At last night’s Lismore Council meeting, Councillor Andrew Bing moved a motion that Lismore City Council begin the process to reduce the number of councillors from 11 to 9 as soon as practicable.
He immediately reserved his right to speak at the end of the debate – then didn’t take the opportunity to address the chamber.
Cr Bing is known for being tight-lipped and rarely, and sometimes never, utters any words at all during an entire council meeting, but it appeared that this was his moment and he had something to say.
The ‘Councillor Comment’ as per the agenda said: ‘We have eleven councillors, and for the population we have in our LGA, it’s an enormous impost on our council. Our population has shrunk, therefore councillor numbers should decrease.’
The Staff Comment was that a referendum is required to reduce the number of councillors. The referendum could be run in conjunction with the 2024 Local Government Election which would be an increase of approximately 10 per cent of the total election cost. If successful, this would not come into effect until the following election in 2028.
Alternatively, the referendum could be run prior to and independently of the election in 2024, but this would incur the full cost of an election. This would come into effect at the 2024 election.
Not the first time this issue has arisen
Cr Adam Guise said the motion was an interesting one that had raised its head before. ‘Eleven councillors here is quite a large number in comparison to some of the other councils around the region, but it does reflect the diversity of our community.
‘While I can appreciate some of the sentiment behind it, it’s not actually councillors that cost the big ticket items on council. We spend hand-over-fist millions of dollars, and with the reconstruction, billions of dollars. So the token amounts that we pay counsellors to be in this chamber is a fraction of the overall budget of Council. So in terms of actual savings, that would be negligible – a drop in the ocean.
‘Further to that this would require a local government referendum and that probably wouldn’t happen until the 2024 local government election.’
Crs Rob and Guise elected 10th and 11th at last council elections
‘It’s interesting that possibly the two councillors that might lose their place, hypothetically, on this council might be myself and councillor Rob, having been elected 10th and 11th on these last council elections, so I don’t know whether it’s a specific target at one or both of us.
‘I certainly feel I am a valuable contributor to council and would like to remain on council rather than being pushed out, and there’s possibly lots of other councillors who may well like to resign or choose not to be on council, or may have different contributions, warranting reduction in councillors, but I certainly wouldn’t warrant myself being one of them.
‘I think having a diverse number of councillors on council reflects the diversity of our community and is good for democracy. It also opens it up to lots of diverse community members, having an opportunity to contact their councillors and provide their input, as not always a majority of councillors will represent the diversity of our community. I think it brings a whole range of ideas to our council, which strengthens it in the long run and makes our decisions robust and defensible.
‘It certainly isn’t a panacea to making quicker or faster council decisions by having less counsellors, in fact, with many of our powers taken away now, we actually need more representation on council, not less.’
Nothing to do with Crs Guise and Rob
Steve Krieg said he would speak for the motion. ‘This has nothing to do with who was 10th and 11th. Absolutely nothing. It was actually put to me that this could adjust the dynamics – so this is more about coming into line. And as we hear so often in this chamber community consultation is what it’s all about.
‘We’re not making the decision. We’re taking it to a referendum to let the people decide what they want. If the people want to keep 11 councillors here, the referendum will reflect that. If they will want to see a reduction in counsellors, the referendum will reflect that.
‘I look just north of us – Tweed has a population size of 100,000 people, yet only seven counsellors and I would suggest that the community is equally as diverse as ours. Diversity, I am certainly not disputing. I feel that this is not an attack on anyone, any party, any process, it is about realigning our council group with the many other council groups around us who have a far less number of councillors and quite often a quite a larger population base.
‘So this is all about putting it to the community – as we so often say community engagement is the most important thing – let’s put it to the vote, and let the community choose.’
Cr Andrew Gordon, who seconded Cr Bing’s motion, said he wanted to put Cr Guise’s mind at rest. ‘It’s got nothing to do with you or [Cr] Rob,’ he said.
A very complex scenario
‘It’s a very complex scenario. But what the mayor has just said, it’s more about bringing us into line with our neighbouring council councils, I guess, and this is also about something that we hear every night, everything we talked about is consulting the community, involving the community in the practice of council.
‘This is a very good opportunity to involve the community in the practice of council and the amount of councillors we have, let them decide how much diversity do we really need.’
We would ALL like to hear from Cr Bing
During the debate, Cr Vanessa Ekins said she wanted to hear more from the mover about his ideas regarding the motion. ‘I’d like to hear from Councillor Bing – I would REALLY like to hear from Councillor Bing, an elected member, his reasoning for this motion.’
With no response from the councillor in question, Cr Ekins interjected towards the end of the debate asking again to hear from Cr Bing. ‘I’d really like to hear from you about your rationale for putting this motion up.’
The Mayor responded by mentioning that Cr Bing had reserved his right to speak and had a right of reply. ‘He doesn’t have to answer that at the moment,’ said Cr Krieg.
‘I’ve asked Cr Bing a direct question,’ said Cr Ekins.
Cr Krieg said that Cr Bing did not have to comment. ‘I’m sure he will in due course.’
After Cr Bird and Cr Rob spoke to the motion, the Mayor asked if anyone else wanted to speak.
No comment from Cr Bing
No one did – and Cr Bing missed his big moment by not speaking to his own motion and not exercising his right of reply.
The mayor took the vote – those for were Councillors Gordon, Hall, Jensen, Bing and Krieg. Those opposed were Councillors Bird, Colby, Ekins, Rob and Guise.
‘That’s five all,’ said the Mayor. ‘I’m all for public consultation. Let’s put it to the people. I’m voting for it. Bring it on’.
‘It is absurd’
After the meeting, Cr Ekins aired her frustration at Cr Bing’s failure to reply. ‘There is no reserve right to speak in the code of meeting practice, it is absurd.
‘The purpose of debate is to exchange ideas and put a view forward. The lack of ideas presented to the chamber by Krieg’s team is shameful. They are elected to represent the community but in my opinion are failing to do so.
‘Putting up a motion and not speaking to it or explaining your reason for putting it forward shows disrespect for the decision-making process. It is scary standing up and speaking publicly but this is the job Cr Bing put his hand up for and he needs to gird his loins and perform the role to the best of his ability.’
its was great to see the 6pack in action protecting lismore rate payers from these activist councillors etkins & guise, the pest BR yet again proves himself to utterly irrelevant.
Bing is a dead loss, even more so than the other Kreig supporters.
He should resign if he does not wish to participate.
Tweed Shire has more than twice the population of Lismore Shire and a considerably larger budget but only seven councillors. Tweed Council also seems to be considerably more effective at getting on with the job.
I’m willing to put money on that if it were up to the people, there would be very few of these ineffectual, parasitic time wasters and they would be in an honorary capacity, and therefore paid what they are worth.
They, of course, would still receive the traditional backhanders and bribes. These embellishments are what politicians, so energetically strive for and constitute the vast majority of their incentivisation, so there would be no lack of candidates.
Must add,…. whoohee ! for Violet’s freedom from this fascist state. G”)
Without debating the merits or otherwise of the proposal – Councillors are there “in an honorary capacity” (unlike State and Federal Polies who are employed). Councillors arent employed, they are in effect, vollunteers on a State Govt committee, and they receive an allowance for their expenses, which is a direct payment of aprox $300 per week, and payments for phone car travel etc, which takes a Councillors cost to aprox $500 per week. Ie the loss of two Councillors would save only about $50,000 per year out of a Council Budget of aprox $M60 per year (A Councillor can claim unemployment benefits on top of a Councillors allowance) The merits of Councillors is another issue.
And this coming from Cr Ekins who’s been on the council’s gravy train for almost two decades what’s she achieved? Absolutely nothing other than her and her cohorts financially running the council into the ground.