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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Ancient Chinese bureaucracy didn’t mess about

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Casual in appearance but not in practice: Chinese bureaucrats from 221 BCE onwards produced the best reports, strategies and forward planning instruments, all with impeccable calligraphy and under a strict Confucian framework that aimed to prevent corruption. Image www.fpif.org
Casual in appearance but not in practice: Chinese bureaucrats from 221 BCE onwards produced the best reports, strategies and forward planning instruments, all with impeccable calligraphy and under a strict Confucian framework that aimed to prevent corruption. Image www.fpif.org

Hans Lovejoy

While the dust is yet still settle around Byron council’s ongoing discombobulations,  let’s look at who had the best bureaucracy.

It was China of course!

The historical tradition of Chinese bureaucracy goes way back to the creation of the Qin dynasty in 221 BCE.

According to www.britannica.com, sitting an exam for the specialist Chinese imperial universities included impeccable calligraphy skills, combined with an ability to fuse vast legal and historical knowledge on the back of Confucian classics.

And you thought applying for a secondary-dwelling DA was complicated?

It was a golden Chinese era where scholars and the intelligentsia ruled the east, while the English, for example, were one foot in the grave at age 30 from rotten teeth and poor hygiene.

Fast forward a few thousand years – has anything gotten better? As Talking Heads might have sung, but didn’t, you may find yourself in a room with councillors and bureaucrats taking notes while they bash through 1,300-page agendas without a hope of completing it, despite taking six hours.   

Mayor Simon Richardson looks like he enjoys his job less and less every meeting.

The humorous quips have almost evaporated and the beltings he and his fellow councillors receive from the public in morning access are getting longer. Last Thursday felt like a record – councillors had to put up with three hours of it. So in total, the meeting was nine hours.

That’s a lot of pain.

During public access, longtime council heckler John Anderson aka Fast Buck$ helpfully suggested that councillors could hold more meetings so they could get through the agenda.

He said, ‘How can such long meetings be conducive to good decision making?’

‘This is ridiculous, he said. ‘This means staff can sneak things through. The rezoning of the railway corridor is buried in over 1,000 pages. And the printed attachments only came out the day before the meeting.’

It’s a fair call I guess – the ancient TV sitcom Yes Minister is the template for how bureaucrats control politicians.

There is one early episode where the bumbling clueless minister is given vast amounts of reports – or distractions – to deal with while his chief bureaucrat Humphrey Appleby gets on with actually running the place.

Fast Buck$ then called on councillors to quit if they don’t hold more meetings, much to the enjoyment of the crowd.

Meanwhile Matthew O’Reilly – who represents the Shire’s progress associations – accused staff of misleading councillors over land clearing at Tyagarah airfield. He showed overhead slides of before and after satellite images, and asserts 500-odd trees were ripped down, some of which are suspected to be koala habitat.

A memorable moment was also hearing market stallholder Ian Brown begin his public speech by singing ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’

Anyway here is some of what happened in the chamber later in the day.

Rural weddings

Event sites/function centres (read: weddings) in rural zones is one step closer after Cr Basil Cameron got majority support to prepare a draft amendment for the Byron Local Environmental Plan 2014 and ‘insert a clause permitting function centres with consent in zones RU1, RU2 and R5 subject to a range of controls which will manage impacts on existing residents.’

‘Information sessions’ will also be conducted ‘in all rural communities where the proposal may have affect.’

And because it was a motion penned by Cr Cameron, it comes with thorough and rigorous oversight. It concludes: ‘Following completion of the information sessions and other community consultation, a report be received by council with a review of the community meetings and consultation.’

Crs Coorey, Martin, Lyon, Ndiaye, Richardson and Hackett voted in favour of the motion, while Crs Spooner and Hunter voted against.

Mullum council-owned land rezoning

Cr Spooner heartily congratulated staff for a report that will proceed with rezoning council-owned land, even if it wasn’t written in ancient Chinese prose with impeccable calligraphy.

‘It’s a sound proposal, has a robust process and is forward thinking,’ he said.

The 22 hectares are adjacent to the Mullum Community Gardens between the high school sports fields and railway line and is earmarked for affordable housing

During debate, the mayor took the time to reflect on himself and said, ‘Listening to abuse and misinformation is not why I do this job. I live for these big-ticket issues. This is not a 200-house subdivision, [it’s an opportunity] to live off the land and interact with the town. It’s an opportunity to meet the needs of affordable housing.’

During morning public access, Malcolm Price representing  Social Habitat Housing told the chamber, ‘I am concerned that many people are leaving the area every day.’ He supported the staff report’s recommendation. ‘This won’t be exploited by developers later,’ he assured the chamber, ‘This could create real housing outside [normal avenues]. 

But longtime council watcher Matthew Lambourne wasn’t so impressed, and said it would create 200- odd homes within known flood levels. ‘The claims it can be done don’t take climate change into account,’ he said. ‘There are no evacuation plans and it is based on current flooding levels. There is no assessment yet…’

Eco village

councillors have put the Saddle Road Bruns Eco Village proposal on hold while staff sift through public submissions from those wanting to rezone their land to affordable housing sites.

Butler Street ownership

Cr Sarah Ndiaye told the chamber she wasn’t comfortable with the rezoning of Butler Street. ‘I feel like we have been railroaded into decisions,’ she said, probably to the surprise of no-one.

Eventually councillors agreed to ask the minister and the governor for approval to acquire five blocks of land known as the Butler Street Reserve. Cameron voted against and said it needed more consultation with stakeholders.

And here’s the last bit that makes it into this valuable white space – Cr Michael Lyon was sucessful in getting support to not engage in contracts with companies that have ties to Adani. That’s could cost council around $100,000 as they use Downer for road repairs, staff said,


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