Noosa Councillors ignore CEO’s advice

The last Noosa Council Ordinary Meeting gave us some intriguing insights into the way some Councillors appear to be voting on political ideology rather than due process.

The telling moment came when they voted on the Council Staff’s recommendation to note the engineer’s report and approve the Development Application for Operational Works for the Noosa River Oyster Habitat Restoration. 

(more political background on the environment project here)

Crs Finzel, Lorentson and Stewart voted against the staff recommendation, even though the CEO had explained to them at the General Committee Meeting earlier in the week that when you vote against a Code Assessable application, the vote is not valid unless a code-related reason is given.

Read this exchange from the General Committee Meeting

Cr Stockwell: Point of Order. I think the motion (from Cr Finzel) is ‘ultra vires’. And I’ll explain that. The motion is asking for the consideration of matters that are outside the scope of a code, which is against legislation. Councillors can only consider, in this statutory role, the assessment criteria within the code that is presented to us. To delay it for details outside that code would be a breach of legislation. I therefore think that motion is ‘ultra vires’.

Cr Wilkie (Chair): I will get some advice from the CEO on this.

CEO: Chair, absolutely, Councillor Stockwell is correct. Also, this is a code assessable application that isn’t dealing with matters that are sitting outside, it is on the books, and if council does not decide by the first of June, it will be deemed approved anyway.

Cr Stockwell also gave the councillors a very clear explanation of their statutory requirements.

Cr Stockwell: I’m going to clarify the role of a councillor, in the setting of a development application, as stipulated by law. Even before you can become a candidate, you were told what your responsibilities are now, and since then, you have had more training. The law requires you to assess this application only against the code requirements. It’s a legal statutory role that we are currently playing. We cannot put our policy hat on. We cannot put our hat on as a grant funder. We can only put on one hat. That is a statutory assessment hat. And the only way that you can vary from the staff opinion is if you believe there is an aspect of the code that it does not meet. There is no other debate. No other questions to be put before the meeting today. And so, unless you’ve got greater expertise than the person who’s got the expertise in assessing this application (and said that it complies), there is only one way to vote legally.

Crs Finzel, Lorentson and Stewart voted against the staff recommendation without giving reasons.

Following that meeting, CEO Scott Waters sent an email to all councillors with further clarification, however the final vote at the Ordinary Meeting remained the same. Crs Finzel, Lorentson and Stewart apparently ignored the advice of their CEO.

There are deep divisions in this Noosa Council, none deeper than this one.

The local Chamber of Commerce has been lobbying hard against spending money (even Federal Government and privately donated money) on the Oyster Reef project to improve the health of our river.

Crs Finzel, Lorentson and Stewart are with them all the way, regardless of expert staff advising them of their legal responsibilities.

Why, you might ask, would these three Councillors vote outside their authority when their vote was – in practical terms – meaningless anyway?  Could they be laying the groundwork for a re-election campaign in 22 months’ time?

This is an updated chart showing the councillors’ voting record from July 2020 to May 2022. (It shows how often the councillors have NOT followed the recommendations of senior Noosa Council staff.)


This Post Has One Comment

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    As it is often said “Don’t get between a politician and a vote”. Reason? Motive? Ethics? Out the window….! Wouldn’t it be more responsible for the Councillors to explain to their supporters how the legalities of the system works and move forward with a legitimate vote. I’m sure most members of the various chambers (for example) would understand. To do otherwise, lowers the standard of ‘real’ discussion.

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