Cessnock City Council Beresfield and Tarro Infrastructure Funding

It is with pleasure that I make a private member’s statement about local government. However, I note that the Minister for Local Government is leaving the Chamber. I draw to the attention of the House two local government issues that will affect the Cessnock electorate. One matter will affect my electorate adversely and the other will have a productive outcome. In November last year I referred in the House to the general manager of the Cessnock City Council, who had applied under the Public Interest Disclosures Act, which is known as the whistleblower Act, to, essentially, protect her job. She had three motions of no confidence moved against her by staff and Labor, Liberal, The Greens and Independent councillors undertook to dismiss her.

At that time she lodged a complaint with the Independent Commission Against Corruption alleging that something untoward was happening within the Cessnock City Council, thereby affording herself protection under the whistleblower legislation, despite broad discontentment with her performance and the highly unlikely outcome that findings by the Independent Commission Against Corruption would explain the reasons for several hundred people having no confidence in her ability. The commission investigation was unfortunately long and protracted, but the findings reveal that there is no issue warranting investigation. At that point the protection afforded to the general manager by the whistleblower legislation ceased. Subsequently the general manager resigned from Cessnock City Council, which has now been able to move on.

There is an important lesson and concern in those events. I do not think anyone in this House, this Parliament, this State or this country would want public interest disclosure legislation used in a manipulative manner solely to protect a complainant’s position when no issue that would support an investigation exists. In contrast to this set of circumstances, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, who disclosed issues about the performance of the NSW Police Force and the alleged cover-up by the Catholic Church of child abuse issues, has not been afforded protection under whistleblower legislation, which is a real shame. While I applaud, thank and praise the existence of the Public Interest Disclosures Act, we need to be careful about the issues that lead to its being invoked and about the people who may seek to apply the Act to issues other than those it was intended to address.

The Cessnock community must now find a new general manager of the council, which is estimated to cost approximately $1 million. Legal costs for this protracted process are estimated to be more than $700,000. The salary for the past 12 months of the former general manager, in whom both councillors and staff had expressed no confidence, amount to approximately $300,000. It is not fair or reasonable for a small community such as Cessnock, whose local council’s annual budget is only approximately $70 million, to spend $1 million on just one case. I turn now to address issues relating to Beresfield and Tarro, which are small communities on the outlying areas of the Newcastle City Council.

For some time the Newcastle local government area has had to deal with local area issues. The most recent elections returned mostly Liberal representatives, who proceeded to undertake a massive culling, selling and offloading of community facilities and assets in the interests of providing unearned profits to the Newcastle central business sector. Pools and the golf courses in the Beresfield area will be sold to fund improvements in Hunter Street, Newcastle, for the enormous benefit of owners of businesses and commercial properties, resulting from investment by the Newcastle City Council. I describe that as gaining unearned profits at the expense of community facilities and assets.

The Beresfield pool and the golf course have been provided by the local council for the people of Beresfield and they are as much a part of the lives of people in the local community as anyone could imagine. Unfortunately, the reality for Beresfield and Tarro is that those communities are situated in the corner of the electoral boundaries of almost every level of government. They get moved around from one State electorate to another, from one local government area to another and from one Federal electorate to another because they are situated on the corner of the boundaries. That is most unfortunate for the people of those communities, who are continually pulled and pushed from one area of government to another. To illustrate the difficulties faced by those communities I refer to the police station in the Beresfield and Tarro area. It requires more resources to protect the community. Despite the Government offering to provide the requisite resources, nothing has been provided—with the result that the people of the Beresfield and Tarro areas continue to miss out.