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COVID-19 - Restrictions on Local Government

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Tags: Local Government, Transparency

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to talk about the impact of the COVID-19 restrictions on local government. Of course, we recognise that there still needs to be hygiene processes in place. We recognise that there still needs to be some restrictions around people gathering. We are concerned that local government meetings continue to remain closed to the public, to constituents who have issues to raise. Some councils have online facilities so meetings can be broadcast. A number of them do not. This goes to that saying which is old but true - democracy dies in darkness. All around the state you have seen the easing of restrictions about people meeting. Yet local government meetings remain closed to people.

That is a significant concern, because it is in local government where planning decisions are made that impact on the lives of a community. It is in local government and council meetings where development applications are discussed and approved. People need to be able to see those decisions being made and they need to feel that they are part of that democratic process at a local government level.

We would like the Premier and the Minister for Local Government go back to Public Health and talk to them about the arrangements that are currently in place for local government. I read now from a letter that sent to the Minister for Health, Ms Courtney and the Minister for Heritage, Ms Archer, from Barb Rees who is a descendant of Dolly Dalrymple and a board member of the melythina tiakana warrana Aboriginal Corporation [OK] of the north and north-east of Tasmania -

Dear Minister Courtney and Minister Archer,

A small group of people are wanting to attend the next Northern Midlands Council meeting on 16 November. With the current COVID restrictions in place governing local meetings we feel we really don't have a public voice. Why can't this be adjusted now and why hasn't the Chief Health Officer considered this?

The council has said no to a Zoom or a Teams meeting to the public for particular items.

As a public voice we want not only to be tabled as an email, but be seen in person, because of grievances we have with the local council and its current subdivision of a heritage area of Perth, which goes against its own E13 Local Historic Heritage Code, hence why I have included the Minister for Heritage.

We feel we're not being heard, because what has been put before in previous meetings has basically been read and then put aside. It's a sensitive issue and one where there is a conflict of interest with the developer, in this case the council.

We believe there is no social licence here because the ratepayers have been heard and then ignored. We don't want to lose the well, because of its location near the public space.

This is an old convict well. The letter goes on -

Why is there still a COVID emergency still restricting us from attending a council meeting. We want to be heard and be seen face-to-face, even if we have to wear a mask, whatever it takes. We have a right to have a say. Just because attending as a small representative group, representing the ratepayers and descendants of Dolly Dalrymple Johnson will give more weight to what we want to put to council. They have ignored the significance of the convict well now confirmed and the recommendation from Heritage Tasmania that it should be preserved as a local feature of significance, according to David Denman and Associates.

The well is now surrounded by a paling fence covered over with concrete and made ready to sell as a small building block with a building restriction. We simply wanted the council to leave things as two blocks so that the well of 500 convict, thumb-printed, bricks belonging to a nearby 1840s cottage could be part of the public open space planned in a heritage area of town that could become something the township could take pride in.

It should be listed as a heritage precinct under the council's own heritage code (attached) -

Which is attached to the correspondence -

… involving Norfolk Cottage 1840s and its well, Norfolk Street and its coach transport history through Old Perth Town from Norfolk Plains and the Coach Inn. The Jolly Farmer, already listed, and on Dolly Dalrymple Johnson's 20 acre government land grant of 1831 and Sir A.J. Douglas, another historical Tasmanian from this land grant.

This is a matter that involves the Department of Health COVID restrictions due to meeting, the Department of Heritage and the Department of Local Government.

The buying of land for subdivision number 32 Norfolk Street should not have come to this. The land should never have been bought for the purpose of further subdivision.

I await your response and hope that access to this meeting is made possible because for the last four months community involvement has been made difficult.

Barb Rees

Dolly Dalrymple descendant and board member of MTWAC.

I hope that the Minister for Local Government and the Premier have heard this adjournment contribution. I hope that another look is had at local government meetings. We have people coming to this Chamber from the outside world to watch parliament. We are allowing people into the dining room, even though it is in small numbers. There has to be a way to make sure that we are keeping people safe, but also not locking away our democratic institutions like council meetings.

People have a right to be involved in local government deliberations and decision making, and at the moment the restrictions have shut them out. There is a varying degree of access because some councils are providing electronic access to those meetings while other councils - such as the Northern Midlands Council in this case - are not.

We hope the Premier and the Minister for Local Government will investigate this matter, and talk to the Director of Public Health about how those restrictions might be somewhat eased so that democracy can be seen in the light of day.