Bravery in search of truth
By Heather Tindale (Published in the Coastal Sun 6 December 2001)
This week, in an act of bravery the Mayor of Eurobodalla Shire Council, Peter Cairney placed his job on the line to stave off what many see as a sheer act of political expediency by the previous administration. The Mayor claimed at a public meeting, the truth of negotiations which have led to the Mogo charcoal plant furore, had been hidden in a maze of smoke and mirrors.
Mayor Cairney called on his fellow councillors to support a motion for an inquiry by the appropriate authorities into the proposed Charcoal Plant issue.
In an emotional address to council and to the assembled public he “did not take this action lightly.”
” I have viewed documented evidence – a paper trail going back to April of this year – that proves undoubtedly that there was evidence of involvement and negotiations with government departments and companies, by some Councillors and staff, long before most of the councillors were informed.” “The closest arm of government (to the people) is Local Government. We are elected to protect the residents in our community. It is all about ethics and integrity.
“I believe in transparent and accountable government, which is why I am prepared to stand up and be counted.”
On July 24, at a council meeting (closed to the public) was briefed on the proposed charcoal plant and its designation as a project of ‘state significance’.
That meant Eurobodalla Shire Council would have little control over the passage of any development application concerning the charcoal site and its subsequent construction and commissioning.
Council passed a recommendation to encourage Australian Silicon to undertake an Environmental Impact Study, to conduct public consultation and to keep council informed.
The minutes of that meeting read, “Council understands and accepts that this matter is a development of state significance as identified by the State Government.”
The project was not declared to be of state significance until August 13, three weeks later.
Mayor Cairney stated that the recommendation was passed by Councillors under the misapprehension that it was designated as one of state significance; whereas in reality on July 24, Council was actually the consent authority for the development, therefore that the “consultation process was corrupted from the start.”
The Mayor said he was unable to table the documentation as there was a great danger that this action might contaminate any inquiry.
When Mayor Cairney finished his address, the rest of the Councillors, who seemed divided into two camps, sprang into action.
Cr Pam Green led the objections for the anti-inquiry group which appeared to count among their numbers, former Mayor Chris Vardon and Councillors Laugher, Pollack, Gough, Dance and herself.
Cr Green began with a series of carefully crafted questions that insinuated the Mayor had not had proper advice. She stated she would not vote for any inquiry unless she was able to view the documents.
Cr Vardon declared the Mayor was “making a fundamental mistake. You have made a statement, which would indicate maladjustment in procedure. You said you showed the documents to ‘special’ councillors not to the others.” Mayor Cairney denied this.
He said he had only shown Crs Smellin and Brown the minute regarding the special meeting – nothing else.
Cr Laugher began his rhetoric, only to be interrupted by Vardon. He then declined to continue and ceded the floor to the ex-mayor. Heated discussion led to Mayor Cairney being forced to name Crs Vardon, Laugher and Pollock as the persons he alleged were implicated in the early negotiations.
Vardon declared he ‘would be happy if Parliament decided to hold an inquiry – in all my years on council, I have not done one thing of which I am ashamed.”
Cairney replied that he was “accusing Vardon of nothing.
Addressing Vardon directly, Mayor Cairney said “You got yourself into this position and you can get yourself out of it.”
In a counter move, Pam Green declared a vote of no confidence in the Mayor which was ignored, as Council then voted on the motion to support the Mayor’ s call for an inquiry.
The voting pattern was – for the inquiry: Crs Cairney, Smellin and Brown; against – Crs Vardon, Laugher, Pollock, Green, Gough and Dance.
Mayor Cairney, by his own admission said he did not have the eloquence so aptly displayed by Cr Vardon.
But those members of the public, seated in the gallery would realize Mayor Cairney possesses ‘a deep, abiding passion for transparent and accountable governance’.
He has staked his job on it.