Cr Rob Mills also voted against live streaming, but he was an upfront and consistent opponent to this from the beginning, whereas the Liberals claimed they agreed with the idea in principal at an earlier meeting. Whether or not live streaming went ahead therefore depended on the Liberal vote.
One of the reasons they included in the argument against live streaming or transcribing of meetings was that it would reduce transparency (I kid you not).
It was even suggested that somehow, while speaking in the Council chambers without parliamentary privilege our councillors would be able to have an open and robust debate without fear of defamation. However, simply by streaming or transcribing meetings the defamation act that had been in abeyance would suddenly switch on. This is just not true. The only difference I could see would be potential damages depending on how widely the defamatory meaning might have spread but I don't recall this being brought up by anyone.
In addition, some of the points made in the report by Council officers, which were used as the basis of the debate seem to be questionable.
- As I noted in my public address on the night, the definition of defamation was sourced from this 2000 document, while the new act came into force five years later in 2005. By using this strict definition it completely ignored the primary defence of truth and the other nine defences that are part of the 2005 Defamation Act (see Part 4, division 2 of the Act). Under section 32 of that Act, Camden Council (though not the councillors) is protected from a defamation action if a meeting is being streamed live. The defences were not part of the final report that was presented publicly, giving creedence to Cr Paul Farrow's contention that this was a particularly negative report.
- Port Stephens was used as an example of a council that had turned its back on live-streaming. I phoned that Council on the day of the meeting and was told they intend to bring back live streaming before Christmas.
- The cost of live-streaming estimated by Council officers also seemed excessive, especially for a new state-of-the-art building with modern infrastructure in an area with broadband. According to Council officers it would cost $85,000 to set up live streaming (plus around $30,000 of training for councillors and council staff) and then $20,000 a year thereafter. Maybe they should put out a tender like Wollondily Council, which achieved live-streaming earlier this year at a setup cost of $7000 and an ongoing cost of around $1000 a year.
Beyond live streaming, we had a host of other interesting matters in the meeting. A petition for a new skatepark in Narellan or Mount Annan, the usual battle of ideas around 350sqm subdivisions in the South West Growth Area, some new industrial zoning on the borders of Smeaton Grange to make life easier for businesses and residents, and a bit of a battle over the potential loss of views caused by a development application in Kirkham.
Click read more to find the full details of this meeting.
- ORD01 Two Storey Dwelling, Attached Secondary Dwelling and Associated Site Works - 20 Castlemaine Street Harrington Park.
- ORD02 Three Lot Torrens Title Subdivision, Construction of a Single Storey Dwelling, a Two Storey Dwelling and a Two Storey Dwelling with a Detached Garage and Studio Dwelling with Strata Subdivision - 34 The Straight, Oran Park.
- ORD03 Draft Rural Lands Strategy - Exhibition Outcomes.
- ORD04 Acceptance of Better Waste and Recycling Grant Funding 2017-2021.
- ORD05 Petition - Skate Park for Mt Annan or Narellan Vale.
- ORD06 Adoption of Purchasing and Procurement Policy.
- ORD07 Delivery Program Six Month Progress Report (January to June 2017).
- ORD08 Investment Monies - August 2017.
- ORD09 Roads and Maritime Services 2017/18 Funding - Active Transport, Local Government Road Safety and Safer Roads Programs.
- ORD10 Community Small Grants 2017/2018.
- ORD11 Funding for Grandparents Day from NSW Family and Community Services.
- ORD12 Response to Notice of Motion - Smeaton Grange Industrial Estate.
- ORD13 Response to Notice of Motion - Streaming of Council Meetings.
- ORD14 Notice of Motion of Rescission - ORD03 Construction of a New Farm Building and Retaining Wall, Partial Removal of a Portion of the Existing Stables Complex and Tree Removal - 2 Caernarvon Close & 110 Macquarie Grove Road, Kirkham.
Declarations of interest: Michael Morrison declared a non-pecuniary interest in ORD14. He would vacate the chamber during this discussion.
The first public address was from Year-7 student Brock Gadaleta in relation to a petition for a new skate park in Mount Annan or Narellan Vale. Brock was the force behind the petition for the skate park presented at tonight's meeting. He said the signatures on the petition showed that a skate park was much in demand for this area. He noted how the Elderslie skate park was already at capacity and that Lumeah skate park was also at capacity, in large part due to carrying the overflow from the Camden area.
He noted he had helped in the planning of Oran Park skate Park three years ago, which to date still had not been completed. He said that even when this was built, with the increase in population along Camden Valley Way, this park would probably hit capacity immediately.
Brock said that without the option of a skate park, youths like himself who are not into the traditional ball sports were forced to skate on path's, roads and in car parks, which he admitted was not safe. He said this could be prevented by creating a space entirely for skateboards and scooters. However he noted that the high demand for a skate park meant that it would have to be sizeable to accommodate likely crowds, making mention of Greenhills at Kurnel. (Check out a video of the park here).
He said he would be happy to contribute ideas to the new skate park if it went ahead and hoped that it will be built within a shorter timeframe because "I am not getting any younger" (definitely the line of the night).
He noted that youth that are into ball sports were very well catered for with sports fields and cricket pitches.
He suggested Manna Gum Reserve as an option because following the creation of Birriwa Park, the Reserve was not being used at all except for occasional dog training. He realised that there may be some concerns from local residents but felt that if the park was planned properly these could be overcome.
I spoke next in support of streaming Council minutes. This was a very long public address because I felt there were so many issues, particularly around defamation, that had been poorly addressed. For that reason my address was cut short. You can read the full address here. It is probably worth noting that the Mayor did challenge my assertion that the definition was incorrect but as you will see if you follow the links my public address, the definition supplied by Council officers did seem five years out of date.
Mayoral minute: The minute was to celebrate the opening of Mount Annan Leisure Centre. You can read the minute here.
Cr Cindy Cagney then spoke to the minute. She acknowledged the quality of the festivities and the number of families and individuals who came along. Cr Cagney also noted that sections of these festivities were live streamed through Facebook.
Now to the meeting proper.
The first item was a house on a block in Harrington Park. The house was fully compliant but a neighbour was concerned that a window may overlook another property that had a swimming pool.
Moved Peter Sidgreaves. Seconded Theresa Fedeli.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves spoke in support of the motion to approve. He noted that the development was compliant and that the concerns raised in opposition had been addressed. He noted the overlooking windows were in the bedrooms and bathrooms and unlikely to be occupied on most occasions when the pool was in use. He noted the setback of the second story also exceeded the requirement in this area.
The recommendation to approve was passed with only Cr Cindy Cagney and Cr Paul Farrow voting against it.
This was another South West Growth Area subdivision resulting in three houses on blocks of 483sqm, 324sqm and 345sqm. These kinds of subdivisions have been in open contention between the Liberal and Labor councillors since election.
Moved Michael Morrison. Seconded Theresa Fedeli
Cr Michael Morrison noted that the developer was compliant and all regards except for a rear setback on an outer boundary. He said this issue had been addressed. One submission against the development had noted likely issues with congestion. Cr Morrison said he felt this had been addressed by Council officers.
Cr Paul Farrow spoke against the development. He noted the 1154sqm block was large but was concerned that it was being turned into three houses with 12 bedrooms in total. While he said it may be allowable under the State Environmental Planning Policy for this area he did not consider it to be a very sustainable development. He also had a question for Council officers. He noted block across the road was similar to the block before them and wanted to know if this was also earmarked for a similar subdivision.
The Director of Planning and Environment, Ms Nicole Magurren, said she would have to take the question on notice as they were not aware of any developments yet for that site.
Cr Farrow said that was his concern was that potentially there could be 24 bedrooms across what are currently two blocks. He said if he was a neighbour, he would be very concerned at a a large residential block being turned into three houses and 12 bedrooms and "God knows how many cars".
Cr Cindy Cagney spoke against the development. She said that while the development might meet some minimum standards for how many houses you can jam on a single block of land, she said she was not a minimum standards kind of person.
She noted that the neighbours had paid premium prices for the blocks and that further developments should reflect this character of the neighbourhood. She said two houses might've been tolerable but in her mind this was an overdevelopment.
Cr C Cagney was particularly concerned about the traffic that might result from a studio apartment over a garage. From her experience on Mount Annan some years ago she found that this resulted in cars just being parked on the street. She said she felt for the neighbours in the area and while some people might suggest they could move if they didn't like the development, the reality of the financial stress that comes with new mortgages meant this was not really an option. "You don't have the opportunity to simply pack up and move," she said.
She said the residents who had set up their homes in the area would probably not have expected a development of this size on the corner block.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney also spoke against the development. She agreed this was an overdevelopment and also she felt that the variation allowed was not in the public interest. Cr A Cagney said the setback would be half of what would normally be required by the Development Control Plan.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves spoke in support of the development. He started with a question asking what the current controls were for a side setback.
Miss Magurren said the standard control for a side setback was usually 0.9 m. She said that in this case the side setback was actually counted as a rear setback, which was an anomaly in this development control plan.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves said that was exactly the point he wanted to make. He noted that the layout of the three dwellings meant that what is described as a rear setback was in fact a side setback. He said he felt it was appropriate for the subdivision to take place because the neighbouring blocks were themselves probably no more than 400-500sqm. He noted the housing diversity policy by the State government was all about providing choices so that young homeowners would be more able to afford a property of the site subdivision rather than the full 1154sqm.
Cr Paul Farrow had a further question. He wanted to know if the council had any information that showed these subdivisions were in fact achieving the goal of affordable housing or if in fact this was just about providing more land for subdivisions and increased profit.
Miss Magurren said the only information she could provide would be in terms of sales prices. She said the council could do some research into that.
Cr Farrow said he would be interested in this as he wanted to know whether they were providing sustainable housing or just multiplying profits, in this case, three times. Using figures that he said were "for the sake of the argument" he asked rhetorically that if the land was worth $500,000 but was then divided into three lots selling $300,000 each then was this the case of affordable housing or simply increasing profit?
Cr Lara Symkowiak spoke in favour of the development. She said given the size of the land to imagine that one single dwelling would go on the block is not using common sense. She noted the size of the neighbouring properties, referring to Cr Sidgreaves comments in this area, and said that the three houses immediately beside this block probably occupied the same area in total as the 1154sqm block.
She noted the council had to assess the development according to the State Environmental Planning Policy for the growth centres, which had been in place for 11 years. She noted the minimum block size allowable was 300sqm.
Cr Symkowiak said she could not foresee the use of the three places — whether they would be owner-occupier or rental properties — but that this was about making housing affordable. She took issue with the prices quoted by Cr Farrow, saying his estimate of $500,000 widely missed the mark considering the price blocks were going for in other suburbs. She noted it was not the council's role to determine the price of the property and that the market determined that. Instead, the Council's role was to deal with subdivisions and development applications as they came in.
She said if the pattern of voting that she was seeing from some councillors on these issues was taken up by all councillors then the council would have a very large legal bill at the Land and Environment Court. Cr Symkowiak said that in that circumstance the Council’s approval process would stagnate and it would probably result in an administrator coming in to ensure the Council ran effectively and responded to the planning controls it was meant to rule on.
Cr Farrow called a point of order. He said that if the councillors accepted that argument then, surely, they could all be replaced by nodding statues…
Cr Symkowiak interrupted, saying that was not what she had said and then asked if he had a direct point of order.
Cr Farrow said he had been misquoted a few times and referred to how he had named prices "for the sake of the argument" rather than making an assessment of the true value…
Cr Symkowiak acknowledged that it was a number he had "pulled" and that she was allowed to comment on something he had said. She said she was sorry he didn't like her opinion but she was entitled to this opinion during her four minutes without interruption if there was not a true point of order.
Cr Farrow said, "enjoy your four minutes".
Cr Symkowiak thanked him for his “sarcastic comment” and then continued. She noted a Council in North Sydney had been put into administration for voting against every development application because they were no longer operating effectively. She noted that of course people could have opinions on development applications but she said the minutes showed a clear pattern of voting on particular development applications. She said this was not her opinion but facts. "I'm sorry if you don't like me pointing out the truth," she said.
She said the development before them was a large block in a growth suburb that met the planning for that area. She said the Council could have seen higher density development on that block, which could have resulted in a worse outcome for the neighbours. She noted there was one objection across six adjoining properties.
Returning to the nuts and bolts of the development she noted the rear setback was in fact a side setback. The site, she said, could have had more development but this development allowed better amenity for the other properties around it. She felt this was a good compromise and the lack of objections showed this was not of major concern for neighbours. Cr Symkowiak said the council needed to operate within the controls and she would not waste ratepayers’ money defending permissible developments in the Land and Environment Court.
Cr Michael Morrison then had his right of reply. He noted that Cr Sidgreaves had talked about choice and that this debate was one the councillors had had many times before. He noted there were people in the community that could not afford the $1.6 million for a large block in this community. He said everybody would love to go back to the 60s when everyone had 1/4 acre block but he said they needed to have housing that younger people could afford. He said he would love to see it if someone could come up with a way of making 1/4 acre block available for $300-$500,000.
Until that occurred he said there was a need to provide housing blocks of lands that were affordable for people from all walks of life. He said clearly these kind of subdivisions were successful because they were seeing these houses being taken up almost soon as they went on the market. "People want to sell where there is demand and there is a lot of demand here," he said.
Motion carried with the Liberal councillors and Cr Rob Mills in support and Labor councillors opposed.
There are seven principles in the draft rural land strategy. They are:
- Protect Camden’s remaining rural lands;
- Retain Camden’s valued scenic and cultural landscapes;
- Provide certainty and avoid rural land fragmentation;
- Minimise and manage rural land use conflict;
- Enhance Camden’s rural economy;
- Minimise unplanned non-agricultural development; and
- Maximise opportunities for relocation of rural enterprises.
Moved Theresa Fedeli. Seconded Michael Morrison.
Cr Therese Fedeli said she was pleased to see the strategy had received 16 submissions for the report to protect Camden's remaining rural land. She said it was important to have a plan like this in place considering the growth in the area. She was pleased that Wollondilly Council had made a submission and had suggested some amendments.
Cr Cindy Cagney supported the recommendation. She also felt it was a great report and was encouraged by the submissions. Cr Cagney said she did want to focus on one submission from the University of Sydney about the landholdings between Bringelly and Badgerys Creek. She noted the attachments (page 100 specifically) that listed the value of the land. She noted that the University of Sydney had already submitted a proposal to rezone the land for mixed-use employment. Cr Cagney wanted to know where this fitted in regards to the Greendale/Bringelly site. She noted that this area was in the same location as a recent development application for a cement batching plant and therefore it was important to understand how appropriate it might be if there are future heavy industry development applications in this area. She noted the submission by the University of Sydney was detailed and could be an extremely useful document for the Council’s consideration in the future.
This money is part of a four-year program to help prevent illegal dumping in the local government area.
Moved Theresa Fedeli. Seconded Peter Sidgreaves.
Cr Theresa Fedeli said that while she was happy to accept the grant it was unfortunate that it was for an issue that could be solved simply if the public stopped dumping rubbish illegally. She said she would have preferred if there had been no need for the grant and that the money was going towards something else for the community.
Cr Fedeli then had a question. She wanted to know if the council would be employing existing staff members in the position funded by the grant or whether it would be an additional person from outside.
Miss Nicole Magurren said the Council would be employing someone new from the grant money.
Cr Lara Symkowiak spoke in support of the grant, saying she was happy that the money would be used to employ a dedicated ranger who will investigate and regulate illegal dumping activities. She noted illegal dumping was a huge cost to ratepayers and in some circumstances of the health hazard as well.
Cr Symkowiak noted that a lot of illegal dumping can come from outside the local government area to dump in a rural area. She said they were happy to accept the money and that it would be highly used because the area was attractive to dumpers dropping off their waste in the quiet of night. She thought the grant was a great initiative by the State government.
Petitions are not debated. Items like this are to be noted by the Council and a report will be submitted in future council meetings. Any debate will occur at that time.
Moved Theresa Fedeli. Seconded Ashleigh Cagney.
Moved Michael Morrison. Seconded Peter Sidgreaves.
Cr Michael Morrison noted the new policy fitted in with the best practice guidelines.
Moved Theresa Fedeli. Seconded Peter Sidgreaves.
Cr Theresa Fideli spoke in support of the progress report. She said she would like to highlight some of the good things that the council had achieved during the period of this report. She said she was surprised that the council had won nine awards in the 2016/2017 period and that she had not been aware of them until she read this report. She particularly noted the high commendation award for Birriwa Reserve and a second place in the Local Government Provisional Management Challenge for NSW. She felt these were great achievements.
She said the report also showed that the Council was meeting the objectives of the 2040 plan. She was also delighted that 57 key indicators were on track, noting that one of those was the Oran Park Library and Community Centre and also Mount Annan Leisure Centre. She was pleased by the allocation of funds for the two proposed water parks and play parks. She said the list of achievements could go on and on and this was a great achievement by the Council. She said the report was a good outcome especially with all of the growth.
“It has to be under good management to be in this position”, she said.
This is the usual report showing how the Council's investments were going.
Moved Peter Sidgreaves. Seconded Theresa Fedeli.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves wanted to note that the council had again achieved above the industry standard and above the budgeted expectations as well. He thanked the Council staff who are involved in this area.
This is the annual grants funding delivered by the RMS. The Council successfully won three grants for the Active Transport Program ($20,000), Local Government Road Safety Program ($13,500) and the Safer Roads Program ($65,000).
Moved Theresa Fedeli. Seconded Michael Morrison.
Cr Theresa Fedeli said she was quite happy to accept this grant especially considering it was going towards road safety.
This time around 24 groups were awarded funding totalling $87,194 and five groups missed out. The five groups to miss out this time were:
- Narellan Sportz Softball Club ($5825) for an equipment and maintenance trailer.
- Cobbitty Public School P&C Association ($5500) for Cobbitty Outdoor Learning Environment.
- Camden Community Connections ($5200) for Small Walkabouts.
- Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living ($2435) for Working Wisely at MCSL.
- Disability Macarthur ($3414) for a family fun day.
It may be possible for all these groups to access funding through other grants.
Moved Cindy Cagney. Seconded Michael Morrison.
Cr Cindy Cagney said it was great to see so many groups apply for funding and the diverse nature of these groups. She noted the grants covered everything from toddlers and preschoolers right through to the elderly.
This is a $7000 grant to hold a Grandparents Day celebration.
Moved Cindy Cagney. Seconded Peter Sidgreaves.
Cr Cindy Cagney said she was a grandparent with six grandchildren. She said any grant that came into the area that could promote family and the connection of families in the community was to be welcomed. She thanked the Minister and the local MP, Chris Paterson, for organising this.
Cr Theresa Fedeli had a question, asking if this was the first grandparent day that had been held in Camden.
A Council officer said this was the first large event of this kind held in Camden.
Cr Fideli asked if this was likely to be an annual event either with or without grants.
The officer said the Council would evaluate the success of the event and make a decision based on this as to whether to continue it as part of a budgeted item.
Cr Cindy Cagney in her right of reply realised she had neglected to thank the Council staff for the great initiative and looked forward to seeing it in action.
This motion follows some sustained advocacy work by Cr Ashleigh Cagney to determine if it was possible to rezone areas of Smeaton Grange that bordered residential areas. This report concluded by recommending that:
- Council staff work with Smeaton Grange industries to ensure compliance with development consent conditions.
- Site specific controls be investigated as part of a review of Camden Development Control Plan 2011.
- Investigate a new Local Environment Plan clause for Camden where industrial areas were adjacent to residential areas.
Moved Ashleigh Cagney. Seconded Theresa Fedeli.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney started by pointing out that currently there was very little difference between IN1 and IN2 zoning. She noted that there had been two development applications in particular that had been contentious — an aluminium galvanising plant and a recycling facility. She said both of those applications had caused a great amount of concern with residents particularly in relation to environmental impacts and the appropriateness of businesses like those close to family homes. Cr Cagney said she would like to think that impacts like noise, air quality and odour would be top of mind for most approval bodies when assessing development applications close to residents.
Cr Cagney said she would like to thank Council staff (in particular, Tina) for the work they did to produce what she regarded as three reasonable options that could be taken back to residents.
She then focused on the importance of jobs to the community. She felt the three options provided alleviated the anxiety of residents while still creating certainty for businesses operating on the residential border. Cr Cagney said most people were aware that she often spoke on behalf of residents concerns but she did acknowledge the important role Smeaton Grange plays to Camden's economy. She noted it was Camden's largest zoned industrial area and housed key businesses, making it important for job creation in Camden. She said the reason she originally put the motion forward was not about deterring businesses but to strike a balance between the right businesses for the right location.
Cr Cagney said she had spoken to some residents who were at tonight's meeting who told her that had the businesses that concerned them been located deeper into the estate away from the border then those development applications would have been “less difficult to swallow”. She described those residents as reasonable members of the community with reasonable concerns.
Cr Theresa Fedeli spoke in support of the report and its conclusions. She felt that Cr Cagney had summed up the position nicely and thanked the Council staff for their investigation and acknowledged the Currans Hill residents “who take the time to go out and make the community a better place to live in”.
Cr Cindy Cagney also spoke in support of the report. She said she was impressed by the residents who brought forward submissions to oppose large businesses that perhaps did not fit in with the community or with other businesses in Smeaton Grange. She noted that when it was first put in place, Smeaton Grange was a fringe area distant from most suburbs and there were only scattered housing developments. Cr Cagney said the area was fortunate not to have had some larger industrial developments such as a smelting plant. She said she had regularly used businesses in Smeaton Grange.
Cr C Cagney said the report's conclusions gave a little bit more assurance for residents and other businesses going forward, especially as new industrial developments would appear closer to Badgerys Creek. She also acknowledged the work done by Tina and her team.
As an aside, Cr C Cagney noted she had been travelling a lot recently in the middle of the day and had noticed a large number of B-doubles on our roads. She said she thought there were restrictions on these between Tramway Drive and Glenville Road. She asked for residents and council officers to keep an eye out for these large trucks fully loaded going past the primary school.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney in her right of reply referred to page 62 of the report listng considerations for new clauses. She asked if Council staff could add that health and environmental impacts be added as a consideration.
(A long debate ahead) This was an extremely unusual approach to a report that had been returned for council consideration. Normally a report is returned and acknowledged by the Council with the business around the report dealt with at a future meeting. In this case, the report was returned and the mayor immediately called for a notice of motion as the report recommendation unusually said: "That Council note the information in this report and determine the matter".
As a result of this unusual situation, a notice of motion had to be developed on the spot giving whichever councillor put forward the motion very little time to frame it in an acceptable way. After a moment's silence as councillors took time to adjust to what was happening, Cr Paul Farrow put forward a notice of motion.
This led to one of the shortest motions I have seen which was: "that Council accepts and implements streaming of Council meetings”.
Moved Paul Farrow. Seconded Ashleigh Cagney.
Cr Paul Farrow started by noting that the original notice of motion many meetings ago was to consider live streaming but this was changed to returning a report that considered the positives and negatives of live streaming.
Cr Farrow said he was not concerned about his privacy or being recorded, he was comfortable that he could control himself to avoid defamation and he did not feel he needed training for the cameras as he had no intention of being a media star. The reason for streaming, he said, was for transparency.
IMPORTANT COMMENT: I have not seen this approach taken with any other order of business in the past year and this was a significant issue as the report on live streaming had two errors of ommission.
The report took its definition of defamation from a 2000 document, Better service and communication for council. The current act came into force in 2005 and has substantial points of difference to the earlier act. The key change is that truth is now a defence and this directly impacts the legal definition of defamation.
At the same time the report failed to mention the 10 defences against defamation.
The report also uses Port Stephens as an example of the Council that has stepped away from live streaming. However, after speaking to Port Stephens on the morning of this meeting I was told by the head of communications that Port Stephens was in the process of restarting the streaming of its meetings.
Even though I advised the Council of these facts during my public address, the mayor informed the Council at that time that I was wrong about the defamation definition based on the advice they had received. This meant the councillors were debating and making decisions based on incorrect information.
Councillor Farrow said that if it became clear that his view was not "palatable" with other councillors he was prepared to foreshadow a further motion where potentially meetings could be transcribed. He noted that audio was already available in the chamber and that perhaps there might be an alternate way forward by making a transcript available with the minutes.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney spoke in support of the motion. She noted that one of the core parts of the discussions in the report was whether the number of viewers stacked up against the likely costs. She noted that the Council already did a number of things that cost "quite a bit". She referenced the Art Gallery in Camden, saying it was something they did for the public benefit and said that live streaming was also something that was for the public benefit. She said the potential cost of live streaming and the number of viewers was secondary and in this case should not rate as a high consideration.
She also noted that audience numbers varied even in the Council Chambers. She noted there was next to no one in the gallery and those who were there had arrived because of particular motions. Cr Cagney said for this reason it did not bother her if there was one or 100.
Cr Michael Morrison spoke against the motion. He said it bothered him if there was one or 100 at a cost of $85,000 per person to watch it being streamed. It did not seem like a viable use of Council funds. He noted that it was 7:15pm and there were 14 items on the agenda and there were just six people watching.
He said if there was a way the staff, the public and councillors were covered under parliamentary privilege, as happens in state and federal parliament, then he would consider live streaming. Cr Morrison said the report had come back and was "thoroughly against the process" as the councillors and staff were liable if something was said. He he did not want to run every single comment past a lawyer. He said Camden was better than that and residents deserved to have a debate that is respectful and well-informed "but which sometimes allows passion and heat to get the better of us". He noted they were not people who have been doing this for their entire lives, that they were learning all the time and trying to do the best for the community.
He again noted the time (still 7:15pm) and said it had taken 20 minutes to get from the heart of Campbelltown to the Council chambers. He acknowledged it was hard for some people to get there but did not expect an increase in the audience size to watch community small grants and grants from the RMS. He said if people wanted to watch Council meetings, they could. He said he couldn't see how, at the cost of $100 each for 100 people that live streaming made financial or legal sense.
Cr Morrison said the fears he raised in earlier meetings were borne out by the report. He repeated again that the day everyone in the chamber was covered by parliamentary privilege he would happily look at streaming of meetings again. He said until that point he didn't feel he could risk it.
Cr Cindy Cagney spoke for the motion. She started by responding to Cr Morrison's comments regarding the time and audience size. She said most people who worked in Sydney would still be commuting. Her experience of commuting from Sydney a few years ago told her that the earliest you could possibly hope to get back would be 6:30pm. (Council meetings start at 6pm). However, she said, the real point of streaming was community engagement and she noted that the recent opening of the Mount Annan Leisure Centre was live streamed to Facebook as was a recent event in the library had live-streamed preschool activities.
In regards to defamation, Cr Cagney noticed that defamation laws are applied right now in the Council chambers. She noted the Council meeting was recorded and that if people were considering a defamation action they could request a copy of the recording or a transcription. She also felt that it would be unlikely that anyone in the chambers to defame someone else.
She went through some of the population numbers provided in the report (this was only available to councillors) of councils where streaming occurred. She said it was quite clear that streaming was not just done in rural areas. Cr Cagney said she would like to see, at the very least, a trial period of 6 to 12 months. She said she believed they had the equipment available in the room right now because the chamber had been built with a "state-of-the-art setup". She said she believed they could live stream in some form immediately.
Cr Cagney said she did not see streaming as an invasion of privacy. She noted she was elected to represent the people who voted for her and following a comment earlier about voting patterns (ORD02 again) she said she was more than happy for people to hear why she voted for different items. She referred to the current business paper and said she could see nothing in the items or discussion that was likely to lead to litigation. Cr Cagney said many people were using live technology now, including herself, as part of their jobs and live streaming would be a great way forward for Camden. "It would be an opportunity for Camden residents to see how the council works and engage them in decision-making".
Cr Peter Sidgreaves spoke against the motion. He said he had two main reasons — the value of streaming and the risk involved.
He started by talking about value. He noted that Bayside had 150,000 residents but in their response to average viewers they wrote "don't get many". He noted other councils were getting 30 to 40 viewers and one was getting 5 to 10. He felt this did not represent good value for money.
In terms of risk he noted the report said there were most certainly additional risks. He noted that the council had passed an enterprise risk policy recently that stated the tolerance for risk was low. He felt streaming went against the council's own risk tolerance. He said he did not have any concerns for his own privacy but he did have concerns for members of the staff and public.
Cr Theresa Fedeli spoke against the motion. She said she read the pros and cons and that the council had received legal advice. Cr Fedeli said she was not convinced that the council needed live-streaming as the transparency already existed. "I don't know how much more transparency we can have," she said.
She started by saying that live streaming could disadvantage the public and then changed tack saying the minutes go online and then started to talk about legal issues. She said legally, for herself and for the staff, she wasn't convinced that there wouldn't be some kind of legal action resulting from live streaming.
She then questioned the value considering Camden's population and asked, "have we reached the 85,000 mark?" She acknowledged she was elected by the community and "hoped" she was doing the right thing. She then referred to my public address where I said I had been trained in defamation as an editor, commenting with a laugh " don't quote me, Alvin", before noting that she didn't want to go as far as getting trained by the council to tell her what she could and could not say to avoid court proceedings. In total, she said she was not convinced and so chose not support it.
Cr Paul Farrow then had a few questions. First he asked in regards to the figures for the Inner West Council, which merely indicated 100+ people watch the meetings via live streaming, did Council officers have a more precise number?
The Director of Customer and Corporate Strategy Mr David Reynolds replied, that despite several attempts that was the best information they could get.
Cr Farrow then asked if the numbers provided showed whether it was the same people watching live streaming every time or if different people watched according to what was on the business papers.
Mr Reynolds replied, that he was unable to give figures on this.
Cr Lara Symkowiak spoke against the motion. She said people making public addresses may be uneasy about being recorded even if they were not filmed directly. She also felt debate would be limited by live streaming as it would stifle the free expression of opinions and as a result would have the opposite effect hoped for by some councillors. She also felt fewer questions would be answered by Council officers as they would be afraid to answer incorrectly. She expected that more questions would be taken on notice and as a result more items may be deferred.
Cr Symkowiak said the report noted that staff and trade unions would need to be advised if live streaming went ahead due to the Workplace Surveillance Act. She suggested there was no provision and the award the staff to appear in live streaming meetings and therefore the Council could find them without staff during Council meetings. She noted those on contract, like the directors, do not always have the information required which was why Council staff should be present for the effective running of the meeting. She said she would, "personally want to have as much information available as possible".
Cr Symkowiak said the one positive was that live streaming would increase accessibility but not transparency. She noted the meeting code of practice was amended, so that every vote by councillors for-and-against was recorded in the minutes. Under the legislation only votes on development applications need to be recorded in this way. She said the minutes improved transparency beyond the legislation. She noted that Wollondilly Council only records who voted for and against development applications. She said prior to live streaming being implemented by Wollondilly the only way to see how councillors voted on items like the budget would be to attend the meeting. She then said that because the way each councillor voted was recorded then the decision-making was 100% transparent. "Nothing is hidden from the public," she said. She said there was no need for live-streaming because anyone could look at the minutes and see how councillors voted.
"There is a difference between accessibility and transparency," she said. "Camden Council's decision-making process is 100% transparent," she said.
She then noted that there had been no code of conduct complaints in Council meetings and there had been no expulsions of councillors during the current term. She said that would indicate that councillors are behaving themselves and conducting themselves respectfully and professionally.
Cr Symkowiak then noted that councillors are not protected by parliamentary privilege unlike State and Federal politicians. Politicians at the State and Federal level could make defamatory statements and not be personally sued. However, she said, if a defamatory statement was made in the Council Chambers and it was streamed then this would be "100% proof" and the councillors could be personally sued.
Cr Symkowiak said she did not come to council chambers with the intention to defame anybody. "I try to think carefully about what I say," she said. However, she said that if she accidentally or unintentionally defamed somebody in the chambers she could be sued and this would not be covered by the Council’s insurance. She said she did not want to lose her home or her business if she accidentally defamed someone "six months ago" and then found herself being sued.
She then referred to Cr Cindy Cagney’s mention of live streaming events via Facebook. She said this was very different to live streaming a council meeting, using a line that she returns to quite frequently in Council debates saying, “let’s compare apples to apples”.
She then noted that defamation actions could take place now as a result of things said chamber. However, she noted that getting a copy of the audio recording required a legal subpoena, so therefore it was harder to prove a defamation action. (At this point her speaking time came to an end).
Cr Paul Farrow then had his right of reply. He noted that the Inner West Council had 100+ people watching each streamed meeting and Wollondilly had 30 to 40 – this was over 20 meetings a year during a four-year term. He suggested this was unlikely to be the same people each week and would more likely depend upon the issues being presented to the Council. In effect it was reaching thousands of people who were not currently attending meetings.
In his view, Cr Farrow said he found the report quite negative in its outlook and there were a lot of positives that the report did not address. He said his understanding of transparency was different to those of previous speakers. He said he agreed with the mayor that the council was currently transparent in terms of reporting on votes. He admitted to being surprised that this was not a minimum standard. However, he said, it is the level of transparency that was important. He said the reporting did not show why people voted in a certain way and what influences people's votes. He noted that if a public address made a good point or one was made in a debate it had the capacity to change how he voted. He said these are the important things the public needs to see — the debate on public matters.
He said he expected to lose the motion following the comments by councillors, so again foreshadowed a second motion that he said would show that his intent was to show the debate rather than any other motive.
The motion to accept live streaming was lost along party lines, with Rob Mills voting with the Liberals.
Cr Paul Farrow then put forward a second motion noting in passing that his ability to foresee the motion being lost "was like having a crystal ball".
Cr Lara Symkowiak cautioned him against sarcasm.
Cr Farrow said it was meant lightheartedly and apologised. He then put forward a motion that the Council investigate using the audio recordings of meetings to create a transcript of the debate and having these placed on the council website, as is currently done with voting in the minutes. He also discussed the idea of investigating other ways of making the debate public.
The mayor, Cr Lara Symkowiak, then called for a specific motion that could be typed up by the governance officer.
Motion 2: Council investigate using audio recordings to provide transcripts to be published with the Council minutes including consideration of positives and negatives and any matters concerning policy, procedure, legal implications and costs and receive a report back to Council for its consideration by the end of the year.
Cr Lara Symkowiak called a point of order asking how this motion was different from the first motion.
Cr Paul Farrow explained that this was no longer about live streaming but about providing transcripts based on the audio recordings already taken by the Council.
“As in a Hansard?”, Cr Symkowiak asked.
Cr Farrow agreed that was what he meant.
Moved Paul Farrow. Seconded Ashleigh Cagney.
Before speaking to the motion Cr Paul Farrow asked Council officers whether the time period by the end of the year was sufficient to bring back the report.
Mr David Reynolds said that considering there were similar issues reporting back by the end of the year was possible.
Cr Farrow said he believed the new motion was self-explanatory and that hopefully this approach would ease the concerns of the previous motion but still deal with the issues he raised in the first motion.
Cr Michael Morrison spoke against the new motion. He said the new motion suggested the only problem he had with the previous motion was having his face on camera. He said that as he runs for the election every four years and is face as part of the promotion for re-election he did not have a problem with that. His problem was the recording itself.
He noted this would save on costs but he still thought it would be $30-$45,000 for staff training although it might half the other costs. He noted that one council had just four people watching which meant instead of it being $20,000 per person it would become $17,000 per person. He felt the same problems still existed. The same issues existed with video streaming as audio streaming and that it was about protecting the public, staff and that there was a duty of care. (Ed. I don't think Cr Morrison recognised that this motion was about a transcript, not a recording).
Cr Ashleigh Cagney spoke for the new motion. Cr Cagney foreshadowed a further motion if this second motion failed. She said she would accept the current motion as a reasonable way for council meetings to be more available to the community. She noted some members of the audience tonight were only able to be there with the assistance of other members of the community. She said that not only those who commuted had issues but there were also members of the community who had mobility constraints.
After prompting by the Mayor, Cr Cagney foreshadowed a motion to investigate ways of making council meetings more accessible to the community. The idea was to have a community bus that would ferry people to and from council meetings.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves spoke against the motion for transcription. He said the new recommendation did not solve the original problems that he had previously raised, although he did think it went some way to solving the value issue. He said until councils were given the same parliamentary privilege as State and Federal governments he could not support the motion.
Cr Cindy Cagney spoke in support of the motion. She reiterated that accessibility was an important consideration. Cr Cagney said she still supported by streaming but as an alternative transcription was worth pursuing. She supported a minuted version of the debate and the use of the audio recordings to achieve this.
Cr Lara Symkowiak spoke against the motion. She thanked Cr Farrow for giving her the second bite at the cherry, as she had not finished her comments on the previous motion. She felt this was the same topic. She said the new motion presented exactly the same risks as the previous motion because "it was still capturing what the person was saying".
She said the cost versus viewer numbers was a consideration, noting that some council had up to 100 residents watching but a council like Lane Cove had only four viewers. In some cases she said those people watching it might be professional staff reviewing the performance. Cr Symkowiak said that if she were to take out council staff and counsellors from viewers then the numbers would be quite low.
She noted it would take some time to transcribe the meeting.
Cr Symkowiak remained concerned about what would be said in the heat of the debate. She felt that debate would be lost if councillors had to stop and think whether something they were saying was defamatory and that they could be slapped with a legal suit because "the (defamatory) comment has been put on the council website in black and white". She referred to Cr Farrow's comment that he could control himself and avoid defamation but said it was not about control but about unintentional remarks not intentional defamatory remarks. She said she was concerned about the unintentional risk.
She returned to the idea of transparency and importance of debate. She believed that transcribing every word without the protection of parliamentary privilege and then posting it on the Council website meant things could be said that were unintentionally defamatory. She said anyone could come and see the debate because it was a public meeting and they could see how they are being represented and how each councillor voted.
Cr Symkowiak then focused on Cr Farrow's comment that it was a negative report and that positives were not listed. She asked rhetorically, what positives were not addressed by the report? She said that in her opinion it was a factual report and that the council staff had listed the pros and cons factually. "It was the outcome of the report that produced a high number of negatives".
In regards to the issue of transparency and understanding why councillors voted, Cr Symkowiak said all the councillors provide phone numbers and emails on the Council website. She said at any time people can call her, write to her or even make an appointment to see her and discuss the reasons for her vote. In her opinion that was transparency. (She again ran out of time).
(SPECIAL COMMENT: You can take the transparency of councillors and their willingness to respond with a grain of salt. I have emailed Liberal Councillors on at least three occasions with questions - 18/5/2017, 15/12/2016, 25/10/2016 - and have never received a reply. Cr Peter Sidgreaves has even said to me when I asked him a question at the Council doors that he didn't have time to talk to people who just write blogs. Clearly, that level of transparency does not extend to residents if they write a blog).
Cr Paul Farrow then had his right of reply. He started by saying that this motion, despite what previous speakers had said, was not dealing with the same issue. By moving to a transcription rather than live streaming he said a number of issues disappeared, including the cost of introducing streaming, workplace surveillance issues, privacy, refusal of consent to be recorded and closed meetings.
He then turned to the issue of defamation noting that if he said something in the council chamber today with everyone present he would still be subject to the same issues of defamation. Whether it was live streamed or a transcript the issues would remain identical. He then proceeded to continue the list of things that ceased to be an issue with the new motion. Cr Farrow said that the new motion wiped out the great majority of the issues listed in the report while still capturing the debate. In his mind the issue of transparency lay with capturing the debate. He noted that the reasons for opposing this motion seemed not to reside on the issues listed but in the debate itself being seen.
The motion was lost along party lines. Rob Mills again voted with the Liberals.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney then put forward her foreshadowed motion.
- To investigate other alternatives to allow for greater accessibility to members of our community to Council meetings.
- To investigate the option of a community bus to transport members of our community to Council meetings through a booking system.
Moved Ashleigh Cagney. Seconded Michael Morrison.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney said she was disappointed the previous motion did not go ahead. She said for her it was about allowing people who would otherwise be unable to come to council meetings to see what was going on. It was about being able to witness the debate to get a sense of where the community was heading at how the local representatives were thinking. She said she hoped this alternative could be brought back to the council and that "it would not cost too much".
Cr Peter Sidgreaves spoke in support of the new motion. He said he did not believe the same issues with the previous recommendation existed with this motion. He thought the idea of a courtesy bus was a good one as the value equation was also positive more people could get to council meetings. He said he was definitely open to making council meetings more accessible but without the risks the previous motions included.
Cr Cindy Cagney spoke in support of the new motion. She said she was disappointed about live streaming but any step that will help engage with the community was worthwhile.
Cr Lara Symkowiak spoke in support of the new motion. She thought the motion was sensible, saying that she thought accessibility was the only positive of the previous motions. She said the new motion addressed the accessibility issue and the Council already had a community bus, so there was no additional capital cost. She said this was a good alternative and she was happy the previous two motions were lost because of the cost. She said she would prefer to see a park upgrade for the $80-$90,000 as opposed to the council being open to a range of risks. Cr Symkowiak said that to have a free-flowing robust debate was better served by the current motion.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney then had her right of reply. She said she was pleased this motion seem to have support and reiterated her disappointment the previous motion had fallen by the wayside. She hoped the options provided for improved accessibility to council meetings were not too expensive.
This motion relates to an approval from the previous meeting that allowed for trees to screen a new farm building. In the previous meeting an amendment had been made that changed the height of the screening trees from "up to 4m" to "at least 5m". This was in an area that had views back over Camden, although there was some debate over just how extensive these views were.
Cr Michael Morrison left the chamber.
Moved Cindy Cagney. Seconded Ashleigh Cagney.
Cr Cindy Cagney said she lodged the recision motion because the applicant’s representative had handed around suggestions to amend the development application on the night the application came before the Council. She noted that councillors had an extensive briefing on the matter at that Council officers had worked with the applicant over a lengthy period of time and that changes have been made, including allowing an 8m setback from the road rather than the 20m setback that is usual for this zoning. She said this showed there had been a lot of give-and-take. Her concerns were in two areas:
She wanted to return to the original maximum height recommended by the Council staff, which stated the new building should not exceed the height of the horse stables.
Her second concern was the change to the recommendation in the original report that because of the ridgeline and the "significant vista", the height of the screening trees should not exceed 4m. When this was amended it became native trees of "at least" 5m.
She said she would like to get the original height of the building restored to the level suggested by Council staff. Her concern with the trees was that it was unclear how high they might grow with some native trees growing to 30m. She said there was a potential to "trash the vista". Because of that she asked even if the councillors chose not to change the building height would at least be possible to go back to the original recommendation for tree heights. Cr Cagney noted the purpose of the trees was to screen the shed.
She then asked the General Manager if it was possible to separate out the two areas of concern or would they have to be done together?
Cr Lara Symkowiak said that before the items could be dealt with the council would first have to vote on the recision motion. She said if that was successful then a new motion could be put forward. She asked for clarification from Mr Reynolds.
Mr Reynolds confirmed that the recision motion would have to be dealt with first.
Cr Cindy Cagney then asked for the indulgence of councillors to go ahead with the rescission motion. She said if councillors supported the roof height but not the tree height then she would be happy to discuss this if the rescission motion went through. She asked for support of the rescission motion and then to return with the original motion for debate.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves spoke against the recision motion. He started by asking a question. He wanted to know if the change meant that the building height could be any level or whether it was restricted by what was allowed the original development application.
Miss Magurren clarified that he meant the resolution made at the previous meeting and said that the building height was as stated in the original development application.
Cr Sidgreaves said he was happy with that decision and did not support that part of the recision motion. He felt that the tree height issue was actually a case of the applicant trying to meet the council and community halfway. He did not feel this would destroy the view and he had returned to the site a few times to look at the view. He then said he had no issue the additional condition trees either. For this reason he did not support the rescission motion.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney spoke in support of the rescission motion. She said she was concerned that on the evening of the meeting the counsellors were essentially handed a piece of paper with the amendments. She felt that none of these amendments had been worked through with the Council officers. She said that at the very least she felt the motion should be rescinded, so that Council officers could have a look at the amendments and allow them to comment before councillors made the decision.
Cr Paul Farrow spoke in support of the rescission motion. He said his concern were around the trees. The change from a maximum height of 4m to a minimum height 5m he understood from the previous meeting was to shield the building from the roadside. He said he was comfortable with shielding the building with trees but was concerned that inadvertently they were not only masking the building but the view lines and ridgelines as well. He noted there were no controls in place for tree growth. He felt this could potentially cause problems that would leave the Council with no options.
Cr Lara Symkowiak spoke against the rescission motion. She noted that at any point the applicant could plant whatever trees they wanted on their property as there was no control on tree planting. She said the intent was to cover up the building from Macquarie Grove Road.
Cr Paul Farrow rasied his hand and apologised for interrupting saying he believed he had a point of order. He asked why would the Council officers impose a condition of a maximum tree height when people could plant whatever it is they wanted?
Miss Magurren confirmed any resident can plant a tree of any height without the need for a development application.
Cr Symkowiak then told Cr Farrow that he needed to clarify in the future what the point of order was about. Was it insulting or making personal reflections that are imputing improper motives, which is the definition under the code of practice? She thought that what Cr Farrow was thinking of was a point of clarification but this did not exist in the current code of meeting practice.
Returning to he speech, she felt that the consent condition for trees was actually not important because anyone can plant a tree of any size. She said she was happy with the intent of that part of the motion, which was to cover up the building from view.
Cr Symkowiak then focused on the height of the building. She noted the new building was only 55 cm higher than the building beside it. At the same time, maximum building height allowed for this area was 9.5m and the current proposal was for a building of 6.85m. She said it was compliant and therefore she would not support the rescission motion.
Cr Cindy Cagney then had her right of reply. She drew the councillor’s attention to page 269 of the attachments and the report by Council officers. She noted that the section focused on the importance of preserving cultural and visual landscapes and that the Macquarie Grove Road investors had been identified as an important heritage landscape. She said this was one of the key reasons that the staff had spent so much time with the applicant.
Cr Cagney said she did not mind if the building was going to be slightly higher but the changes to the treeline introduced on the night was a concern. She said that within a year the trees with a minimum height of 5m would likely be significantly taller than the shed. The prime reason she hoped the recession motion could go ahead was to return tree heights to what the staff recommended. In this way they would maintain a cultural and visual landscape that the development control plan considered to be important.
The decision motion was lost along party lines with Rob Mills voting with the Liberals.
The meeting was then closed to the public while councillors are voted on the appointment of four panel members for the Camden Region Economic Taskforce.