Is our local ‘Shylock’ only interested in a ‘pound of flesh”?

Of late, people elected by the people to represent them, in other words in the traditional manner of democracy, were penalized.   Democracy is from ancient Greece and is the concept of government of the people for the people by the people.

By Rob Steurmann 

The Office of Local Government (OLG) was at pains to tell local residents they could, and should, exercise their democratic rights at the next council election.  

But when will that be the case? It keeps getting postponed.

Of interest is a sort of obsession we can see in the current Coffs Harbour City Council. Certain paid employees plough on in the full knowledge a substantial section of the community vehemently disagrees with their approach.

Elected representatives trying to express resident’s views are then somehow guilty of bringing council into disrepute.  How odd!

Shakespeare (below), also known as ‘the Bard’, was a prolific writer across three broad genres; historical, comedy and tragedy.  Many people can quote, from their school days, a few choice phrases.  For example the “quality of mercy”.

William Shakespeare's Life, Rise, Key Dates & Facts About The Bard -  HistoryExtra

This of course refers to the Merchant of Venice, Shylock, who was out to get his “pound of flesh”.  

It is largely accepted the Bard’s great volume of work might not all be from the pen of one man.  Many believe the Bard had no formal qualification or legal training.

The work in question is set in a courtroom with the dispute heard in front of an impartial judge.  It provides a template of the way the current dispute within council can be resolved.

Under the current NSW legislation, specifically the Local Government Act, anyone can lodge a Code of Conduct complaint.  Once done there is then a process to move the complaint on.

The question, with the current case relating to four councillors, becomes “is it really impartial”?  “Is it fair”?

The people have a democratic right and can do so by submitting a Code of Conduct complaint through our elected official the Mayor.

Then the rules take over; the Mayor passes it up for the initial judgement.  To a person not required to have any formal training or qualification. That person is usually the CEO or General Manager.

On the surface, this looks fair but the process falls in a heap when the prosecutor and the judge are the same person.  That is how it looks in this case despite attempts to disguise the facts.

Quotes about Judge And Jury (32 quotes)

Regular submissions published by Council, and the likes of the OLG, present a limited view of Council’s role and fail to examine all options. 

The focus in relation to the CCS for example is clearly on the provision of new facilities for council administration.  These will be bigger and better than those they have now.  Yet the need for the new quarters is not properly justified. 

A bigger chair in a bigger office high up in a new building is no guarantee of a better solution to any problem other than the comfort of the person who sits in the chair. 

The residents are not the beneficiaries; they are the people to cough up the cash.  Their priorities for every day services diminished for the express purposes of keeping a pampered few happy.

How can such expenditure be justified? 

A bigger chair in lieu of footpaths or garbage services is not an easy pill to swallow.  It is not value for money.

Those who then stand up and call this out appear to suffer at the hands of our ‘Shylock’. 

There is no doubt the prosecutor and the judge is both one and the same.   Like the Bard of old our ‘Shylock’ produces reams of documentation to support his need to get “a pound of flesh”.

The penalty imposed is to reflect the loss of productivity in the council.  A penalty imposed by the OLG.  But where is the independent scrutiny?  True Council submits a report to OLG annually on the number of Code of Conduct cases.   What does OLG do with the data?  Is there any test sample to ensure there is a consistent application of the rules?  Do they look beyond the stated reason advanced for the penalty?  Are they aware of ‘Shylock’s’ personal interest in the outcome?

More importantly, how does OLG know the number of cases reported is correct?  Is there some sort or secret squirrel assessment of the case complexity and the impact on residents?   What tests are done against the rating system?

In essence, I believe the OLG is very much to blame for our current problems. It was a gross error of judgement by OLG which created the problem we now have of endless 4-4 votes and dubious Mayoral casting votes. 

The normally required election to fill a vacancy was lost based on spurious ‘cost grounds’ so as to not hold the by-election. 

J. B. Morton Quote: “Justice must not only be seen to be done but has to be

Yet, it is patently clear, the misdirected resources of council to pursue this matter to get their ‘pound of flesh’ cost substantially more than the original election costs.

And what loss of productivity went into drumming up and prosecuting a complaint to the OLG about the actions of the ‘walk-out four’?

This is the OLG view of democracy for you.

For those interested the Bard’s take on the court case in the Merchant of Venice there is a peculiar problem that is never answered.  A reader might think a pound is a pound.  This is not so.  There are two measures of weight called a pound – the difference between them is two ounces. 

It makes a reader wonder if the number of cases reported to OLG might produce two answers.

Was the problem the OLG looked at and opaquely reported on really four? Or was it six?


Rob is a retired former federal government forensic auditor.


Two recent CCO stories relating to this opinion piece by Rob can be found here; and also here;

30 thoughts on “Is our local ‘Shylock’ only interested in a ‘pound of flesh”?

  1. One of the critiques of the new federal Parliament building is very interesting, and perfectly apposite in strengthening hearts and minds towards stopping Gordon St in its tracks.

    The old parliament house had a central area called King’s Hall. You had to go through that to go pretty much anywhere else of influence. As a result of this design, politicians hell-bent on an idea, by force of structure, continually bumped into those of opposing idealogically bended hell. They couldn’t miss each other.

    Journalists, then including the now-rarest in its art form: investigative journalists, of serious note and consequence, also could not be avoided.

    Old politicians of the day have said that while that was often unpleasant and unwanted, it made for a coagulation of ideas and emotions and opinions and belief systems, all of them challenged. Many, as it happened, changed. The country was the better for it.

    It was in real-life effect democracy in action.

    Now, in the new federal government building, politicians are sequestered, with private entrances, (and particularly, exits); can and do fester in their own juices until their glossed bullshadrach is ready for public persuasion. They can go an entire term without bumping into anyone who can affect their attitude.

    Imagine Steve McGrath, of no “community” mind as we expect of a general manager, sequestered up there in a self-esteeming enclosure. Cut off from the people — cut off physically in a manner that encases his psychological stance, that reflects and embraces his approach and prediliction for his way of government. And encourages it.

    Bumping into, when the desire requires, other executives awarded the same pillowed isolation.

    Is that a “community” benefit?

    This idea, in any case, that governments build themselves iconic, central buildings is as telling as the names and titles they give themselves (and their public proferrings). Giving stature and authenticity to compromise at best, crime at worst.

    One day, in the literally fantastic future, government buildings could end up in a quiet backwater of an office-y industrial area. Lovely surrounds of bushes and shrubs. Ground level. Humbly and diligently getting on with the job. Minus the mind-bending, absent seductions to egos and falsities of stature.

    Bring on, please, the new-mayoral government precinct, local council and state operations, tasteful and out of the CBD. Let’s not reward, or award, an executive assemblage who’ve proven themselves to have sequestered their work from “community” too much as it is. It’s not healthy, not productive and certainly not an “efficiency”.

    Build that thing, and the resultant problems caused by its perversion of prestige are ensured in very, very dangerous developments.

    …And to Rob Steurmann — a pearler of a piece. Short paragraphs, bullpoint straight, and entertaining to headress and boot. Anytime, Rob, you feel the need to write like that again, on local council, please do. Too many literary references is never enough!

    Portnoy’s Complaint in eager thoughts and hurried [typing] hand awaits. Apt.

  2. Thank you, Rob, for your insightful commentary

    Despite our scientific advances and social sophistication, we have not advanced very far in our human relations since Shakespeare’s time. The qualities of respect, goodwill, and fairness still struggle against personal power and greed, forces where the mighty dollar surpasses the value of a human soul. When Shylocks of this world devote every priority and facility to a monument celebrating their folly – there is a price to pay.
    Will new Council Chambers be worthy of our neglected city garbage crisis, the infrastructure neglect of roads, footpaths and amenities, our airport debacle or the disposal of our city’s assets at sacrificial prices? All this for a select group’s fame and self-aggrandisement!
    To the strains of Peter, Paul and Mary: “When will they ever learn? … When will they ever learn!”

  3. The Code of Conduct is neither impartial nor fair/just.
    The process is not independent, where one party (Council or Government) unilaterally appoints an “assessor/arbitrator”. Particularly when that party is remunerated by the “one party”.

    Government or its conies should not be a party to the decision process. Subject to the significance of the matter, the solution should be judicial.

  4. The eponymous merchant in Merchant of Venice is Antonio, not Shylock. Gotta get the metaphors right, or you look like you’re just using concepts that you don’t really understand.

    Editor: According to the links and references that follow, it’s you who are wrong; Rob doesn’t say that Shylock is the Merchant. He refers to the name of the play. Read paragraph 7 of the story.

    “Shylock is a Jew who lends money to his Christian rival Antonio, setting the security at a pound of Antonio’s flesh. When a bankrupt Antonio defaults on the loan, Shylock demands the pound of flesh.” See; And also; Halio, Jay L. (1994). The Merchant of Venice. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 23.

    1. No. Antonio is definitely the merchant that the “Merchant” of Venice refers to. The sentence that immediately follows the pic says, “This of course refers to the Merchant of Venice, Shylock”. This is incorrect; as I stated, Antonio is the merchant, not Shylock. (Your Wikipedia reference states as much, so I am not sure what wires you’re crossing.) Further the “Quality of Mercy” is delivered by Portia, not Shylock as implied, and serves to draw attention to Portia’s duplicity as, first, a cross-dressing barrister in disguise, and to equate Portia’s determination to ruin Shylock through the court system with Shylock’s bargain with Antonio (the merchant) for a pound of flesh as payment. Hmmm, ruining someone through the court system … why does that ring a bell? Your article author is onto something, but not what he thinks. His knowledge of Merchant of Venice is really very poor, and, to be frank, I cannot make heads nor tails of his analogy. Oh, and no one seriously beleives that anyone other than Shakespeare wrote his works; that’s up there with anti-vaxxers and lizard-leaders. Wait …

      Editor: Yes, but Rob didn’t call Shylock the merchant.

      He referred to; “this of course refers to the Merchant of Venice, Shylock, who was out to get his “pound of flesh”. He is talking about Shylock, from the play The Merchant of Venice. It is you who are reading in something that quite frankly is not there.

      And anyway the whole article is essentially allegorical. If this is a defence of the OLG and the CHCC you are offering here then Thomas Moore’s term ‘grasping at straws’ springs to mind.

      You say; “I cannot make heads nor tails of his analogy.” The two stories in CCO that his piece refers to are linked below the story. Perhaps you didn’t get that far?

      All correspondence on the rights and wrongs of Shylock, Portia, Antonio et al and your inability to get allegorical analogy’s is now closed.

  5. Good god do you love the sound of your own voice or what!!! Hilarious . That’s 5miutes I will never get back.

  6. Boy do you like the sound of your own voice. Well that’s 5 minutes I will never get back!!

    1. Yet you, who is most definitely a ‘Karen’, judging by the icon, are so fond of your voice you have to say it twice and all across local social media under numerous sock puppet handles?!

      I mean you accusing someone of loving the sound of their own voice? Pot. Kettle. Black. Is Hypocrisy your middle name? I suspect irony is a “silvery-goldie” thing to the likes of you isn’t it?

      And, no, Editor don’t wait for an apology she doesn’t seem do that sort of stuff from what I can see.

      Although one day, the way she is going, I suspect she may be forced to do so by someone.

      1. I love to be wrong( I learn best that way, I am a seeker of truth and knowledge) and apologise profusely when it is deserved. Xxx

  7. I have tried to post a comment in this echo chamber twice.
    Read your own rules. You allow none of it. Then post my comment in the name of free speech.

    “We are here to give an alternative voice to the Coffs Coast and to keep you up to date and involved in our region and our world.

    What can you do here? You can interact, propose and agitate.”

    Editor: All comments at CCO await moderation, which is normally done twice a day by me. This has been explained to you and others previously.

    However, due to the fact I am now undergoing ongoing medical treatment as per this story published here on 16 August last I am behind schedule and this will likely be the case for at least the rest of the year.

    All your comments from yesterday have now been published including this incredibly, as always, ‘polite and sensitive’ one. Five others patiently awaited moderation too.

    Most normal human beings would apologise at this point. You, however????????

    1. As La Galah’s contributions to CCO mostly amount to no more than insults and comments of no value, I’m sure the CCO readership would understand if you were to make an exception in the case of this ‘contributor’ when it comes to CCO’s policy of publishing all non-libelous comments.

      Editor: I did give it thought this morning I have to say. But then if it isn’t libelous as you say we publish.

      1. Found a backbone did you you scantimonious fool. You will have to try much harder to insult me. I pick my teeth with people like you. BTW. Our children when small referred to GALAH’S as pink and grey 💗 Lagalla’s , so you have revived lovely memories with your vain attempt to take me down to your level.

        1. In reply to Pink ad (sic) grey Lagalla – I may be sanctimonious (sic), but I’m surprised that you, an aging, pink and grey reptile left over from the Paleozoic era, have teeth to pick.’

          Editor: This correspondence is now closed

              1. Understood Ed, and thanks. New policy should go a long way in achieving what I called for in my original request above.

  8. Say what you will about someone whose icon we all know, she still manages to achieve her goal, which is to get undeserved attention by dint of her inane, rambling, and meaningless nonsense.

    Whilst the Editor is duty bound to publish her crap, we do not necessarily need to acknowledge her existence, since, without our attention, she has no existence.

    CCO Editor: The irony about the said contributor’s comment about CCO being an ‘echo chamber’ is not lost on us either.

    We know the person in question is an Administrator of a Facebook site locally called Advocates for Advancement (AfA). It is a closed site for members only and it is for all intensive purposes in the view of many an ‘echo chamber’ for about 110 people.

    It is rabidly pro-CCS. Opponents of the current Council and the CCS are essentially not be allowed to comment.

    About a third of AfA members don’t interact much, if at all, to be fair and probably accepted an invitation to join then wished they hadn’t done so. I know this because some have become disgusted with some of the things discussed and proposed on the site and have let others know what they think.

    But the remainder are essentially in our opinion self anointed ‘cultural commissars’ who believe the rest of us are undereducated plebeians who don’t appreciate art and culture.

    Some might even argue AfA is an elitist ‘echo chamber’. 😉

    1. Ed. I admire your fairness to print the rubbish text, but is it mandatory for the icon to appear? Children can access this sight!

      1. Site*

        Editor: Anne was referring to your icon picture. So in the context written “sight” is correct actually.

    2. And with so few well placed words your veneers of civility dissolved. I never realised I actually had so much power until I encountered this bunch of senior citizens. Thank you.

    3. Dear Julian, AFA has 179 members and some have left yes, some have been blocked yes, some have been declined yes, and yes most are the same who post and comment like all fB pages. This one being an example too. 😊 Have a lovely 1st day of Spring

      Editor: I wrote that not Julian. Thanks for confirming what the many AfA screen shots we, and numerous others we understand, have been given show. But AfA is a closed membership FB site – you forgot to mention that. So ipso facto it is a closed shop, or, wait for it, an ‘elitist echo chamber?’

      A happy first day of the SH spring to you too.

  9. So, if, as a rates-paying community member, I wish to make a complaint regarding a behaviour of Denise Knight, and concerning an action which falls within the scope of the Code of Conduct, I submit my complaint to Knight herself.

    I assume that Knight is then legally required to pass on the complaint to someone, like Mr McGrath for example, for assessment. Does Knight’s associate, due to an obvious conflict of interest, then have to forward my complaint to the OLG, where it will no doubt be found to be unfounded, or does the associate get to make that assessment himself, thereby cutting me off at the knees?

    If I were not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, do I then have to go through the same process again, this time complaining about the assessment made by the council’s assessor, whether that person be McGrath, or another council official who would like to keep his/her job?

    Are there similarities here, to the situation in which police investigate complaints about police behaviour?

    Although I believe that there is already someone employed (by council?) to monitor council behaviours, I wonder if our incoming council might consider the establishment of an Ethics Committee, perhaps chaired by a paid council officer, but utilising the services of community volunteers who have an interest in ensuring that appropriate behaviour standards are observed by both councillors and council officials.

    If community reaction in relation to Knight’s behaviour, and apparent doubts about the legitimacy of some other behaviours, is any indication, I imagine that it would not be difficult to find several dozen people who might be prepared to adopt such a role, even on a part-time basis.

    1. Julian my understanding of the complaints process is:
      If about Gen Mgr it goes to Mayor who has to inform the OLG within 28 or 30 days.

      If about a councillor – a term which includes the mayor and deputy mayor – then it goes straight to the Gen Mgr.
      Who also has to pass it on to the OLG within 28 or 30 days.

      In both cases there is a complaints co-ordinator within the council staff that it is given to.

      I would expect that if you aren’t satisfied with outcome that you can approach the OLG in the first instance and/or the complaints coordinator.

      Editor: Code of Conduct(CofC’s) decisions can also be appealed to NSW NCAT or even higher too. I’m aware of two CofC’s taken by residents that the decision handed down by the ‘independent’ investigator appointed by the CHCC is now currently being appealed.

      IE you don’t have to go round in same loop.

      Think the above is correct – it’s some time since I looked it up


      1. Gai, I’ll try to take time to check today, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of the to-ing and fro-ing between a Mayor and General Manager as one is referred to the other on CoC is discretionary. So much so that matters can be buried without anyone knowing. I recall this to be a weakness in the system which relies on people within it being basically of good character. It is a very loose document by which the system lives.

        Readers may be interested to know that the Minister has now sent in an Interim Administrator to Wingecarribee Shire Council and shut them down. When I get a chance I’ll try also to find a clear link to the official wording — it hounds the (you guessed it) easiest of targets: councillors.

      2. Thanks for the info, Gai. I can see two potential problems with this process, as it might be applied in the CHCC context. Firstly, it relies on the observance of correct process by people who may themselves be the subject of a complaint, and secondly, it relies upon the use of proper conduct by the OLG in addressing complaints. I have no confidence that either of these requirements would be met. My cynicism is apparent, but it has been created by clear instances of inappropriate behaviour by CHCC identities, which have gone without a negative consequence being applied to them, and by Hancock’s miserable failure as Minister for Local Government, to do anything about the appalling behaviour exhibited by these same CHCC identities.

      3. Some points from the CHCC Code of Conduct:

        Improper purpose for complaint includes:


        a) to bully, intimidate or harass another council official

        c) to obtain a political advantage


        Nothing under this Part prevents a person from making a public interest disclosure to an appropriate public authority or investigative authority under the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994.


        Complaints alleging a breach of this Part by a councillor, the general manager or an administrator are to be managed by the Office. This clause does not prevent the Office from referring an alleged breach of this Part back to the council for consideration in accordance with the Procedures.


        Complaints alleging a breach of this Part by other council officials are to be managed by the general manager in accordance with the Procedures.

        Relating to “complaints” above — this holds for only after a complaint is made. It does not have any inclusion in the document for the pre-formal complaint period or process. That is, and I haven’t yet had a chance to confirm it in other areas of legislation but believe it’s the case that the GM and Mayor oversee each other. This would mean that one can breach the code, then at his or her legislated discretion the other could choose not to formalise a complaint. No one would know. How this relates to councillors I can’t recall.

        The legislation is based on the presumption that bad-egg councillors won’t be elected by a public, and in terms of the above para, that a Mayor, similarly publicly entrusted, won’t get “in bed” with a General Manager. All possibly naive, but the entire Act is that.

        My guess is that the OLG doesn’t act on the swamping of public complaints it receives in fear of having to attend to them all if they attend to one. It just doesn’t have the resources. Also, there’s a clear impression that the Office and indeed premier’s office acts as a swallow-hole so that the vast numbers of citizen complaints aren’t publicly known and accountable. It is, Local and State, after all, a single government protecting itself. So it takes a major problem for the Office to act.

        Speaking of which, here’s the document from yesterday, 1st Sept, shutting down Wingecarribee Council. Interestingly, the final point (4) in it is loose, wherein a GM would be held over, yet the preceeding points 1-3 have no such looseness and aim directly at elected councillors.

        Hancock’s focus solely on councillors is I think illustrative of a very low-grade minister indeed. Which, come to think of it, could be just what a state government wants. Goodness forbid a minister wishing to make real changes and try to get the system properly cleaned up and out: that would cause its flaws being brought squarely to light. In the case of the Office of Local Government, weak is thereby good.

        Pick off a few councillors every now and then, and you’ve got some optics on the brew.

  10. Don’t get ahead of yourself dearie, I only saw this now.. I had no idea you were ill as I usually don’t bother myself with this trash. Because the comments are not posted or it becomes the usual bag Karen tirade. I hope you have a speedy recovery.

    Editor: All comments sent to CCO are eventually posted if they are not libelous or the discussions have become circuitous and repetitious. The latter of which now applies to comments pertaining to character, not substance, in this thread.

  11. Dear Editor, in the light of “Dear Karen’s” latest “contributions”, I would make these observations, and a request: This individual makes no substantial contribution to debate through the provision of informed, intelligent argument designed to encourage learning about important issues. This individual uses insult and invective as a means to gain attention and demand interaction, rather than presenting opinions which are intended to encourage rational and productive argument, or information which is intended to increase the range of knowledge to be gained by other contributors. I believe that most of the people who use CCO, do so in a collegial manner, showing respect for, and appreciation of, the thoughts, feelings and opinions of their fellow contributors. We enjoy the process of communication and, I believe, would prefer not to be subjected to the nonsensical rubbish spewed forth by Lagalla and her kind.

    It is specifically not my intention to interfere with your role as editor, but I ask that you give consideration to refusing all content from Lagalla and company, since publication of their fatuous ramblings contributes nothing but negativity to this forum. You may feel that to deny publication constitutes a denial of free speech, but the principle of free speech carries with it an implicit obligation to respect others, and the manner and content of Lagalla’s speech shows no observance, whatsoever, of this obligation.

    My observations of the media behaviours of Lagalla and McKenzie, indicate a pattern to the contributions which they make to a forum. While usually being unsophisticated, the initial contribution is not particularly offensive. Having established some interaction, they will allow their subsequent comments to rapidly deteriorate to a point at which they constitute nothing more than an outpouring of bile. I have noted that this process is repeated across several forums in a never-ending cycle. I suggest that, where CCO is concerned, it is time to break the cycle.

    1. Ed ‘I concur completely with Julian May , and ask you to create a junk bin and the first to go in this junk bin should be Dear Karen.

    2. What is there to contribute. My first comment that set the cat amongst the pigeons said it all succinctly.

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