You can make up your own mind who was playing politics. To make it as dispassionate as possible I have reproduced as closely as I can what was said direct from my notes. It rambles a bit in places, but I've left it that way because our community needs to know exactly how our representatives are behaving
This post focuses on item 5 and item 6, which both relate to the Orbital proposed by the New South Wales government.
It is important to note that Cr Rob Mills had to leave the room for both notices of motion because he had a pecuniary interest in the outcome of the Orbital as the corridor passes through land he owns.
The first notice of motion put forward by Cr Cindy Cagney was to invite government ministers to attend a community meeting. The specific ministers were: The Minister for Roads and Freight, Melinda Pavey; the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Andrew Constance: and the Minister for Planning, Housing and Special Minister for State, Anthony Roberts. Two other lower priority ministers were also included — Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres and Minister for Local Government Gabrielle Upton.
Cr Cindy Cagney, who brought the notice of nomination, spoke first. She said she brought the notice of motion in response to community consultations over the past month where residents asked if it was possible for ministers to come out to Camden. She said it was important for the community to be able to ask questions of the ministers and for the ministers to be able to listen to the community. She said she felt it was a very simple ask.
She noted that when the Council provided the Civic Centre for use by a local community group they pulled together a community meeting "brilliantly" and in short time. For this reason she felt that even if the ministers could come to Camden at short notice the community would be able to respond quickly and appropriately. She was hoping the ministers could come to Camden during the last week of May.
Cr Cagney said she had targeted three of the ministers as a priority and that whenever they could make time in the schedules she was sure the community could respond to meet them.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves spoke in support of the notice of motion. He said he definitely supported this motion and also proposed an additional amendment to invite the shadow ministers. He reasoned that because construction was unlikely to occur for quite a few years and to avoid making it a political issue it was appropriate to have the shadow ministers as well.
As mover and seconder, Cr Cindy Cagney and Cr Ashleigh Cagney agreed.
Cr Sidgreaves said he hoped they could get some kind of collaboration between both sides of government because the councillors were doing this to get the best outcome for the community and he didn't want politics drawn into it. He felt that both sides could plainly talk about their policies around the Orbital.
Cr Paul Farrow spoke in support of the notice of motion. He noted that he had attended many of the community sessions and while he felt it was good to have Transport NSW there he felt that having the actual decision-makers present would be useful. He noted that it would be hard to avoid politics, as this was likely to be a political decision because the current government who drew up the corridor were also the ones likely to make the decision as to where the corridor would end up, "if it ends up anywhere at all". He said he was quite happy to have the shadow ministers there but he felt it was important to have the decision-makers in the room.
Cr Eva Campbell spoke in support of the notice of motion. She felt the opportunity for the exchange of ideas and a civil debate was important. Cr Campbell noted that the Transport NSW people who attended meetings were merely bureaucrats, not the people who would make the decision. While she said she was happy to have people of all political persuasions at the meeting she did notice that the local Liberal member Chris Paterson stated that the decision would be made towards the end of this year. For this reason the critical people to have there were those identified by Cr Cagney. They will be the ones making the decisions, she said.
Cr Michael Morrison spoke in support of the notice of motion. He started by thanking Cr Cagney and Cr Sidgreaves for the notice and the contribution. He thought it was important that both sides of government were on the same page, so that whatever decisions were made persisted across changes of government. He said that just as the councillors wanted the best outcome for Camden they wanted that best outcome also to come from both sides of State politics.
The Mayor, Cr Lara Symkowiak spoke in support of the notice of motion but in a remarkable turn of events for what was on the way to being supported unanimously, she turned it into an attack on her political opponents.
She started by saying that on the topic of the Orbital, she had seen commentary on social media from Camden councillors around transparency in regards to what the Council was doing during the process. Cr Symkowiak clarified her statement saying, Cr Cagney had made a number of statements around transparency requesting a more transparent process. She said, "using words like these implies that something has been hidden or withheld". Cr Symkowiak specifically identified a comment about Cr Farrow "having attempted a more transparent process that was voted down by the Liberals at a previous Council meeting”.
(This likely relates to the meeting of April 10, where Cr Farrow put forward a notice of motion calling on the council to write a letter to Camden MP Chris Paterson condemning the inadequate community consultation by the New South Wales government: calling on the New South Wales government to extend the consultation period and to provide any correspondence relating to the Orbital sent to the Council or from the Council. This notice of motion was lost on the mayor's casting vote).
Cr Symkowiak noted that all Cr Farrow had to do was to request this correspondence from the General Manager. She said the notice of motion was not needed. "It was done simply to grandstand on the evening."
Cr Eva Campbell then called a point of order. She said she felt it was inappropriate to impute motives to people. She also noted it was not the matter that was being debated. "If the accusation is being made someone is playing politics, I would counter that by saying, you are now."
Cr Symkowiak countered that she was "speaking on the topic of the Orbital, about the process, about the comments around transparency". She then asked the General Manager to comment on the usual practice and customs at Camden Council in regards to seeking copies of correspondence, saying she had never seen a request through a notice of motion.
The General Manager said that councillors had only to ask to get copies of correspondence.
Cr Symkowiak then said this proved that Cr Farrow was grandstanding with the notice of motion of April 10.
Cr Eva Campbell then again called a point of order. She said if she recalled the debate correctly she remembers what was being asked was whether there was any correspondence. “There is a difference between requesting if something exists rather than requesting something you know exists," she said.
Cr Symkowiak then referred to the notice of motion of April 10, saying it actually requested copies of correspondence. She said this was highly unusual and in her opinion it was grandstanding on a very serious, emotive issue.
She then returned to another social media post by Cr Cagney about transparency and access to information. Cr Symkowiak said she responded to this two weeks ago to correct the false accusations. She said the issue was again raised a couple of days ago with incorrect information being repeated. She then said given that the issue of transparency had been raised repeatedly in the notice of motion and on Facebook why hadn't the two councillors sought the correspondence from the General Manager to date. She asked Cr Farrow for his response first.
Cr Farrow said he was "happy to play your game, Madame Mayor". He said he was surprised that this notice of motion had dissolved into questions for him but "if that is the way you want to play it then that is fine".
Cr Symkowiak then interrupted saying, "be very careful with your words, this is not a game, this is the topic of debate".
Cr Farrow replied with a laugh, saying he was happy to play.
Cr Symkowiak said she thought Cr Farrow "likes to have it one way but not the other when the pressure is put back the other way”. She said as the chair, she was entitled to ask questions. Talking over Cr Farrow who tried to reply, she went on to say he did raise the issue of correspondence through a public meeting and she would like an answer in a public meeting.
Cr Farrow said when the mayor stopped talking he would be able to answer.
Cr Symkowiak then spoke again just as Cr Farrow was about to answer saying, "you did question me and I did answer it". Still talking over the top of him she told him to be very careful with his tone and language.
A rather astonished audience didn't know whether to groan or laugh.
Cr Farrow then made it clear that he felt no pressure at all. He said he was quite happy to say on record why he had asked for the correspondence. Cr Farrow said that, "given your statements here tonight it is quite evident how you would like this Council to operate, which would be very different to how I would see it operate". He said the mayor would prefer to see things done behind closed doors, in the General Manager's office and where nobody could see. By contrast he said, when members of the community are saying “people must have known, developers must have known, Council must have known," then he felt there was no problem being completely transparent and asking for that information in a public forum.
He noted the mayor quite clearly voted against the notice of motion and stated there was no correspondence of which she was aware. Yet, Cr Farrow said he had been to community meetings where Transport NSW stated that they had been in contact with the council around possible impediments the Orbital might run into. He said this suggested there had been discussions and correspondence and it was appropriate to ask for this in a public domain. He said he did not get into public office to quietly knock on the General Managers door but wanted to place the information in the public domain.
"It should be seen that people who are elected to represent the community ask the questions that their community may not be able to ask themselves," he said.
He said he was very surprised that while everyone is clearly supporting this notice of motion that this previous notice of motion had been brought up again. He said he did not see any problem about what had been asked for in the April 10 meeting.
"You seem to be saying you are about transparency but everything about you tonight has said the complete opposite,” Cr Farrow said.
Cr Symkwwiak said she would like to respond to the points he made. She noted that on the evening of the April 10 notice of motion she had told him that the Council had been briefed on the "broadbrush lines" of the 10 to 15 km wide area of study. She said that was the correspondence that the council had received. At that meeting she noted the Council had no specific information around addresses, property locations, the preferred route or any of that information. "I stand by what I said on that evening, nothing has been done behind closed doors and that requesting that information through a notice of motion was not necessary," she said.
Cr Symkowiak said the information could have been requested at any time via email or a phone call without turning up at the General Manager’s office, "and dispersed it publicly however you want to".
Cr Farrow then asked if that meant the correspondence did exist.
Cr Symkowiak then said she had never said that no correspondence existed. She said there was information about it but without a level of detail that highlighted specific locations or addresses as was currently being exhibited.
Cr Farrow then said it was a pity that the Council did not have live streaming because his recollection of the debate was very different to the mayor’s. He said from his recollection the mayor had publicly stated there was no correspondence and now she seemed to be backpedalling from that position. He said he felt it was odd they were having this discussion on the current notice of motion.
Both councillors talked over each other until they were interrupted by a point of order from Cr Eva Campbell who said, "boys and girls if we could move beyond the kindergarten playground, we have a notice of motion before us tonight — could we stick to this please?"
Cr Symkowiak then started talking over the top of Cr Campbell who was trying to define transparency for both councillors. Cr Campbell finished by saying, "go back to the notice of motion we have on the books, please".
However, Cr Symkowiak was not finished.
Cr Symkowiak said she was sorry that some councillors "don't like me having my turn to express my opinion on this issue but I will finish my four minutes". She then asked if Cr Cagney would like to respond to the original question as Cr Farrow had responded.
Cr Cagney said, "no, I would prefer not to Madam Mayor" to the applause of the audience.
Cr Symkowiak responded with, "point taken — that proves it for me".
She then went on to say that comments by Cr Cagney saying Camden Council was doing very little to support the community were offensive and completely wrong. She said she would like to remind councillors that as soon as the Orbital was announced she had Camden Council set up the email address to collect submissions that would be sent to Transport NSW. She announced her view on her Facebook page and announced the email address. Cr Symkowiak then issued a mayoral minute waiving fees on the Civic Centre so community meetings could be held. The Council was using its weekly newspaper ads advising of the exhibition period, which will run till the exhibition closes. There had also been radio ads to remind people about the submission dates. "I am attending community meetings and answering questions put to me by residents," she said. She said she was also meeting with consultants.
There was an alarm bell and Cr Campbell asked if that was the time running out Saying, "was that the bell? Please let it be the bell".
It was the one-minute warning bell.
Cr Symkowiak said she had never interrupted Cr Campbell on her one-minute warning and asked to be shown the same courtesy.
Cr Symkowiak then went on to say she had requested meetings with the relevant ministers but had not put the meeting into a notice of motion to grandstand in the chambers. She said her role was to advocate and represent residents, which was exactly what she had done. "Unlike Labor councillors I am not doing it by notices of motion but simply by getting on with the job," she said.
She said she had personally met with Minister Ayres (Minister of Western Sydney) for over an hour advocating residents views to him directly. The Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Andrew Constance, had confirmed a meeting with her. She is still awaiting confirmation of meetings with Anthony Roberts and Gabriel Upton.
"Just because it's not done via a notice of motion doesn't mean it's not happening," she said.
Cr Symkowiak said she felt comments on social media were a personal slight to herself, Camden Council and Liberals in general. She said she supported the amended recommendation just as the time-up bell rang.
Cr Cindy Cagney then had her right of reply. She said that the reason the notice of motion had been brought up tonight, as have others she had brought up in the past, was because it puts on the public record that a councillor has asked a question. She said most of those notices of motions were on behalf of the community or around a community issue.
She said she would not even worry about commenting on Facebook posts. She noted that she had been asked repeatedly about why Camden Council did not seem to be taking a stand on the issue of the Orbital. "They want to know are we for or against, and they don’t know" she said. Cr Cagney said the Mayor was free to take a swipe at her but the statements were based around what she had been told by the community face-to-face.
She said the notice of motion was put on the record to show that surely this Council could work together in some conciliatory way. The intention, she said, was not to politicise anything. She said, the intention was for the final decision makers to become aware of the concerns of the community. "I would hate to think this becomes politically railroaded where we have promotions from either side of politics."
Cr Cagney said it was important that the politicians understood the lives that this would affect and the very real effect it would have on the rural community. It's a hearing, learning, listening exercise, she said. She didn't want politicians to come and do presentations but to come instead to answer questions and listen to the community.
She praised the community saying every meeting had been respectful, the community members had been articulate, they had done an incredible amount of research and put in submissions. "I am very proud to be part of the community," she said. She was impressed by the good, logical, structured debate of the meetings. Cr Cagney talked about past reports the community members had found that looked at noise quality, air quality, the airport and more — when things like the Orbital were "knocked on the head".
"That's why I want the minister here, not to have politicians banging on, but to hear from the people who are going to be affected by the Orbital and who have looked at this."
She wanted the politicians to take back what they heard to make a long-term, considered decision about this area.
The notice of motion was then passed unanimously.
Item 06: First second of motion on M9 Orbital
The next notice of motion around the Orbital was seeking a written response to three questions. These questions were asking if developers had access to cabinet in confidence information around the Orbital; that the government write a letter explaining it's future expectations for the land zones near the corridor; and that the NSW government make a commitment to preserve agricultural land and assets.
Cr Cindy Cagney said the notice of motion was self-explanatory. She noted the issues that the questions raised had been brought up in community meetings and specifically by the Wollondilly Mayor. She said she felt none of the questions were difficult and the first question really just required a yes or no answer. She noted people were concerned about the future of expected land-use in the area.
Cr Cagney highlighted a report by Sydney University around the rural lands policy. She had been very impressed by the report. However, after the Orbital announcement she went back to that report looking at it in a new context and became concerned that some things that seemed to be safe may not be so in the future. “The government will gazette this land, and so it was important for the community to know what their plans were”, she said.
She noted that in the past they had seen development pushed back because of a lack of infrastructure. She was concerned that if the land was gazetted but the development of the orbital held off for 20 years that would have serious implications for overdevelopment without sufficient infrastructure in place. She was worried that they may go back to a time when there was residential development everywhere but no roads because "the road is coming".
Finally, Cr Cagney wanted to know if elements of the Sydney food bowl would be preserved around Camden or whether they would be forced further out. What did it mean for those parts of Council’s rural policy and the things they hoped to protect?
Cr Ashleigh Cagney spoke in support of the notice of motion. She noted the Council had its hands tied with these types of developments, so whatever they could do to benefit the community around the Orbital had genuine value. She noted the questions in the notice of motion were similar to those being asked by the community.
Cr Paul Farrow spoke in support of the notice of motion. He said he was concerned both by the corridor and the broad brushstrokes around the Orbital that would have an impact on the entire local government area and future growth centres.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves spoke in support of the notice of motion. He said he felt the community consultation was important. He said the council did not have an official position at the moment because the submission still had to come before a future council meeting. Regardless, he said he was certain that the residents knew how individual councillors felt. His position was that the corridor should be moved further west. The mayor, he said, has publicly given her point of view. He said residents can contact any of them to find out their point of view. He expected it would be a unanimous vote on the submission the Council eventually puts forward. However, until all facts are known and a detailed review had been done by the Council officers, he felt it was important to hold off until there was a well-established official position.
Cr Sidgreaves said that it was important that this was not a political issue as previous notices of motion had made it more political than it should be. "We have to do what is in the best interests of our residents," he said. However, he said notices of motions like this and previous one were “without question” in his view politically motivated.
Cr Eva Campbell spoke in support of the notice of motion. She noted she had sat in the chamber since 1995 as an independent. Cr Campbell felt the Orbital had overtones of Badgerys Creek airport. She noted in that case Camden Council was not initially prepared to adopt a position despite what the science was telling them about the damage it would do to Western Sydney. Eventually the Council took a position to oppose its development. Now, she said, the Council was backtracking by saying the powers above had decided that this area would become an aerotropolis and it would be our salvation.
"If it wasn't for the airport we would not be having this discussion about the Orbital road," she said.
She said that if the Council had the community's interests at heart it would simply oppose the Orbital because it does nothing for Camden, Grassmere and Cobbitty and in fact has the potential to destroy beautiful areas of agricultural land and cohesive communities.
"We can talk as much as we like but this is not in the community's interests and it will bring nothing but grief — and there speaks the one independent on this council," she said.
Cr Symkowiak then pointed out that Cr Eva Campbell was not the only independent councillor but that there were two independent councillors.
Cr Lara Symkowiak spoke in favour of the notice of motion. She believed the second and third question would be addressed by the Council's submission. She noted the council's official position would be decided by the submission. Cr Symkowiak said she had raised the issue of future land zones with the Minister that very morning stating how it would affect residents in the corridor area between gazetting and construction. She said the Council submission would address the impact of farming and land.
She said the points would be answered anyway in response to the Council’s submission but she was happy for these to be drawn out earlier.
Cr Symkowiak said Cr Sidgreaves point of removing the politics was very important. This was why she had raised the points about posts by Cr Farrow and Cr Cagney on social media during the earlier notice of motion. She repeated that she felt the prior notice of motion on April 10 was political. She said the issue of the Orbital was stressful and emotional for the community. She said using this issue to inflame differences between political parties was not a good way to go about this. "This is why I called it out — obviously some councillors don't like that," she said.
She said it was important to be on the same page and keep a focus on the issue at hand. She said examples she had previously mentioned took the focus away from the issues that matter to the community. Cr Symkowiak noted this was not the Council's exhibition process but the State Government’s. We need to do as much as we can in the time we are given and the examples I have given show how we are supporting Camden's residents, she said.
Cr Symkowiak said she was happy to support the notice of motion to write to the government. She agreed, the answer to the first question would be a simple yes or no and the other questions would be dealt with in the Council’s submission.
Cr Cindy Cagney then had her right of reply. She opened by saying, "at risk of politically grandstanding…" to some laughter. She then went on to describe her time in Council at Camden and Campbelltown where she had been an independent each for eight years before eventually joining the Labor party. However, she insisted even in a party no one would tell her what to do. Therefore if she was going to be described as a grandstander, then she was happy to be a Camden grandstander and fight for the people of Camden. She then recounted how her parents and children and previous generations had made Camden their home.
"A community representative, yup; a bit of a big mouth at times but maybe a Camden grandstander,” she said describing herself.
Cr Cagney said she didn't often make comments on social media but spent much of her time reading what the community were saying and speaking to them face-to-face. "Their anger, anxiety and worry is not about our transparency but about something being dumped on them almost from a spaceship,” she said. "it has the capacity to ruin our environment, so I will always grandstand for Camden."
She said if other people in the chamber wanted to bring political parties into the debate, that was their choice. She said she does what she does because she loves the community and the people. “We are asking questions that community members have asked,” she said. Cr Cagney said these were not all the questions but at least they were a start.
She said no matter what colour or ilk the government of the day is, it is there to serve the people. She said residents paid an exorbitant amount of money to ministers and their departments and it should not be difficult to get answers to these questions.
Cr Cagney said the only way she knew these items could be brought into the public domain was if the questions were asked through a notice of motion. She said she would continue to put in notices of motion if the community thought an issue was important enough to talk to her about it. She said the community was asking questions in a respectful way and it was her job to put them forward. "This has nothing to do with politics whatsoever," she said.