Early elections, bring back local democracy!

And get people elected like this …

When the Government suspended Auburn Council and set up an inquiry into their planning decisions and whether councillors had complied with their obligations under the Local Government Act, the community lost the joys of the democratic process - people like Ned Attie,  ex-councillor and, for a period of time, Mayor.

Mr Attie, or suspended Councillor Attie to be properly respectful, gave evidence to the Auburn Public Inquiry on 16 June and without any apparent discomfort or embarrassment, made confessions like the ones above.

His evidence shows a general lack of awareness of the recommendations of council’s planning staff. In a public inquiry about notorious planning decisions and the role of councillors, he said, amongst other things - “again, like I said, I don’t recall this, but if it was part of the Council documents, then possibly”; quite a few “I can’t recall”; “I skimmed through”; “that is why we are elected as councillors. We represent the views of the community, not the staff”, and in an almost transcendental moment said, “I make those assessments internally between myself”. That must be quite a tussle - the sort of internal debate envisaged by those most alarmed about the loss of local democracy.

This also intrigued the Commissioner to the extent that he asked “do you have any regard to what the planning staff recommend?” And while suspended Councillor Attie insisted that he did, and that sometimes he agreed and sometimes he disagreed, he saw the role of professional planning staff as quite different and quite limited in their considerations. “They don’t bring in the emotional aspect or the community aspect into anything they do.”

Here is a bloke with significant experience on a Council notorious for allegations of vested interests, looking after developers and not the community, and a flamboyant, threatening and ostentatious Deputy Mayor who made application to the Council to close street and use helicopters to film a “feature film”, which was really the recording of the fairytale wedding that made the tacky Kardashians envious.

Even virgin or fledgling councillors understand that a planning instrument is developed with significant community consideration and, primarily, to protect the community for emotional, heritage, architectural, environmental, privacy and protection of amenity and quiet enjoyment of your own property. Suspended Councillor Attie is simply wrong. And to demonstrate we are not being vindictive about Ned Attie, we’re not going to even mention the story “Confused mayor votes against himself” in the Sydney Morning Herald on 23 November 2012. Other than saying it doesn’t surprise us at all.

When suspended councillor Attie’s lawyer predictably intervened and objected to the line of questioning the Commissioner defended the line taken by Counsel Assisting as “exploring whether the councillors have fulfilled their obligations under the Act”. The lawyer reacted with “it doesn’t fall within the terms of reference” but was slammed by the Commissioner responding “of course it does” - helpfully noting that Term of Reference 1 “includes section 439 of the Local Government Act regarding reasonable care and diligence.”

While we can’t wait for the findings from this inquiry, it puts the whole emotional argument about how people are affected by the loss of local democracy into perspective. While staff love working for a Council not comprised of dilettantes, the self-interested, developers, real estate agents, sharks, spivs, crooks and boofheads, when you look at some of the revelations being made in the public inquiry, the inverse relationship between the democratic election of councillors and the concept of merit is starkly and uncomfortably reinforced.

Take your time, Premier. Let the administrators make the decisions under current planning instruments without the demonstrated shortcomings of the democratic process. What possible value can people like this add to the quality of residents’ lives?

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