Coffs Harbour City Council’s GM presents his ‘vision’

This interview was conducted in 2018 and was published on the web site of Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) – Coffs Harbour City Council is a member of RCA

So how do you think this stacks up in 2020? Go to the comments boxes below and let us know.

All comments will be moderated prior to publication

10 thoughts on “Coffs Harbour City Council’s GM presents his ‘vision’

  1. Here is a comment published in part elsewhere here at CCO, but it’s worth a moment if you’ve missed it to help clear up for you why the Gordon St proposition cannot in 2020 reasonably be called a ‘Cultural’ building as being done so by the Coffs Harbour City Council.

    The obvious point firstly is the Cultural and Civic Space building is a council office building. All said on that. Except this: Anyone feel good about having their cultural experience knowing a General Manager is sitting in a big office right above your head?  (This is possibly the first time Dante’s Inferno isn’t welcome in coming to mind.)

    When “Culture” serves its elevated purpose we too become elevated. Our minds and hearts and spirits – and sometimes our eyes – soar to the heavens. My advice for anyone who goes into this proposed ‘Cultural’ building is, with a General Manager sitting right above you:

    Don’t look up.

    Still want the building?

    The next point can be made by asking a question.  What do you call a place that comprises four hundred houses?  It’s possibly too small for a hamlet.  Whatever it is, you can picture it.  Travel the country anywhere and you’ll find this place, out there a long way between two townships.  Alone.  Four hundred homes.  What else do you find there?  You find a red Postal Box and beside it a little glass box on a stand, with a swinging glass door.  Inside that glass box are books.

    Now, I’m not saying that’s a library.  What I am saying is that community is providing books for itself.  Four hundred homes, and a place to go to get a book.

    That’s beautiful.  (Some actually have a little sign: “Community Library”.)

    Let’s go to another place, this has two thousand homes. These people have organised for themselves a space where local paintings and perhaps wood-turned bowls are displayed.  That’s a gallery.

    Now let’s go to down to just a single home, in the middle of nowhere.  One very alone house.

    Out the front, within its low-built little wire fence, are some plants flowering. Beside these is an old buggy, on a tilt, weathered by a century of rains, with rusted steel-spoked wheels.  Or maybe an old horse-drawn plough.

    Now, I’m not saying that’s a museum.  But I am saying that a person in that one house is respecting history. Not only that, history is being displayed proudly.

    So we have here books, a gallery, and history, provided and on display.   All achieved by those people by themselves. No Council.

    2000 houses, 400 houses, and 1 house.  Books, gallery and history.  Proudly provided. This is what we people do. With little resources and little money, we do it by ourselves.

    Coffs Harbour in the seventies was a town of 25,000 people was the premiere boom town of NSW.  People moving here enlarged it from a category town into a city.  Its population today is 72,000.

    Coffs Harbour City Council, today, with all of its resources at hand, is trying to provide for our community in what it is calling its cultural plan an extremely expensive building proposition in Gordon St. This new building will provide books, gallery and history.

    Books. Gallery. History. The. absolute. basics.

    With me?

    As well as what General Manager Steve McGrath has said, here’s Mayor Denise Knight, under the official typeface promotional letterhead and speaking for our current Coffs Harbour City Council:

    This is certainly shaping up to be a place of progress that we will all be very proud of.

    Here is Mayor Denise Knight again:

    This is about the future and giving Coffs people a modern, safe and central place to learn, hangout and be inspired.  It’s a lot more than you realise with something for everybody, 7 days a week.

    Mayor Denise Knight again:

    It is a key part of putting our city centre on the map especially beyond the bypass.  Having a landmark building such as this will give people that reason to turn off and take the Coffs exit.  Frankly it is what all great cities of Australia have.

    That is cultural infantalism.

    So let’s be clear about our cultural development. We are getting, as a long-time famous regional city of 72000 people, in this modern age, with all their resources available, nothing more in this building than the absolute basics. We are getting in this proposed building nothing more culturally than what that lone house has provided for itself, the little place of 400 homes has provided for itself, and the hamlet of 2000 has provided for itself.

    Books, gallery and history. When it comes to human culture, and limited Western culture at that, this is The. absolute. basics.

    Yet our current Coffs Harbour City Council is loudly and proudly declaring the Cultural and Civic Space is a “cultural development”. And it will again. Now we have the General Manager out publicly trying to defend it.

    Time after time the Cultural and Civic Space, lauded as high achievement, has come to us on the CHCC letterhead with full Council promotional regalia.  It has a lot of people believing it. Council can rest on the technicality that cultural activity can occur in their proposition because it houses books, a gallery and history (though the latter after Thursday’s meeting is now actually wobbly).

    But the. absolute. basics. is a bar too low for the Gordon St building to be reasonably called a cultural building. Even without council offices it is an infantile portrayal.

    When a city’s Council uses the term ‘cultural building’ as their pinnacle cultural achievement its citizens can rightly expect more. than. the. absolute. basics.

    What this CHCC is doing is harnessing and trading off the power inherent in the word “Cultural”. To anyone with a second thought, that is unreasonable and unfair. When the predominant local institution, with full governmental powers and responsibilities, and with all of their resources available, and as representatives of its citizens uses the word “Cultural” blazing from its letterhead regalia, in 2020, we expect more culturally than the. absolute. basics.

    But it is worse than that.

    Try to believe this. It’s true:

    CHCC is slated to spend, in its own written terms, seventy-six million dollars to provide us with the. absolute. basics. While we already have the. absolute. basics.


    I really don’t want to end on a negative, but I’m at a loss to see any good common sense here. I fear that if built, instead of Coffs Harbour being a shining light for what is culturally possible, Coffs Harbour under these four councillors and the General Manager will become infamous and laughed at for decades when this truth is exposed nationally.

    In these present days the lengthy Coffs Harbour story has come to a crossroads.

    If the path we’re on continues, eventually this CHCC will be caught out, by more than what Denise Knight dismisses as a vocal few. Everything on these pages and everything on social media, everything that is flippantly dismissed, everything spoken in our homes and the street, is likely instead to transfer into the national voice and onto the national pages and television screens. By then it will be too late for these few decision-makers to realise what they’ve done. It won’t be the travellers who turn off the highway as in your minds Mayor Knight and General Manager Steve McGrath.

    It will be a television crew from the 7.30 Report.

    It’s not a pretty story.

    $76 million of precious money – our money – to provide us with the absolute basics that we already have.

    True synopsis. National story.

    Then, in this story, can you imagine? Just one of those with a change of mind or heart – all that’s needed to make the better change in our history being written right now.

    Remember it:

    $76 million of public money to provide us with the absolute basics that we already have.

  2. I have been struggling to find kind, empathetic and endearing words about Mr McGrath in response to this article and frankly nothing kind comes to mind. This person has a history that’s trailed him all the way to Coffs Harbour after stumbling over a few bricks along the way.
    I mean, just read what’s come forth from this highly imaginable mind AND from his other interviews given AND then focus on the realities. Has this GM of our Council delivered what his original aspirations might once have been after taking up the position under the VERY dubious and questionable circumstances??
    It’s a resounding “NO”from me and I suspect that would be the view shared by many.

  3. $76,000,000.000. We have that to spend.

    Let’s see how we can spend it.

    Steve McGrath, Denise Knight, Sally Townley, Michael Adendorff and George Cecato in their capacaties in local governance in Coffs Harbour want to spend it on the following:

    Co-working space
    Council offices
    Council Chambers
    Community meeting spaces.

    We already have:

    Co-working space
    Council offices
    Council Chambers

    What we don’t have, unless you want to hang out in the Coffs Harbour City Council foyer, is the last one named above, in a government building: Community meeting spaces.

    That means that the $76,000,000.00 we have to spend is getting us government Community meeting spaces.

    I reckon that’s absolutely brilliant. Steve McGrath, fantastic! Well done. You too, Denise, Sally, Michael and George!


    The smartest local governmental spend in Australia’s history. $76 Million to provide Community meeting spaces.

    I wonder what these Community meeting spaces might look like. I expect there’ll be chairs and tables. Might be a coffee bar. Might look something like a local cafe, without the local cafe ambience. But that’s not the same as hanging out in a government building.

    We could of course spend the seventy-six mil on something we don’t have. But let’s not ruin this historical moment in Coffs Harbour and Australian history.

    Instead, we’ll honour it by laying it out in the flesh. You know those lovely fifty dollar notes we all get a buzz from when we see them in our wallet … let’s put them end to end. 76 Mil.

    We’ll start in Coffs. One by one, end to end. We end up … where?

    Well, wouldn’t you know it! We end up in Las Vegas! 12,540 kilometres away.

    And guess what! We still have two thousand seven hundred and seventy of those crisp avocado fifties in our pocket. $138,500 to spend. Has to be a go-er doesn’t? I mean, right there in the world’s cultural capital.

    Come on, lads and gals. We can do this! Sure, it takes a little while to lay them all out, to get there, over the Pacific Ocean and all. But that’s a fair whack left over.

    Come on!!

    Tell you what. Steve! No. Denise!! You can pick the building. Steve, you get the first fifty. Drop it anywhere you like.

    And the best bit saved for last. All of that to spend, and the surprise is you all have T-Shirts with COFFS HARBOUR printed on the back! You’ll be a sight to behold!

    Go on, lads and gals. Go and have some fun. We’ll be with you, all the way.

  4. Our citizens have campaigned valiantly for the past fifteen months to “pause” this wilful CCS extravagance, that only amounts to a glorified castle for our public servants – “servants” indeed ??!! Democracy is dead in our city! Fifteen thousand voices have been ignored! A vacancy for one Councillor has created an autocratic Mayoral casting vote that will defy the will of the people for a period of three (3) years. As citizens we are denied any form of redress until September 2021 elections. Remember this iniquitous debt well when next we go to the polls!

    1. Dear Anne, I hope you don’t mind a response to your comment. It has raised the fact of 15,000 voices speaking against the CCS, and for what it’s worth I’d like to share a thought on that.

      Australia is by its nature not an activist country. It is becoming moreso, but the main strengths of our nation’s response to political decisions reside in speaking them but not acting on them. We are really well behaved, when compared with other countries responses to political propositions and decisions. We wait our turn to act, which is through the ballot. Until then, we talk amongst ourselves, which isn’t an activist response.

      Those 15,000 people to whom we refer have shifted their response from talking to activism. That shift, alone, is a big thing. That it occured. It goes against the grain of how we behave as citizens. When 15,000 people do it, it signals are much, much deeper disgust for the issue.

      I’m sure you agree.

      I don’t know what the actual figure would be, were those who speak their disgust also be included.

      From the remainder, a large part of our community, as with anywhere, is simply not interested in what politicians of any level do or say: they have their lives to contend with and their interest is otherwise occupied.

      Of the remainder, too, are those who are just happy to see something given to them from which they might benefit. The full PR sales pitches on the Coffs Harbour City Council letterhead regalia make them feel that they will benefit, and would therefore speak their support for it.

      So, the disgust element for CCS within this community could be, and I’d be guessing, at around 45-50,000.

      The only other factor within the community to acknowledge are those who straightout do support the building having assessed and regard it as a good thing. I think it’s very fair to say these are not the majority. I expect these would be people whose focus is on the city centre, and their view of the proposition is informed by that focus. There are a few thousand there, I guess.

      In considering those who do support the project, Councillors should ask themselves: how are they active? Those supporters would be very well aware of those who are fervently and absolute in being against it, and are themselves active as mentioned. Councillors should ask themselves: where are the supporters placards? Where are the supporters rallying against the threat we who oppose the building present to them?

      Where are those bombarding CCO?

      I assure you, if the same passion for the project existed as exists with those against, the ‘for’ group would be hitting this comment facility in concerted numbers.

      The well behaved citizenry of our region has shifted only from speaking to activism in only one area of the debate: those against.

      A councillor would be very foolish to not be aware of this, or naieve, or otherwise unaware of the way issues play out in this country. It’s called having a finger on the pulse, political antennae, feeling for the public sentiment … these are phrases used to define a special characteristic our famous politicians have, such as Bob Hawke and John Howard. Either of these, I am certain, would have their eyes sharp on the lookout for an attendant grouping of supporters for the project, when an existing grouping is so active against it. We can very rightly presume these two, from either side of the fence, would come to the same conclusion here: the project doesn’t sit well with the community as a whole.

      We can make that presumption because we have watched both of those consummate politicians in action, and the communities’ responses when they acted on political issues.

      Denise Knight, Sally Townley, Michael Adendorff, and George Cecato cannot be regarded as consummate politicians, and in their honesty I’m sure wouldn’t regard themselves as so. It is understandable they don’t possess the political antennae to detect what we know out on the streets.

      I shan’t carry on trying to guess why they can’t detect it. My point is that the 15,000 that is continually referred to as the voice against the project is but a fraction of those who are, for the reasons above.

      A moment, too, on the idea that figure might be diminishing, due to the smaller number who signed the “pause” petition. I’m sure Denise Knight considers that a sign that the protestors are fading. And, too, Councillor X as reported here recently.

      That, too, is a sign of political naivety or lack of antennae. It is also a failure of thought. The petition requested a “pause”. Many, I’m sure, couldn’t be moved a jot about a pause. They’re too angry about the project to want to pause it, they want it stopped outright. If we spend a moment thinking about what it’s like for these people, so angry as not to sign it, we can feel why they wouldn’t. Inherent, too, for them, is that a pause indicates that the petition will be rendered useless because it’s only a pause: that the petition is in a way stating the project will continue. Thus, they’ll shun it.

      That’s not to denegrate Citizens Voice, at all. I commend them passionately.

      Others, too, are tired of the terrible political state of affairs and quite rightly for their wellbeing are shifting back from activism into talking.

      We have to remember too that those four councillors don’t associate closely with those who hate what they’re doing. None of us do that. These councillors are sure to be getting supporting influences from those around them personally, or, a kindly word dressed gently if against. The councillors are not getting the vehemency, the careful appraisal, the financial dissection, the media sensitivity, all the different types of views and feelings formed by those who reject this project. They are not facing the public. Were the Council gallery to be open during meetings, they would get a shock.

      But really, those four are very wedded to the idea the project holds over them. It is very hard to pierce through that.

      Those of us who are against the project have no choice but to keep on hammering away. Bit by bit. One thing is for certain, if we quieten, then it’s all over. However, keeping at it, keeping at it, means that we are continually in those four peoples’ minds, and it’s being in there that if a change of mind or heart is to come, it can.

      And yet again I include the councillors who vote against this project. These people are letting us down. Insipid motions and lovey dovey meetings trying so overhard to be civil, lest the project as an elephant in the chambers break them into exposing how they really feel about each other, that weak and ineffective action is just as much a part of the problem as those who want the project. So keep at them, too.

      If Keith Rhoades ran a public campaign with the passion he did when he told the story to keep out historical site, the entire weight of public support has a focus, and it moves again. That movement, through a single councillor, could force change when in chambers. He can speak for us. Then, back on the street, he is given more support, another element to submit to the media, and it grows again.

      One councillor to have a change of mind or heart who is against the project, one, the same change, who is for it. And it’s all over.

  5. What right does a paid employee of an elected body albeit an extremely well paid employee have to a personal vision that he is pushing using his unelected position within the city? It is the people of the city to decide the direction of the city not an employee who has so much more access to the decision making processes just because of his salaried position. Does a person on a huge salary have a greater right to push an certain agenda than an ordinary ratepayer? I think not.

    1. You are absolutely right Richard. A classic case of the tail wagging the dog, where the dog comprises of a few shallow, easily led councillors, who lack the capacity of original thought and ability to create their own vision, who have grasped the GM’s self-serving ‘vision’ as if it were their own, to justify their existence on council.

  6. I’m wondering if this five and a half minute video may help shine a light on why those four councillors and the GM are so given to the CCS project. The sort of presentation here is provided in all sorts of forms for governments to progress their societies. This one is by the OECD.

    I’m sure CHCC has been given elements as shown in this clip. Here we have futuristic, if you like, or modern, ways of sharing and developing culture. Little inclusions as you’ll see in this clip, such as the modern museum, if shown in any consultants’ report would capture the minds of those four councillors and form a part of why they’re raving about what’s coming to us and that “there’s more to this than you expect.”

    Thus, local minds have been captured, and hard to budge. I may be entirely wrong. But I reckon it’s this sort of thing that’s got ’em. And therefore why they think this CCS building can provide for you.

    We know, of course, the CCS project is a trojan project riding on the powers inherent in the word “culture” to bring you elements such as you see in this clip supposed to excite you and that they regard as good enough for Coffs when this project’s prime reason for being is those government offices. Thus, a pale distant echo of what can really happen in a cultural development, but for us in Coffs these councillors are smitten and think it’s good enough.

    If I am wrong, in any case, and if you’re interested, try to imagine what could happen on land such as City Hill if you watch this – in other words, try to imagine what an incredible opportunity we have, with the word “culture” being thrown, to do something magnificent. This video in a little way helps depict my vision as I’ve blunderously tried to share in words. If City Hill isn’t the land, then put it on the Community Land near the foreshores. You’ll see a glimpse of why cultural development should be done properly:

    There are many more videos on cultural development on YouTube, including why Australia has done it tough. And, in all of my personal comments, ever is the unsaid unsettling the spirit: that Aboriginal culture isn’t being included in our cultural development – with dearest apologies. I’m afraid we can’t get our own act in order and up to scratch, let alone embrace our greatest culture present in our community. And of course the many other places-of-birth that enrich it.

  7. Sorry. No vision there.
    He doesn’t even acknowledge the contribution of Tourism, or Agriculture/Forestry in his answer to key industries, and this Council’s credentials on key environmental issues (eg: continued clearing of critical wildlife habitat and water usage, wastage and contamination by local ag.) has been found wanting during his watch.

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