We are fortunate to have some highly enlightened contributors expressing clearly the reality of our city’s situation. Amongst a plethora of infrastructure problems, the CCS has been the longest-running.
By Tom Strickland AO
Over a calming cup of coffee, or something more substantial, one may wonder – how did we ever get into this mess? Did we naively trust that no one could/would masterfully orchestrate a manipulation of our Cultural facilities?
Were we remiss in not recognising the decisions being made? The history of our past Council’s carries interesting warning signals of the current crisis, particularly during the current initial four-year term. As you form an opinion, consider how these actions may have paved the way for our current predicament.
Our Mayor campaigned successfully in 2008 on a modern Entertainment Centre/Civic Space platform to replace our Civic Centre. Thirteen years later, we are no closer to this goal.
The State Government sold Council the whole of City Hill for (only) $50,000 under a covenant that the land was to be developed as a Cultural Precinct. This magnificent site has enormous potential for a Cultural Precinct worthy of our city.
Council commissioned an architect, and a beautiful concept was exhibited for City Hill (see below).
Yet after investing so significantly, Councillors were advised by the GM that the State Mapping showed City Hill was adversely affected by water. (I believe this turned out to be a tiny part of the southern swamp on the South-East corner where the Council now proposes to erect a storage facility for excess Museum items.)
Unfortunately, Councillors accepted this, in my opinion, dubious advice all too quickly and abandoned the City Hill project without further investigation.
Rumours circulated that Council saw commercial real estate profitability in overturning the Covenant attached to City Hill. Simultaneously, the CBD was in decline, giving rise to the emphasis on promoting high rise construction to prop up our ailing CBD.
Changing direction from election commitments, our Mayor became devoted to the severely cramped Gordon Street CCS project.
Following a carefully managed community consultation process, Councillors were advised of disunity within cultural groups on their priorities for a Cultural Precinct. This advice was not consistent with views held by the wider community. This selectively acquired opinion resulted in a resolution passed in 2018 setting the Entertainment Centre apart from the Cultural Space.
It all appeared innocent enough – at the time. No one foresaw the opportunity created by this resolution for the appropriation of this “Civic Space” as new Council Chambers.
When announcing the CCS, the community generally accepted that the CCS contained the long-awaited replacement of our Civic Centre. Few had noticed or interpreted the impact the earlier resolution would have.
From questions raised, citizens realised the new Council Chambers proposed for Gordon Street denied council access to significant Government grants as a cultural space. The CCS was not solely “Cultural” but had “Civic” components included – no doubt to validate the dominant chamber/offices taking pride of place in the new building. The State Government withdrew a previous approval of $9million, committed for cultural building purposes.
Early in the current Council, a Councillor had to withdraw through ill health. It appears that it was still early enough in the term of Council that the next eligible candidate, Mark Sultana, could be granted any vacant Councillor seat.
Council appears to have granted monthly approvals for leave of absence to the ill Councillor until the replacement eligibility had expired. A resignation was then received, creating a vacancy for a Councillor, but this now required an election.
Council made application to the Minister for Local Government to function with eight Councillors until the elections of September 2020. Ostensibly, the request was to avoid the cost of an election.
Ministerial approval resulted in a Council equally divided, thus facilitating the Mayoral Casting Vote to overpower the recurrent 4/4 vote gridlock that followed. For the past 2.5 years, every 4/4 dead-locked vote on CCS did not follow the motion convention as being lost.
This is known as Speaker Denisons (Speaker Denison pictured below) rule and has been written about in CCO at length over the past two and a half years. See the following as but one example https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/the-mayors-continual-use-of-a-casting-vote-might-be-strictly-legal-but-it-is-also-profoundly-undemocratic/
Instead, the Mayor repeatedly used the ‘casting vote’ despite the uproar within the community. The Mayor has ruled omnipotently in all CCS matters for over two years.
The Minister for Local Government ignored desperate efforts by anxious citizens to draw attention to our plight. The single message arising from the Minister’s Office was that we have only one method to address our problem: to elect the candidates who will serve the people’s will at the next election. Patiently we waited for September 2020 to address our concerns, further exacerbated by the Ministers’ deferring the election date firstly for one year, and now a further three months.
By December 4 this year this council will have been in place for five years and three months.
To the credit of the four gallant Councillors Amos, Rhodes, Swan and Arkan, although denied the natural right of a democratic vote, they laboured diligently during those years to defend the truth.
To quote our learned contributor Bill Jones:
Lead photo: COUNCIL CHAMBERS 1970-1990 – demolished supposedly to ultimately provide an entertainment centre.