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Byron Shire
December 4, 2022

Delegated authority

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I don’t know about the proposed ‘bio-energy incinerator’, which is a good enough reason not to have a firm view about it one way or the other.

On the other hand, I do know quite a bit about how this council works, as a result of which I can confidently state the following:

1. The final cost will be at least twice the figure originally quoted

2. Our elected councillors will give (or have already given) the staff a vaguely worded document or resolution that the staff will describe as ‘delegated authority’ to do pretty much what they like

3. As the matter progresses, the staff will do their best to not tell councillors or other parties what’s going on and how much it’s costing, while the elected councillors won’t ask any strenuous or confronting questions.

4. A disturbing amount of money will be spent on ‘management’, which is hard to pinpoint, and on ‘consultants’ who, being in the private sector, won’t be subject to F.O.I. and will be protected by ‘commercial-in-confidence’ (how neat is that!)

5. Anyone trying to identify expenditure on a particular line item will be given a category overlap with an aggregate figure, so that it’s impossible to isolate a particular line of expenditure.

A portent of all this appeared recently when The Echo reported on Council’s failure to get the expected finance via a federal ARENA grant. Asked what reason was given for refusal, Mayor Lyon, reading from a script, said that ARENA doesn’t reveal its reasoning and the information is ‘not in the public domain’.

This statement is classic Byron Shire Council fluffage. Lyon effectively says ‘it’s not public because it hasn’t been published’.

Public domain simply means that it’s out there, not private. The reader is clearly meant to conclude that the information is confidential and that ARENA has a legal right to keep it so.

The reality is that ARENA is only prevented from releasing the information if its client (in this case BSC) wants it to be kept secret. Council would be well within its legal rights to release said information and indeed has an obligation to account to the public.

The inference is open that Council doesn’t want ARENA’s reasons made public because said reasons are embarrassing to the senior staff. Dodgy business case? Insufficient documentation? Poor arithmetic? Blatant greenwashing?

The only certainty here is that none of the elected councillors will have the courage to insist on their right of access to ARENA’s reasoning.

John Anderson, Coorabell


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