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March 31, 2023

Ballina Shire Council meeting wrap-up

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Ballina Shire Council, February 2021 meeting. Skype screenshot.

Late February’s Ballina meeting was another bruising encounter for some councillors, though there were several unanimous decisions too.

Cr Nathan Willis was not present, but all other councillors were in the chamber, as well as a small audience in the public gallery and others watching via Skype.

After the issue of the Lennox Head pavilion was put to bed (again), councillors decided unanimously to remove the existing floodprone structure at Bullwinkel Park in Alstonville, and build a new, better-placed shelter (budgeted at $25,000), while also enhancing the riparian zone of the park.

Divestment for climate

There were two motions relating to fossil fuel divestment, both moved by Cr Jeff Johnson and seconded by Cr Sharon Parry, but with opposite outcomes.

Lyn Walker from the Ballina Environment Society said the motions restored ‘council’s intent that climate change be prioritised rather than business as usual.’ She said there had been five years of failure since Ballina Council had decided to move away from dirty investments, with fossil-fuel aligned investments actually increasing over that period.

‘Ballina Council staff have breathtakingly asserted that if there is conflict between council resolutions and existing policy then existing policy should proceed,’ said Ms Walker.

‘Shutting the fortress door has allowed staff to declare that divesting fossil fuel investments is too hard, so things have gone in the opposite direction,’ she said. Ms Walker pointed to Waverley Council as an example of a better way forward, with their speedy movement into green bonds.

She said local councils needed to push the big banks to help them head in an environmentally sound direction, with investments needing to flow to whichever bank stopped funding fossil fuel projects first.

Not good enough

Speaking to the first motion, Cr Jeff Johnson said ‘it’s not good enough for Australia to have our own aim to be carbon neutral but still export millions of tonnes of coal to the rest of the world.’

Cr Jeff Johnson. Photo David Lowe.

He argued that local government had a potentially powerful influencing role on bank investments regarding fossil fuels, with $13bn of investments and term deposits in the market.

‘If we can push a major bank to draw a line in the sand, that would be a major change moving forward,’ said Cr Johnson. ‘Money talks and money can walk’.

Cr Ben Smith said there were state government directives on how money could be invested, whether councillors liked it or not. He said banks had no interest in anything except making money, and would move to renewables as they became more profitable.

Cr Phillip Meehan said he couldn’t imagine a bank responding to council pressure in the way that was hoped, and in any case ‘fossil fuels are never going to go away’. He suggested that councillors look closer to home and use less paper if they wanted to improve the environment.

Cr Keith Williams. Photo David Lowe.

Cr Keith Williams said the assertion that fossil fuels would always be used was ‘nonsense’, but that the carbon budget was non-negotiable and a matter of physics. He also said he was ‘totally unconvinced’ by the processes suggested by Cr Johnson’s first motion, and would not be supporting it.

Cr Eoin Johnston said ‘If we start on hypocrisy with investments we’re on a slippery slope… We need to stop investing in fossil fuels but today is not the place to do that.’ Other councillors expressed similar concerns.

Cr Johnson responded by saying ‘I can’t believe no one will support this. I’m totally shocked.’

The first motion went down with only Crs Johnson and Parry in support.

After morning tea, a less radical but related motion, to develop a campaign/strategy to encourage local government across Australia to place their investments and loans with fossil-fuel aligned banking institutions, succeeded, 5:4.

Planning discussions, mozzies, movies and airspace

Planning-related motions included the approval of a new 24/7 gym/takeaway/industrial building with a high ceiling in the Ballina industrial area on Ascot Road, amendments to rural function centre rules (designed to minimise impacts on rural residents), and a green light for small lot sizes at the new Lennox Rise development.

Council unanimously agreed to publicly exhibit the new mosquito management plans for the shire, with thanks to Dr Webb and other contributing experts.

In the absence of Cr Nathan Willis, Cr Ben Smith asked whether the Alstonville movie deal was paying for itself yet. Staff responded that the money would start flowing in March, with Byron Studios confirming the first production would be God’s Favourite Idiot.

Cr Eoin Johnston said there wouldn’t be a shortage of inspiration in the area.

There were the usual large number of development applications – ‘staff you are very busy!’ said Cr Cadwallader – and a motion of urgency relating to the Lennox Point Hotel. This led to a robust discussion about leasing of ‘airspace’ above the footpath, and related issues affecting the imminent sale of the hotel (for a reported $40m), later this month.

The Lennox Hotel’s lovely new ‘airspace’, with uninterrupted ocean views. Photo David Lowe.

Cr Williams explained that the reason for the urgency is that a new valuation was needed for the sale to proceed, and a third of the ‘land’ was the restaurant above the footpath, which was council owned.

Cr Meehan moved an amendment to delay the new lease until there was a new valuation, saying the existing lease was ‘woefully inadequate’.

He called for an emergency council meeting to approve the new lease before mid-March, but Cr Williams said this was ‘craziness’ in his view, and it was the role of council staff to complete the process, not council.

After some more argy-bargy, the amendment failed and the original motion was carried, with council agreeing to the new airspace lease, subject to an independent external valuation to be completed as soon as possible.

International Women’s Day, Cumbalum, housing and Australia Day

Cumbalum Interchange. Google Maps.

Council resolved to invite the NSW Minister for Transport and Roads NSW, Andrew Constance, to come to Ballina to discuss the urgent need for additional ramps on the Cumbalum Interchange, and to discuss the growing traffic problem in Ballina more generally.

A motion from Cr Ben Smith to create a consultative group to inform the housing affordability strategy was passed unanimously.

There was then a heated discussion about whether a man or woman should speak on behalf of Ballina Council at the Ballina Chamber of Commerce’s International Women’s Day Event, during which an angry Cr Phillip Meehan left the meeting and didn’t return.

The meeting closed with a discussion about Australia Day spending, in which it emerged that the ambassador and MC of the event at the Lennox Head Cultural Centre were paid $4,000 each to appear. General Manager Paul Hickey apparently thought this was a bargain.

Some councillors did not appear to be convinced.

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  1. I just can’t believe these discussions are still taking place in 2021, oh, wait, i’m in Australia, it’s 1950.


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