The first Council Meeting to start at 6:00 pm, the potential benefits are debatable.
- There were two unusual “theatrical events” with the recording of speeches of public speakers, a new twist to Council’s normal procedure.
- A quarterly budget variation surplus of $249k, initially recommended to be placed into the properties reserve, was re-allocated to the refurbishment of recreational areas in Austral with the balance of $149k placed in the CCTV reserves, the latter I questioned and disagreed with. The practice of re-allocating surplus variations in the quarterly budget review to an unplanned project in my view is unfair, any such surplus should be re-allocated based on Councils list of priorities determined by the annual budgetary process. I will be raising that issue for debate at Councils’ next Budget Committee meeting. I will propose that a regularly updated list of prioritised projects is generated and taking into consideration both positive and negative budgetary variations. Such a list would be far more preferable than the current unfair ad-hoc process based on lobbying a Councillor, political party or group. Councillors are often unaware of such proposals prior to Councils General Scheduled meeting.
- The matter of the Moorebank Voluntary Acquisition scheme (flood affected land) was debated in light of recent activities that are in contravention to the legal use of flood prone land in the area. I proposed an amendment to the proposal to include that Council writes to the relevant state and Federal Governments asking them to re-instate their part of the contributions to the scheme, that is so that Council can purchase the balance of the most flood affected properties in the area. This is especially important as extensive flooding is currently occurring along the eastern coast of Australia. It is only a matter of time when extensive flooding will again affect the remaining properties in the Moorebank flood affected zone. The risk of loss of life, as occurred in Queensland, is very real and therefore should be minimised and considered an urgent outstanding matter. In my view, it is essential that remedial works, presently unable to proceed due to owners not wanting to sell their properties, is resolved before lives are lost. Sadly few current property owners are aware of the dangerous floods that have occurred over the last 70 years.
- The major issue of the evening was to decide the future of Council properties that occupied the previous Administration Centre located at oneHoxton Park Road. It is normal practice for most financial decisions involving highly sensitive material to be closed “to the public”. However, once a decision has been made, Council ensures that all relevant material is made available to the public. Unfortunately that process is often controversial and criticised for not being open and transparent. However it is legally necessary to ensure that no-one gains or is disadvantaged from decisions made before they are fully implemented. Ratepayers may not agree with that process, however, the public placed its trust in democratically elected Councillors to represent them and make decisions on their behalf. Irrespective of the political climate in Council, it is hoped that Councillors make their decisions in the best interests of the majority of Liverpool ratepayers and not along politically motivated ideals or principles.
- Several Councillors were not in favour of discussing the issue, stating that information in the confidential documents was incomplete or controversial and left the chamber. In my view that is undemocratic, I had no problem in discussing the contents of the documents and believed them to be appropriate, once the issues had been identified, clarified and explained. Councillors that left the chamber could have waited to debate the issue and noted their concerns, they chose not to and left the chamber.
- I suggested Councillors move back into open session as soon as possible, provided that confidentiality was not breached. That was agreed upon by all and Council moved back into open session, however those Councillors that had left earlier refused to re-enter the chamber. In my view that was simply a political manoeuvre at the expense of the public.
- While I am not at liberty to discuss confidential details, what I can say is that I spoke of my preference of Council retaining ownership of the properties including long term lease to potential business interests. Previous public feedback to Council indicates there is a shortage of recreation and convention centre space in Liverpool. Feedback from the hire of the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC) and the Whitlam Leisure Centre also supports that view. Previous “Expressions Of Interest” (EOI), (at the time of the rezoning proposals) included public submissions that indicated residents prefer the site to remain in public ownership; hence “long term leasing” is also my preferred option as stated on many occasions. A summary of the main points I raised during the “open Council discussions” were;
- Several Council departments identified the need for additional recreational facilities in the Liverpool area, in particular conference centres, sporting facilities and tourism information centres. These are real needs that could be met by future expansions of the former Administration Centre site. It would be premature to dispose of these properties without fully discussing the impact on Liverpool’s adjoining major sporting and recreational complex.
- To dispose of the land for the proposed usage is not in keeping with the current land usage bordering the Woodward Park and the Whitlam Leisure Centre Complex.
- It will severely restrict any future expansion of Liverpool’s only major recreational complex within easy reach of the CBD and nearby residential areas.
- It is of particular relevance when considering that the projected population growth of Liverpool will rise from 182,000 to well over 330,000 over the next 20 years.
- Parts of the site are historically significant; in 1833, the government of the day made a special land grant to Maria Locke, an outstanding Aboriginal woman. It was later infamously “stolen” from her and her descendants by the Aboriginal Protection Agency and transferred to Liverpool Council. That act was on the basis that it would always be used for the benefit of the people of Liverpool, in perpetuity.
- I have received numerous representations from ratepayers and residents stating the land should remain in public ownership, never to be sold.
- In view of the public submissions previously received, I do not intend to support any proposal that involves the sale or disposal of the property. On that basis I moved an amendment to the recommendations and passed by all Councillors present, it was;
- That Council defers this matter for further consideration to the following committees; Budget and Finance Committee, Tourism and Events Committee and the Economic Development Committee.
- These committees, while in their infancy, may be able to include information not considered previously. The committee members will have the same confidentiality constraints that apply to Councillors as stated in Councils “Code of Meeting Practice” and relevant committee charters.
- As a matter of interest, a Councillor asked; “were any public submissions received for the current EOI?” the reply was that none had been received, technically that may be so. However, it should also be stated that there were numerous submissions and petitions received prior to the rezoning of the site. These, in my opinion, should have been considered in both EOI’s. As a consequence, I referred to some of these submissions, including that the site be used as a future stadium, although I have difficulty supporting that submission based on viability concerns. It appears that the public had “assumed” their previous submissions would be taken into consideration, sadly they were not.
- Overall, I am confident that the committees will arrive at a sensible and logical decision that takes into consideration all aspects of the site and its impact on Liverpool’s future. Once a decision is made, particularly if it includes the sale of the properties, it will be extremely difficult to regain the land in future.
- As a gentle reminder, it was due to the OASIS debacle of 2002-2004 that Council lost a significant portion of the site that is currently vacant and awaiting the owners intent. Many Liverpool ratepayers, myself included, were of the opinion that there were some good features of the OASIS project, had it been managed appropriately.
Clr Peter Harle