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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Who breached council confidentiality?

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Vince Kelly, East Ballina

The general manager of Ballina Shire Council, Mr Paul Hickey, has merged the separate issues of secrecy and confidentiality (Concern over leaked figures, N/S 18/3).

I described the Commercial Services Committee meeting as a ‘secret meeting’ because Mr Hickey did not disclose the nature of the business transaction in the agenda. I believe that this was a deliberate ploy to stop ratepayer opposition to a commercial transaction that was clearly not in their best interest. It is hard to object to something if you do not know what it is about.

It was only after the minutes of the secret meeting had been posted on the council’s website that it was confirmed that councillors had approved a land swap with Fire and Rescue NSW. Mr Hickey’s secret was out.

Mr Hickey has been reported as saying that ‘Fire and Rescue had asked council that we not release any information in respect to this matter’. So why did Mr Hickey not advise the councillors that the way in which they had expressed their resolution would not comply with the wishes of the firies? If there has been a breach of Council’s code of conduct then is Mr Hickey the culprit?

Council’s Tamarind Drive property has been on the market for several years and has been commented on in numerous council reports, which are public documents. There is a lot of information in the marketplace about Council’s property holdings and activities.

If Mr Hickey wants to play monopoly and wheel, deal and speculate in freely traded property markets with ratepayers’ money then he needs to understand that information about his activities will find its way to the marketplace.

The market is dynamic and full of rumours, hearsay and facts. Market intelligence is continually being gathered, filtered, dissected and analysed by people who will comment and opine on a whole range of issues. Transactions are continually being negotiated, finessed and documented. Often there are many players involved in both sides of a deal.

Just because Mr Hickey submits a business paper on one of his property proposals to a council meeting and the councillors resolve to consider it in a confidential session does not mean that the information is not already in the marketplace. It is only councillors and council staff who are subject to a confidential resolution. It does not apply to the general public who may be in possession of the information.


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