Local Government NSW adopts three Central Coast resolutions

Local Government Minister Shelly Hancock

Despite Central Coast Councillors being suspended from office on October 30 last year, they had a number of their resolutions adopted by the local government peak body at its annual conference late last year.

Local Government NSW adopted three Central Coast resolutions and a fourth one was amended to become an issue that the association will work on this year.

The first one saw LG NSW re-affirm its position that Local Planning Panels (LPPs) should remain a decision of the council, and the “adoption of such independent panels by councils should be voluntary not mandatory”.

Central Coast voted in May last year to accept a LPP, but councillors said at the time that it was being imposed on them by the State Government.

The resolution adopted at the conference committed LG NSW to make representation to the NSW Minister for Planning and to the Premier to express its concern about changes to the operations of NSW Planning Panels which were introduced in August 2020.

These changes included requiring panels to make determinations within two weeks of being provided an assessment report; panels to hold a public meeting only where a development application attracted 10 or more unique submissions; and, the scheduling when a panel had a significant number of proposals for determination.

The resolution stated that these changes could reduce the panel’s ability to apply proper due diligence to each case or to obtain expert opinion.

It said the changes to the system of referrals might increase the risk of corruption and that allowing, at the Chair’s discretion, applicants to attend a briefing, along with council staff, could remove the panel’s independence.

“The Panels were set up to be independent of the internal workings of councils, not working with them and applicants,” the resolution stated.

“The setting of timeframes to finalise determinations may impose undue pressure on councils.

“Removing the requirement for modification to go back to the Panel will encourage ongoing modification instead of the community getting what is exhibited in the first place.

“The inclusions of ‘targets’ will put an emphasis on pushing approvals through rather than due diligence in assessment.

“The changes impose unreasonable and unrealistic demands on councils that require additional resourcing that is not funded.

“The changes weaken planning processes, the integrity of the planning system and community confidence in planning.”

The resolution was adopted.

The conference adopted a second Central Coast resolution: That LG NSW campaigns for the NSW Government to restore funding and ensure the independence of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

The campaign would include building alliances with key stakeholders and peak bodies to develop a position statement and build a public campaign by providing resources to local councils to build grassroots support for the campaign.

LG NSW will also advocate through the Australian Local Government Association for the Federal Government to establish an independent anti-corruption body with powers similar to those of the NSW ICAC.

A message from Central Coast Council was added to the conference notes, which is normal practice from the contributing council.

“The NSW ICAC was established in 1988 as an independent organisation to ‘protect the public interest, prevent breaches of public trust and guide the conduct of public officials in the NSW public sector’,” the note stated.

“ICAC is important because it ensures accountability, transparency and good governance. It builds confidence and trust.

“Over recent years, NSW ICAC has been under attack – facing ongoing budget cuts and limiting of its powers.

“There are concerns that its independence is being undermined.

“In 2019, the budget dropped by 10 percent and ICAC’s staffing levels are at near-record lows.

“However, in the past two financial years, the number of matters received by ICAC has increased from 2,436 to 2,751.

“There needs to be strong, well-resourced and independent oversight bodies such as ICAC that are protected from political attacks.”

The conference adopted a third Motion sent from Central Coast Council relating to legislative reform that would make it an offence for a person to intentionally or recklessly threaten or incite violence towards councillors and council staff.

The conference adopted the resolution which asked LG NSW to actively campaign for the reform.

A fourth Motion from Central Coast was amended.

The Coast was one of three councils that submitted resolutions about cats.

The Coast wanted the Companion Animals Act changed so that an owner of a cat had to take all reasonable precautions to prevent their cat from escaping from the property on which it was being kept.

Hornsby Shire Council wanted the Act amended to prohibit cats from roaming on to public places and private property.

In the end, the Liverpool City Council amendment got the numbers.

The resolution that was adopted stated that LG NSW will advocate for tighter restrictions on cat owners (including that all cats be microchipped and desexed).

It called for councils to be funded to provide services so stray cats can be microchipped, desexed and housed until re-homed; and that changes be made to the Companion Animal Act to permit the release of cats under a Trap Neuter Return Program.

Merilyn Vale