Tweed Shire Council appears to be split along factional lines when it comes to the issue of climate change and how to deal with it locally.
Three moves at the last council meeting to raise awareness on climate change in the community and prioritise policies and actions on it, including allocating $100,000 funding, were approved but with a narrow 4-3 vote.
The three pro-development bloc councillors Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne consistently opposed the moves by Crs Katie Milne and Gary Bagnall, with two of them casting doubt on the science of climate change and community support for it.
Even the acting general manager, Troy Green, got involved during debate on a move for council to publish articles from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Mr Green argued that council’s weekly newsletter the Tweed Link should not be the vehicle for such articles, citing chapter and verse editorial policy on what can or cannot be included in the publication.
He said it was important the newsletter ‘maintained integrity’ and was a ‘reliable news source for the community’ to allow it to make ‘informed decisions’.
Mr Green said if such articles were to be considered, ‘they need to be paid advertisers’, which drew a bemused reaction from some in the public gallery.
Mayor Barry Longland then suggested watering down the original motion to publish the articles on its website instead.
But Cr Byrne suggested the ‘wonderful services’ of the shire libraries should be the place for people to find out about climate change, because including such information on the website would be a ‘duplication’ and ‘require staff to put it in’.
Cr Youngblutt said he agreed with Mr Green and Cr Byrne ‘because this is controversial’ and ‘probably 50/50 believe climate change was created by Co2’ and the causes were ‘not researched’.
Mr Green said regularly researching articles for inclusion would take staff time and would be difficult for officers who did not have a ‘scientific background’, but that including links to other sites was ‘achievable’.
Cr Bagnall said the local government association in South Australia had spent $740,000 on a project to look at how councils could adapt to climate change and identify likely impacts on councils’ infrastructure.
He said it would be of great interest to ratepayers to have regular information on what impacts and costs climate change would have.
Cr Polglase said he was concerned about resources ‘used to promote federal government policy’ and that council should stick to ‘roads rates and rubbish’.
He said ‘many in the community don’t agree with it’ and want the money spent elsewhere.
Cr Longland said it was ‘important for us to demonstrate that we do regard it as a serious moral issue in the community’ and the resources required would not be ‘terribly onerous’.
Cr Milne said council needed to raise awareness of the issue and take a leading role in educating the community on it.
She welcomed approval of the motion to allocate $100,000 toward a climate change fund in the 2013-14 budget to implement actions relating to council’s sustainability officer and for any savings recouped, such as energy efficiencies, to be reinvested into the fund.
The other motions were: for council to prioritise climate change as an urgent and high priority in all relevant areas of council policy and operations, and bring forward policy options to implement this approach to a future workshop; and that council publishes links on its web site to articles from the IPCC and other credible government agencies.