Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I understand you are aware of serious complaints lodged with the Local Government Division about the Dorset Council's illegal construction of a depot on Crown land at Briseis mine hole, Derby.
I have a copy of a letter dated 29 May from the General Manager of the Parks and Wildlife Service, Mr Jason Jacobi, addressed to the general manager of Dorset Council, obtained under right to information. Mr Jacobi expresses extreme frustration at the council's continued disregard of directions from the state regarding the instruction.
He confirms the site has, despite him writing to council, continued to be accessed by council staff or contractors, despite Parks and Wildlife's explicit instructions not to do so. Mr Jacobi also describes the matter as serious because the depot was constructed without building approvals or any authorisations from the state.
Minister, do you have any insight on why Dorset Council thought it could construct a building without any permits on crown land?
Mr SHELTON - Thank you for the question. I am aware there is currently an active dispute between the Dorset Council and the Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and Environment, concerning the issue you raised, which is led by DPIPWE. Until the dispute is resolved, it would be in appropriate for me to make a comment any further. It is a dispute in process and it will be resolved.
Dr WOODRUFF - I have been contacted by ratepayers who are incredibly angry with the conduct of their council. What are you doing to reassure the public that, as the Local Government minister, you are providing oversight and taking responsibility for a council's illegal activities?
Mr SHELTON - Councils are independent entities from the Tasmanian Government -
Dr WOODRUFF - What do you do then, if you take no responsibility for anything?
Mr SHELTON - and they have that responsibility. There is a dispute underway and there is a resolution process to that dispute. It is inappropriate for me to comment or even to try to intervene in that process, but I will hand to the Director of Local Government.
Mr LIMKIN - Under the Local Government Act, section 339E, community members have the opportunity to make formal complaints to myself as the director in relation to the operation of council matters.
If a member makes a complaint, obviously we treat it very confidentially, but in general terms, we assess the complaint, work through the complaint and talk to the council and, in a few cases, undertake that complaint.
Dr WOODRUFF - Do you accept ratepayers have a right to be very concerned and outraged, and they would expect severe consequences for their council to be acting illegally in this manner? The director of Parks and Wildlife Service is very clear: council has no legal jurisdiction to be building on that crown land without authorisations.
Do you accept if a member of the public made that complaint, you would take that matter very seriously and order an investigation into that council?
Mr SHELTON - It is taken very seriously. There is a dispute ongoing at the moment. It is not appropriate to intervene in that dispute.
Dr WOODRUFF - But it is, minister, because it is not about Parks and Wildlife.
Mr SHELTON - What you are commenting on is about people's perception of a council. It is not appropriate for anybody or any entity to break the law; it is as simple as that. There are mechanisms we have in law in order to deal with that.
Dr WOODRUFF - They have broken the law.
Mr SHELTON - And there is a process in place.
Dr WOODRUFF - Okay, what is the process you will take with that council?
Mr SHELTON - There is a dispute resolution process in place now.
Ms DOW - I want to look further at the complaints process to the director; I want to understand what the division thinks is an acceptable time frame for a complaint to be addressed and responded to.
Mr SHELTON - Under the act, the director of Local Government deals with any disputes. I will go to the director.
Mr LIMKIN - Thank you, minister. The division attempts to respond as quickly as possible to any type of complaint we receive. That depends on the complexity of the complaint, the available information and the research we need to do. Unfortunately, there is not a standard time frame because of the fact that has happened.
I also want to acknowledge, as the minister said, the division, as all of government at the moment, has been impacted by COVID-19 where we provide resources up to the State Control Centre to support that process. There have been some minor delays. We are focused on resolving any complaint in an efficient and effective manner, but it depends on the nature of the complaint and the information we receive as part of that.
In some cases, we do not receive the information or the complaint in the actual requirement of that section, section 339E of the act, so therefore we have to go back and seek further information and work with a complainant to provide them with that information to enable them to then make a judgment call on whether they want to go down that path.
CHAIR - The time being after 1 o'clock, I am going to call the lunch break. We have 30 minutes when we come back on Local Government before we move on.
Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, a further question about the illegal Derby Depot construction undertaken on Dorset Council land. Perhaps the Director, Local Government could confirm whether a complaint was made to the Local Government Division?
I went back and checked the records we had with the person who made the complaint to us. We had forwarded them to the director to make a complaint to if they chose. We had forwarded that information. They said they lodged a complaint, but I don't know if it was lodged there - there were other places they had also complained about. They have complained to the Ombudsman and the Integrity Commission; they're very concerned.
Was a complaint made about this matter?
Mr SHELTON - Dr Woodruff, the issue is if you say 'yes', people would understand so you can't say 'yes', you can't say 'no', because it actually identifies different complaints so I don't know how we go about answering this, but I will let the director answer.
Mr LIMKIN - You are 100 per cent correct. I cannot comment on any investigations that may or may not be ongoing because of natural justice, but, as I said to you earlier, community members have an opportunity under section 339E of the act to make a complaint if they deem it appropriate. If a person makes a complaint to the division, I take all matters seriously because obviously the parliament has put those provisions in the act. Through those processes we would - if a valid complaint were made under the act - work with the person who made the complaint to investigate on that basis.
Dr WOODRUFF - I don't want to know any details of the complaint and I don't want to know about the process being undertaken - I simply want to understand whether a complaint has been made because the director was talking hypothetically before about what would happen if a complaint were made. I simply want to understand whether a complaint had been made. Perhaps the director could speak to the legal processes that you and the director are empowered by this particular matter, whether that is what has followed - you understand?
Mr SHELTON - I understand where you want to go to, but I can't -
CHAIR - Just before you answer, minister, have we someone who has the livestream of parliament going? We are getting some feedback - we can hear what you're hearing on delay through the headphones.
Mr SHELTON - I won't allow the director to be put in the position where he has to talk about it. Obviously, the best way to do it would be to go back to whoever was corresponding with you and ask them whether they did or didn't follow up that. To talk any more would put the director in a position where he may inadvertently say something that indicates whether there is or isn't an investigation underway. So, I am not going to ask the director to comment on that.
Dr WOODRUFF - Fair enough, but could he answer the remaining part of the question which is: what actions could be taken by the director, Local Government about a council acting illegally by constructing something on crown land? I want to know what the process would be?
Mr LIMKIN - If a formal complaint is made under section 339E of the act which actually does require a statutory declaration as well as other information, we will acknowledge the complaint. We would make an assessment on whether the matter should be undertaken or investigated by the Local Government Division, or whether we should refer it to another department, or another area such as the Integrity Commission or the Ombudsman.
If an existing piece of work is being undertaken, we will make an assessment whether it is valid in us and the Local Government Division and the director doubling up on that work. From there, once we accept the complaint and accept that there is something to be investigated, the team then seeks evidence either from the person - both from the person who has made the complaint and also from the people or entity the complaint has been made against.
There is research, evaluation, a reflection on that information taken. There is also the process of natural justice. So, any type of finding or concern needs to be tested with the actual entity or person the complaint is about, and so a natural justice process is undertaken. We then document all this so that if relevant matters need to be followed-up by the DPP or another area of government, that information can then be referred on to that process.
During this we do try to keep the complainant aware as much as possible; however, there are those confidentiality provisions we need to maintain as any other process happens. It is a tricky balancing process for the division.