Inquiry’s terms of reference fall far short of what is required

Council Chambers and Offices at WyongCentral Coast Council's Wyong HQ.

Forum –

The public inquiry announced by the Minister (“Public inquiry under section 438u of the Local Government Act 1993 into Central Coast Council”, CCC 236) falls far short of what is required.

It is narrowly focussed only on the actions of Council officers, whereas what is needed is a wide-ranging investigation of all the actors who contributed to the debacle and the assignment of responsibility, wherever it is appropriate.

This was the point of the petition for a judicial inquiry with sufficient powers to get to the bottom of the mess.

No matter how well intentioned and thorough the Commissioner might be, she will be hamstrung by the limitations of her brief, and we cannot expect that full light will be thrown on the matter by such an approach.

What we want to know, at least, is:

what was the NSW Audit Office doing to allow this situation to develop;

why didn’t the Council’s auditors flag a warning about what was going on;

what was the role of the Risk Committee in this debacle;

how far did ignorance and incompetence of the CEO and CFO contribute to the failure;

were there warning signals from Council servants that were ignored, or were they largely complicit in the Council’s actions;

to what extent were the problems caused by the Administrator’s failure to put in place a workable management structure and to provide guidance to the Council for its operations; and,

why did not the State government properly monitor the amalgamation process that it forced on the city?

There are, no doubt, other technical aspects of the issue requiring attention, but they will all fall outside the Commissioner’s purview.

None of these questions is referred to in the brief, and we are presumably supposed to be satisfied by the inclusion of “any other matter that warrants mention”.

This could mean anything (or, more probably, nothing), depending on what behind-the-scenes direction the Commissioner has been given by the Minister.

It is fatuous for the Minister to hide behind lack of power to order a judicial inquiry.

We are not interested in the Minister’s powers, we are interested in the Government’s powers, which are ample for what is required.

Could the rush to put this inquiry in place be primarily intended to circumvent any proper discussion of the inquiry petition, now slated for consideration in Parliament but likely too late to have any influence on the course of events?

How could such a fiasco have been possible without deep and widespread involvement of many parties?

Why is the Government so anxious to obscure the facts with such a paltry and ineffective investigation?

As usual, it seems that the ratepayers will be left in the dark, with nothing to show but the debt burden that we shall be carrying for decades to come.

Email, May 2
Bruce Hyland, Woy Woy