Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fig Trees, Towers, Insurance and Public Endangerment - Open Letter

The Minister for Local Government
Donald Page MP

Mr Ross Woodward
CEO The Division of Local Government

Dear Minister Page and Mr Woodward

We write as a matter of considerable urgency with regard to the need for the sacking of Newcastle City Council.

Please note that we are forwarding to you the following email interchange between us and Councilor Bob Cook of Newcastle City Council where Councilor Cook refers to our 'paranoid analysis'. We are copying this communication to you to the office of the NSW Ombudsman hopefully for their continuing operational intelligence. We suggest that you read our original email to which Councilor Cook was responding while you gauge the appropriateness of his response.

We believe that this email from Councilor Cook has no place in any public democratic discourse with regard to perceived public risk, council negligence and public endangerment.  We do not accept that the arguably apparent lampooning of ratepayers or constituents who are expressing genuine and well-founded anxieties about the safety of their lives and property has any place within behaviour required under the Local Government Act. This should be especially so in a situation where ratepayers are asking elected representatives to make representations to the insurance company concerned. In seeking such representations residents are keenly aware that no insurance company on the planet can genuinely compensate for loss of life or physical injury due to arguably apparent council negligence.

Councilor Cook's email may or may not yet prove to be further evidence that the current council administration may be not fully briefing councilors as to the unfolding revelations via ABC Radio concerning a complete lack of compliance certification documents and related construction irregularities in a development whereby Newcastle City Council enabled an inexperienced developer, working 'on behalf' of council, utilising volunteer labour of unknown skill set to construct four-storey-high metal structures, some within falling distance of residential properties.

Council's current position, as we understand it, is that NSW planning legislation grants council the apparent legal right to effectively breach their duty of care under the Local Government Act  and thus arguably endanger the lives and property of the public.

We do not accept that a legal right to endanger the public exists within NSW Local Government instrumentalities and we urge you gentlemen to intervene in this matter immediately in the interests of preserving public safety.

Considering that Newcastle City Council has adopted an apparently hypocritical and diametrically opposed position regarding duty of care with respect to the Laman Street Fig Tree fiasco (see today's front page Newcastle Herald) the operational integrity of Newcastle City Council is now firmly in public question. Councilor Buman is quoted in the Herald today as saying: 'We're becoming a dysfunctional council because of this issue.'

As you gentlemen should be aware from previous correspondence from us it is our view that the council was effectively dysfunctional before this issue confirmed the matter.

It is also our view that Councilor Cook's regrettable email may be but a window into arguably apparent widespread dysfunction within the council chamber. It is our continuing concern that this apparent dysfunction in the chamber coupled with arguably dangerous maladministration within council administration may be contributing to a situation where the public has lost faith in the democratic process from the top down.

Since council has not been able to credibly refute or respond to our many previous code of conduct complaints within a six month period we believe that the Minister for Local Government should intervene now to bring Newcastle City Council back within the parameters of its own code of conduct and the Local Government Act.

Our primary continuing concern is that the current fig tree fiasco and the ongoing Novocastrian Park debacle may be but signs of a wider dysfunction based on a new organic norm of administration and governance arguably existing outside proper legislative frameworks.

We can only urge that you take immediate action with regard to Councilor Cook's email and the level of dysfunction it may be revealing with respect to Newcastle City Council.

We urge that you sack this council now before the matter worsens and appoint an administrator, perhaps with judicial experience, to sort the matter out. To paraphrase Albert Einstein: 'a problem is rarely solved within the parameters that created the problem in the first place.'

In the interim, we urge that you move to protect the historic fig trees in Laman Street from destruction, a potential destruction which we argue would be a function of council's dysfunction. We also urge that you take whatever steps are required to remove the suspect uncertified towers in Novocastrian Park, some within falling distance of residential properties, immediately.

And we further urge that you establish a genuine and rigorous independent investigation into arguably dangerous maladministration within Newcastle City Council.

We note with democratic alarm the following quotation attributed to Newcastle City Council's Director Liveable City in this morning's Newcastle Herald regarding declaring an exclusion zone in the city patrolled by police and security guards: 'The patrols will also help us manage the safety of the community and council staff, given the threat of protests.'  This massive and arguably inflammatory overreaction is yet further evidence in our opinion of democratic dysfunction, lack of administrative discernment and proper oversight and dangerous maladministration.

Any council that feels the need to declare exclusion zones patrolled by police and security guards to protect itself from the democratic protests of the community it is instituted to serve does not deserve to remain in existence within our Australian democracy. There is a worrying authoritarianism here in the face of potential peaceful protests that seems out of place with current events around the globe and our city's proud egalitarian traditions.

We await your responses

Susan Harvey
Australian Reconciliation Award
The Premier's Award for Community Service
The Gold Serif Award for Event Media

Paul F Walsh OAM
The Medal of the Order of Australia
Australian Reconciliation Award
The Premier's Award for Community Service
Newcastle Citizen of the Year 2001
The University of Newcastle's Newton-John Award
The Gold Serif Award for Event Media

----- Original Message -----
From: Bob Cook
To: Susan Harvey & Paul F Walsh
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 10:09 PM
Subject: Re: Fig Trees, Towers, Insurance,and Public Endangerment

Susan and Paul,
Thank you for being consistent, 'at risk'. Objective by degree.

It's a remarkable world, and you make it more so!    I would be interested in the names of councillors that slightly agree with your paranoid analysis of the lighting tower matter.

Without dissecting your persistent monotonous dialogue, it is simply worth indicating that though I understand your point of view, particularly regarding who is in charge, I disagree with you totally.

I assure you that councillors who act appropriately do have good working relationships with all staff, participate in setting directions, and are well informed on proposed actions.

Perceptions of maladministration are always in the mind of those who have a grievance, rightly or wrong. I know the reality.

You are entitled to your opinion and I am happy to hear it, but I will not be engaging with you.

Regarding the trees, look at my video on YouTube, it provides a clear description of the issues.  

Cr Bob Cook
The City of Newcastle
Ph 49261117
Mob 0419241731

PS A majority council decision is not an 'attempt'. The decision is made, once the obstacles are cleared it will be implemented.

On 20/07/11 1:34 PM, "Susan Harvey & Paul F Walsh" wrote:

  Dear Councilors

  We write as 'at risk' ratepayers.

  We note that a majority of your chamber last night attempted to persist with the removal of  arguably healthy, much-loved and historic  fig trees in Laman Street, Newcastle, on the disputed basis of insurability, structural integrity and viability of the trees.

  We note that the same arguably dangerous maladministration within council that led to the continuing Novocastrian Park debacle appears to be underpinning the fig tree controversy.

  It seems remarkable to us that a majority of your number appear to feel personally comfortable in resisting attempts to have that arguably dangerous maladministration independently investigated while blindly accepting advice that may be the poisoned fruit of that arguably apparent maladministration.

  It is truly remarkable that neither council administration nor a majority of councilors appear to perceive any whiff of hypocrisy in wishing to retain structurally uncertified towers on Novocastrian Park while trying to remove arguably healthy trees in Laman St on the basis of supposed structural viability issues. If the trees are not insurable, (which we do not believe for one minute), how could four-storey-high towers, some built within falling distance of residential homes, built with the aid of volunteers of unknown skill set, amidst observed and photographed construction irregularities and no observation of compliance certifications, be insurable?

  It is clear that we have apparent documentary evidence that council administration was aware of apparent construction irregularities on Novocastrian Park, documentary evidence that we argue further compounds council's potential culpability and potential negligence issues. All of this evidence will eventually be presented to council's insurers and other interested regulatory agencies.

  We are also deeply alarmed at council's apparent breaches of its duty of care to ratepayers under the Local Government Act.  Arguable council administration attempts to hide or justify such arguably apparent breaches on the basis of planning legislation of any kind is not only embarrassing but a leap through the looking glass beyond the boundaries of common sense. We do not accept that council has any legal right whatsoever to endanger the lives and property of ratepayers. It should be noted that residents are currently experiencing stress and anxiety as a direct result of council's arguable negligence in this matter.

  Could it be that the unelected council administration is effectively in charge of your elected chamber by default?

  We request that each of you as our democratic representative make representations to council administration and to council's insurers in order that each of you might explain to us the meaning behind council's apparently hypocritical 'structural integrity' stances vis-a-vis the towers and the fig trees.

  We request specifically that this email be sent by you to council's insurers so that the latter may be fully informed without that information being 'filtered' by council administration. We request also that you as our political representatives request that council's insurers open up direct dialogue with us with regard to their views on the insurance viability of the towers.

  .We can only urge you as an elected body to retain the fig trees in Laman St, remove the towers in Novocastrian Park immediately and regain proper democratic and oversight control over council administration.

  Susan Harvey and Paul F Walsh OAM
  'At risk' ratepayers of New Lambton

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Out with the nuclear, in with the solar

With nuclear power industry stocks falling across the world yesterday in the wake of the unfolding Japanese catastrophe, it was time for Australia's prime nuclear industry advocate, Dr Ziggy Switkowski, to sound the conch shell to his fellow advocates to rise and spruke the benefits of a nuclear future for Australia and the world.

And yesterday on Newcastle's 1233 we heard the arguments coming through that there is nothing to fear, we live in a sea of radioactivity, its a natural part of the world, that the Japanese reactors had stood up to the catastrophe really well, that people would soon stop being 'emotional' and come to a more reasoned conclusion that nuclear energy is good. When asked about the bogey of 'Chernobyl', oh, Chernoby shouldn't have been built, they say, trying to dismiss the elephant in the room as a collective delusion.

While we respect their right to free speech, I do not respect their right to advocate for an industry that creates a waste that is toxic to life, and an industry that has no plan for the catastrophic consequences when things go belly up.

We are fortunate enough to live on the only liveable planet in our solar system. We should be fed up with people who advocate the destruction of this planet for profit at all costs, while they continue to foul up the water, land and sky with their dirty industries.

Clean up your act. There are wonderful opportunities that we should be investing in. One such opportunity is University of Newcastle's Professor Paul Dastoor's solar paint technology.

This is the real future of Australia, this invention is the basis of the new industry. Imagine, every single surface a generator of solar energy? Clean green and very exciting.