

120517 Letter to OIC re Review

121127 IPC Report On GIPPA Request

Council lost every argument on this including the rate rise (disallowed by the Minister because they had lost more in one year  on one failed business venture than the rate rise would have raised, and done nothing to address that problem) They constantly obfuscated and appealed every decision until there was no where left to hide.  This is when the dreadful loss of 17 Million Dollars (and counting) at Samurai Holiday Resort became apparent, and they were exposed for very dodgy accounting in their business units. We think each Business Unit should be accountable separately, we have a right to know to know what is performing and what is not performing, and the reasons why, after all it is our money! It appears that the Holiday Parks lost about $856K in 2013. We don’t know what happened in 2014. We have serious misgivings about what is going on at Soldiers Point and what we still call Samurai.

Here We Go Again…………….!

iStock_000003584033Large_7Imagine our surprise when we discovered (belatedly, we can’t stay on top of everything that they do!) that Tim Hazel, Financial Section Manager, recommended to a meeting on 08 April 2014 that: “Council resolve to no longer include business units as part of Councils annual financial statements.” This resolution was moved and seconded by East Ward Councillors John Nell and John Morello. The motion was then moved and seconded by The Mayor Bruce Mackenzie and seconded by John Morello. The convoluted argument put in the report in support this resolution is contained in the Council Papers HEREIt tries to avoid any future accountability by saying that a requirement for  a “competitive Neutrality policy” in 1993 no longer applies and a gives a totally confusing definition of when a business is not a business, neither of which address transparent business practice and accountability to stakeholders (Us!) which is actually the point of producing a financial statement.

This is the bit that really blew us away given Councils recent history:

“The current process of reporting on the existing four (4) business units being Property Development, Holiday Parks, Civil Works and the Newcastle Airport is manual by nature, time consuming to prepare, confusing to the users of the financial statements, and when assessed on the whole adds no benefit to the users of Council’s financial statements.”

“By eliminating the Special Purpose Financial Statements for business units this will have a reduction in the time taken to complete the financial statements, a reduction in the time taken to audit the financial statements, and remove an area of great complexity from the interpretation of the result of the business units.”

“They are pretty dumb, what they don’t know, won’t hurt ’em!!!”

It is not just us you know, most of the Councillors don’t know what is going on either! The information is just not there in the books, but they signed off on it anyway………..

The key to all in this document is the Risk Assessment:

“There is a risk that the new auditors may disagree with the proposed treatment” – not likely, that was probably why they got rid of the last lot!

“There is a risk that members of the public may comment unfavourably regarding the removal of the business units” Well they sure as hell got that right!

These are our “unfavourable Comments”

141124 Comments to Councillors Nov 25 Meeting Agenda item 5

 141202 Submission to PSC Financial Statements 2013-2014

 141121 Letter to Minister re PSC Financial Statements 2013-2014

 141121 Letter to Shadow Minister LG PSC Financial Statements 2013-2014

141211 Letter To Ombudsman PSC Financial statements 2013-2014

141121 letter to Examiner – PSC Not Reporting Business Units

Council Adopted the 2013 -2014 Audit Committee Report on 09 December 2014, with this:

141208 Mayoral Minute – Annual Financial Reports

‘”The TRRA contends that information contained within these reports was useful and served a specific purpose, particularly in relation to the Holiday Parks. It is suggested that contact will be made with the TRRA to provide a high level of financial analysis to assist them in their enquiries. The submission has been forwarded to Council’s external auditor as required by legislation.”

We are waiting, pencils sharpened, calculators and spread sheets at the ready…………..Stay tuned!

financialStatement1

 

Financial-StatementsIn Part Two of this series:

We report on the reaction of the Government and the Council to our submissions:

Parliamentary Inquiry To investigate Planning Decisions In The Hunter

 ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) 17 September 2014: NSW Parliamentary Inquiry To Investigate Planning Decisions In Newcastle

NSW-Parliament

A Parliamentary Inquiry has been set up to investigate controversial planning decisions in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. The inquiry comes in the wake of an Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation into allegations Liberal MPs in the Hunter received illegal political donations from developers.

 

Call for Submissions: HEREThe full terms of reference for the inquiry: HERE.

TRRA Inc. has already had our concerns about PS Council  raised in Parliament HERE.

Follow up letters were sent by Hon Sophie Costis MLC: HERE

After the ICAC inquiry another letter was sent to Council and the Minister HERE. 

Port Stephens Council response HERE

Minister Toole’s response is HERE

TRRA will be accepting the Minster’s invitation and making an extensive submission to the inquiry requesting that all planning and other decisions made by Port Stephens Council involving Buildev Pty. Ltd. and those named in ICAC Operation Spicer be reviewed forthwith.

TRRA will be actively lobbying the members of this Legislative Council Inquiry to “inquire into and report on aspects of the planning process in Newcastle and the broader Hunter Region”  Watch this space!

Better Planning Network Community Charter

Better Planning NetworkTRRA Inc. is one of 460 Community Groups affiliated to the Better Planning Network , a volunteer-based organisation formed at the end of August 2012 by Community Groups concerned about the NSW Government’s planning reforms.

 The BPN is campaigning for a visionary planning system that fosters environmental and social sustainability with best planning design outcomes. As such, the BPN is a signatory to Planning for People: A Community Charter for Good Planning in NSW.

A Community Charter for Good Planning in NSW

Planning for People

The Planning for the People Charter has been developed by Better Planning Network to guide government on community expectations on future planning laws. The Charter and its Companion have been developed and endorsed by a number of public interest organisations, including the National Trust of Australia (NSW), Nature Conservation Council of NSW, National Parks Association of NSW. Total Environment Centre, Australia ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), Our Land Our Water Our Future and the Inner Sydney Regional Council for Social Development.

The Charter sets a community vision, key principles and desired outcomes for good planning in NSW, a copy can be found at the new website www.thecommunitycharter.org along with the companion document that details these principles and outcomes.

Good planning is governed by the following principles:

• The well-being of the whole community, the environment and future generations across regional, rural and urban NSW.

• Effective and genuine public participation in strategic planning and development decisions.

• An open, accessible, transparent and accountable, corruption-free planning system.

• The integration of land use planning with the provision of infrastructure and the conservation of our natural, built and cultural environment.

• Objective, evidence-based assessment of strategic planning and development proposals.

These principles will guide a planning system that:

• Respects, values and conserves our natural environment and the services it provides.

• Facilitates world-class urban environments with well-designed, resource-efficient housing, public spaces and solar access that meet the needs of residents, workers and pedestrians.

• Provides housing choice, including affordable housing and sufficient housing for the disadvantaged, in a diversity of locations.

• Celebrates, respects and conserves our cultural (including Aboriginal) and built heritage.

• Protects and sustainably manages our natural resources, including our water resources, fragile coastlines and irreplaceable agricultural land for the benefit of present and future generations while maintaining or enhancing ecological processes and biological diversity.

• Retains and protects our crown lands, natural areas, landscapes and flora and fauna for the benefit of the people of NSW.

• Gives local and regional communities a genuine and meaningful voice in shaping their local area and region, its character and the location, height and density of housing. Provides certainty and fairness to communities.

TRRA Inc. at our general meeting held on 8th September 2014 unanimously passed a resolution to endorse the Charter, thereby agreeing to supporting its contents, and willing to publicly say so.

As well as community groups, individuals like you also have the opportunity to endorse the Charter either online or by downloading a form from the web site  www.thecommunitycharter.org .

It is hoped with the lead-up to the NSW State Elections in March 2015 that the need for good planning is placed on the agenda of electors and candidates, with local groups and individuals encouraging their local candidates to endorse.

** PS: 6 of the 8 candidates in the Newcastle by-election endorsed the charter at its launch 11 September 2014.

140905 Hunter Valley Community Charter Launch 11 September

140905 Full Charter Companion – Planning for People

140905 Planning for People_ CHARTER – Printer Version

Related BPN posts HERE

TRRA Inc. Issues Raised In Parliament

Newcastle Herald 22 August 2014: Labor’s Call For Answers

19 August 2014: TRRA inc. concerns about the Conduct of the 2012 Port Stephens Council Elections and the Councils reluctance to release comprehensive information relating to DA applications electronically on their website were raised in Budget Estimates Committee in the NSW Parliament today.

The Honorable Sophie Costis MLC (Labor) raised the issues with the Minister For Local Government Hon. Paul Toole after representations from TRRA Executive, facilitated by Kate Washington, endorsed (Labor) Candidate for Port Stephens.

NSW Parlliament

 

 

Sophie Costis had actually been reading the TRRA General Meeting Minutes on our website after I spoke to her at the ‘Save The Yaccaba Centre’ Meeting. This is the email I received 8 Aug 2014.

 

Hi Dick, Sophie Cotsis, Shadow for LG,  is reading TRRA’s meeting minutes and would like a copy of the letter you sent to the Minister for LG regarding the PS local Council election irregularities.  The letter is apparently referenced in your meeting minutes of 10/3/14.  She’s also interested in seeing any response you had from the Minister. If possible, could you please send these to me ASAP, as Sophie is working on this issue now. Thanks, Kate.

Copies of the submission that we made to the Electoral Funding Authority, the disappointing string of emails following that up, the Herald opinion piece that we submitted and links to the Newcastle Herald coverage from this website were dispatched to the Department of Premier & Cabinet, the Minister and the Member with a covering letter: HERE  

It was a pretty willing exchange in the Committee, The Minister suggested that if we thought that there was any impropriety in the election we should refer it to ICAC!  (There’s a thought!) And unfortunately the Minister confused the issue of simple information that the Council won’t supply to us about development applications (that we are entitled to,) with matters discussed in confidential Committee (that we are not). However the issues are now recorded in Hansard transcripts and will be checked out by the relevant public servants who will report to the Minister.  Sophie Costis has indicated that when the opportunity presents itself she will be asking the Minister what action has been taken in the near future. 

We would like to formally thank the Hon Member for her interest in our issues, recognition of these matters by Government is long overdue.

We have a file full of one page (blow off) responses to lengthy submissions to the Local Government Ministers that are virtually form letters telling us that if we are not happy with the performance of our Council or Councillors to just throw them out at the next election.  Four years is a long time and that can be a little late! After the shenanigans at the last Council election, the State Election and the resignation of the lord Mayor of Newcastle there is not a lot of confidence that elections will solve the problem either. Brown paper bag democracy reigns at the moment……….!

I have extracted the relevant exchange from Hansard  HERE.

Speakers in the transcript:

Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones, BN, MLC  (Liberal) Chair

Hon. Paul Toole (Liberal) Member for Bathurst, Minister For Local Government.

Hon. Sophie Costis MLC ( Labor) Shadow Minister, Local Government, Housing, Status of Women.

Hon David Shoebridge MLC (Greens)

The Hon. Shaoquett Moselmane, MLC (Labor)

The Hon Scott Macdonald MLC (Liberal)

The Hon Niall Blair, MLC (National)

Ross Woodward Deputy Director-General, Department of Local Government (Last day At Work)

ICAC, MaKenzie & McCloy – Should Property Developers Be Mayors too?

 

Reaction – Examiner 20 August 2014: Call For ICAC Probe Into PSC & Mayor Bruce MacKenzie

Update 20 August: Correction to Mayors assertion in the Examiner:

 “ICAC have more to do than come to Port Stephens,” he said. “The TRRA are only whingeing because the wrong people got elected. They have run candidates in the last three elections and haven’t succeeded.”

TRRA Inc. made public statements at the four Election Forums that we held in the lead up to the 2012 Council Elections (that all Candidates were invited to attend), that we had a motion on our books from a General meeting, that TRRA Inc. as an organization would not be supporting any particular Groups or Candidates in the election.

This was very important because we wanted to provide a neutral public forum for all candidates, incumbent and potential, to introduce themselves and allow public scrutiny of their past and potential future performance. A couple of the Mayors ‘Team to Achieve’ attended the first forum at Soldiers Point attended by 200 ratepayers. The Mayor never attended any.  If he had fronted up to his constituents he would have known what our policy was. TRRA Inc. has never run candidates in any elections, ever.  More HERE and HERE

Posted 18 August 2014

Disgraced former Lord Mayor Of Newcastle, Jeff McCloy and current (?) Mayor Of Port Stephens Bruce Mackenzie having a cozy chat at Stella Cafe, Newcastle West.  No Bentleys or Brown paper bags are visible in these photos but we would like to have been a fly on the wall…….. What was the topic of discussion? Tell us your best guess in ‘Comments’ at the Bottom of the page. Be kind now!

264880_109590349189411_1994782208_n

552022_109590482522731_1413107044_n

(These pictures are from Mackenzie’s Face Book, and were probably taken during the Local Government Elections in 2012)

Newcastle Herald 13 Aug: “Man Up And Don’t Back Down”: Bruce Mackenzie Urges Jeff McCloy to Stand firm At ICAC

When this article appeared in the Herald the other day It seemed like our illustrious Mayor was having a bit of memory lapse.

‘I’ve been investigated by ICAC. Some bloke turned up and flashed his silver badge, then they searched everything I own and it made headlines for weeks. And then when they found nothing, all it got was 100 words on page 59 of the Newcastle Herald.”

Seeing that you bought this up Mr Mayor, TRRA Inc. thought that we should do a ‘fact check’ and see if this really was just a “pimple on a pumpkin.” We think you should “man up” and tell the truth Bruce!

The Pecuniary Interest & Disciplinary Tribunal was established by The Local Government Act 1993.  The Tribunal’s principal function is to determine allegations of contraventions of the act,which requires that the pecuniary interests of Councillors, Council delegates, senior staff etc. be placed on public record. Councillors and designated persons are required to submit written returns for that purpose every financial year, and they have until September to lodge them.

Councillors, staff and other designated persons are required to make a disclosure and refrain from taking part in decisions on Councillor matters in which they have a pecuniary interest. If a contravention is proved to the Tribunal, the Tribunal may, in the case of Councillors, Council committee members and Council advisers; counsel, reprimand, suspend or disqualify from civic office and, in the case of Council employees, recommend disciplinary action or dismissal.

The legislation requires complaints of contraventions to be dealt with by the Director-General of the Department. The Director-General has powers to investigate a complaint and the Tribunal’s functions are initiated by a Report presented to the Tribunal when the investigation is completed. After considering the Report, the Tribunal may decide to conduct a hearing into the complaint, or it may decide, for reasons to be stated in writing, not to conduct a hearing.

March 1995: Councillor  Mackenzie had the dubious honor of being the first Councillor to be investigated and served with a notice to attend a hearing under the Act. He  ignored notices sent by registered mail, but was eventually served in person and attended a three day hearing in Raymond Terrace on 27,28,29 March 1995.  He refused legal representation and represented himself at the hearing.

A complainant had Alleged a contravention of Division 9A (Section 46B) Local Government Act, 1919 – failure to lodge declaration of interests returns for 1991 and 1992. The Director-General investigated the complaint by interviewing Councillor Mackenzie and relevant staff members. The interviews were taped.  Councillor Mackenzie declared that he had lodged the returns but when it was established that there were no returns in the register he set about accusing staff members of loosing the paperwork and even accused the General Manager, (Shire Clerk then) with whom he said he had major disagreements, of deliberately destroying and disposing of the documents to get him into trouble.

Councillor Mackenzie made some very silly statements about his attitude to the Act, compulsory paperwork in general and the irritation he expressed that his financial affairs and property transactions had been scrutinized, investigated and put on public view over some years which provided both a motive and a personal inclination against lodging these returns.  He must have forgotten what he said in the interviews on tape because he put totally inconsistent arguments at the hearing, resulting in a scathing summation by the Tribunal, remarking that he did not regard him as a reliable witness. He had no problem with the reliability of the staff witnesses, except that of the Councillors secretary who had given a strident defense of her boss (after some prior collusion) on tape but then fell apart under oath in the witness box.The ultimate cost was her job and her reputation.

The Tribunal Ordered that Councilor Mackenzie be suspended from civic office for two months to July 22 1995 The Councillor appealed the order because it cut across the election process and if allowed to stand would have resulted in a suspension of over 4 Years to the next election Cycle. The suspension was reduced by 9 days to prevent this happening. Reasons given for the suspension were:

  • Councillor Mackenzie’s (lack of) knowledge and understanding at, and following the time of his election to Council of his legal obligations as a Councillor with respect to pecuniary interest returns.
  • His lack of concern for the obligation to lodge returns within the prescribed times.
  • His disregard for criticism of or the threat or risk of repercussions for his conduct in the performance of his duties.
  • His expressions at the hearing of apology and contrition for past failures to comply with the requirements of the legislation.
  • His expressions at the hearing of changes in his attitude to his obligations and his statements of intention to comply in the future.

November 1996:The Councillor then chalked up another first, He was hauled before the tribunal a second time 15 months later on 26 November 1996 on a recommendation from the ICAC .

Councillor Bruce Mackenzie, being a Councillor who had a pecuniary interest in matters with which the Council was concerned and being present at meetings of the Council at which the matters were being considered:

  • · failed to disclose the pecuniary interest to the meetings;
  • · took part in the consideration and discussion of the matters; and
  • · voted on questions relating to the matters

contrary to the provisions of section 451 of the Act.

This occurred over a number of different Council meetings between September 1993 and October 1994 at which he moved motions, rescission motions and amendments about his own development. The Councillor was represented by a lawyer this time and pleaded guilty to all charges. The Tribunal still took a dim view of this and suspended him from holding public office for a further two months from 26 November 1996 to 26 January 1997.

TRRA Inc. thinks that having this sort of stuff on your record is a bit more than a ‘pimple on a pumpkin.’ We wonder if he has ever really learned any lessons. His attitude to the law and accountability to constituents is is about the same as his mate McCloy’s. (He was prepared to go to the High Court rather than resign.) He clearly broke the current law, TRRA just does not think that developers and Public Office are a good mix, and that is being borne out in the evidence emerging every day from ICAC.  Lets hope that this is followed through with prosecutions, damaged reputations are not enough.  We also hope the electorate has learned their lessons about this unholy conflict of interest. All that crying about stagnation in Newcastle, well we put the pro development “adults” in charge and look what happened!

For those Tragics that want to salivate over the detail, the transcripts of the Hearings are available below by clicking on the links.  The first one went to 99 pages, with the Tribunal trying to grapple with an unrepresented renegade who tried to treat the hearing with contempt for a start, then turned the blame onto everybody else when he realized how much trouble he was really in. The second affair was a bit more civilized with legal representation and a guilty plea.  The first can be very entertaining in a Machiavellian way with plenty of ‘Bruceisims’ quoted, but it certainly shows the sort of stuff that is still going on in Local Government politics today. Enjoy, or be horrified the read.

LG Pecuniary Interest Tribunal – MacKenzie 1995

LG Pecuniary Interest Tribunal – MacKenzie – 1996

We were a bit reluctant to put this next link in because we think Bruce gets off on this stuff, and it appeals to the “Can Do” brigade that want some sort of a”Lovable Larrikin” running things, even if it is only for himself. But this does fill in some of the gaps and reveal a bit more about the controversial Mr Mackenzie. Reflect on it and let us know what you think in the comment section below. Question: Should Property Developers Hold Public Office?

Newcastle Herald December 14 2012: Ballsy Bruce; The Controversial Mayor Of Port Stephens

Crown lands Management Review June 2014

Update 20 August 2014:  We have just recieved a press release from the Opposition Shadow Minister For Regional & Rural Affairs Hon Mick Veitch that : MINISTER ADMITS CROWN LANDS ACT REVIEW SHELVED BY COMMUNITY PRESSUREThings are changing in the lead up to the next State election, they are starting to respond to community pressure.

TRRA is a member of the  Better Planning Network, and they have alerted us to the fact that the Crown has now put it’s long awaited Crown Lands Management review White Paper out for comment. We are concerned about the future of some of our iconic Crown Land sites such as the Tomaree Lodge on Tomaree headland that our Mayor has earmarked for a Casino etc. HERE  Their concerns are reflected in this letter:

Better Planning NetworkThe future of our important public land estate is in jeopardy.

The NSW Government wants to make it easier to sell off Crown lands.

Dear Members,

The NSW Government is undertaking a review of the Crown lands estate. The Review started in June 2012, and despite repeated calls from environment groups, the Government has undertaken limited community consultation up to this point.

More alarmingly, the Government has failed to undertake a full assessment of the important environmental, cultural or social values of these extensive public lands. As such, the Government’s proposed changes are short-sighted, focus on the economic value of Crown lands, and fail to take into account the long-term future ecological and cultural values that these parcels of land will provide for NSW.

A White Paper was recently released and is open for public comment until 5pm, Friday 20 June 2014. (An extension can be applied for)

Environmental values of Crown Land

The Crown lands estate covers millions of hectares, including significant areas of high conservation value. In central and western NSW this represents a significant proportion of the remaining native vegetation within in some catchments.

According to a 2005 report by the National Parks Association of NSW, Crown lands:

  • Provide known habitat for at least 71 threatened plant species and 111 threatened fauna species
  • Encompass 93,900 hectares of wetlands, including two Ramsar listed wetlands, and provide habitat for at least 23 migratory bird species protected under international agreements
  • Include numerous areas of outstanding ‘iconic’ value to nature conservation in NSW (the Macquarie Marshes, Gwydir Wetlands, and Lowbidgee Floodplain, etc)

Our Heritage Under the Hammer, The imminent fire sale of Crown leasehold lands in NSW, their outstanding conservation values, and how they can be saved, National Parks Association of NSW (2005)

In urban areas, Crown land parcels can contain important remnant vegetation and can be critical to the survival of resident, itinerant and migratory birds and other animals. Iconic public sites, such as Hyde Park and Bondi Beach, are at risk of being handed over to local government or to private leaseholders.

Government’s proposals

The White Paper proposes significant changes to the management of Crown land, including:

Developing one new piece of legislation that will replace eight existing Acts

  • Allowing local councils to manage Crown reserves
  • Replacing reserve trusts and reserve trust managers with reserve managers
  • Removing the existing land assessment requirements to streamline existing provisions,
  • Simplify the management of Crown reserves in order to ‘reduce red tape’

The Government’s position seems premised on an inherently opportunistic and economic focused approach, and will not guarantee that the important environmental values of Crown Land are protected into the future.

For more information, and to download a copy of the White Paper, visit:

www.lpma.nsw.gov.au/crown_lands/comprehensive_review_of_nsw_crown_land_management

The future of our important public land estate is in jeopardy. I urge you to lodge a submission with the NSW Government by 5pm on 20 June 2014 and send a copy of your submission to your local MP.

Kind regards, Cerin Loane,  Policy and Research Coordinator

TRRA Inc. discussed this at Committee level and commissioned our expert on these matters Geoff Washington to prepare and circulate a submission for us to consider, he was assisted by John James our Research Officer and the Committee endorsed their excellent submission HERE will report on this issue at the next TRRA Inc. General Meeting.

The Environmental Defenders Office also sent a copy of their submission:

EDO Submission On Crown Lands Management Review 20 June 2014