Raising dam wall issue raises ire of councillors not ‘on the same page’

ABOVE: Toonumbar Dam near Kyogle.

Susanna Freymark

Councillor Danielle Mulholland’s report on her meeting with Deputy Premier Paul Toole was followed by a stir among some councillors at the Kyogle Council meeting on Monday, February 13.

Ms Mulholland was sick and attended the council meeting by video call.

“During a trip to Sydney in early December 2022 to attend a Local Government NSW board meeting, I took the opportunity to meet with Deputy Premier Paul Toole who is also the Minister for Regional NSW and Minister for Police,” Ms Mulholland wrote in the report.

She listed the issues discussed at the meeting with Mr Toole. The most contentious one was the raising of the Toonumbar Dam wall.

Some councillors were unhappy Ms Mulholland raised these issues without first discussing them with mayor Kylie Thomas.

Here is a summary of the report with the councillors’ responses below.

Emergency services contributions: These are currently rolled into our rates notice instead of being listed as a separate line item so residents and ratepayers are encouraged to believe that council has increased their rates. The incumbent government has made it very clear that this will not change so perhaps an article in the council newsletter might help inform residents and ratepayers about what is actually happening, rather than assumptions being made that council has increased their rates.

Clarence Way: $22million is needed to complete the upgrade of the Clarence Way from Bonalbo to the Bruxner Highway. The current State Government goes into caretaker mode on March 3, however we have submitted applications for these funds under two programs. This announcement would need to be made before March 3.

Waste levy: Kyogle Council should never have been subject to the waste levy as it is currently applied. The minister only needs to move an amendment to the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 to remove the word ‘Kyogle’ from the Regional Levy Area described in the definitions section of the regulations. Because it is a regulation and not legislation, this can be done before the March election.

Regional road transfer: The State Government made an election promise in February 2019 to take back 15,000km of regional roads which, after the election, was reinterpreted as ‘up to’ 15,000km of regional roads. They have taken back just under 400km of regional roads in three years which is, by any measure, a disappointing outcome. They admitted they haven’t done well in this space.

Fixing bridges: The 20 bridges that are left that need replacing need an additional $20million to finalise our bridge replacement program.

Funding for State Forests: The roads and facilities are not being maintained and this will not be cost shifted to council. Given a third of our LGA is state forests and national parks, which are also unrateable land, they need to take substantial action as soon as possible.

Policing: Recruitment issues such as taking from our LGA when Casino’s 24/7 roster falls short. A new model is needed in terms of policing staff numbers, recruiting and retaining not only police, but all professionals (especially frontline workers like doctors, nurses, police) and implement strategies that will achieve this goal. This could be through offering incentives such as a rural allowance, free housing, and possibly increasing the rank of police servicing our villages and Kyogle to be able to attract suitably qualified police to these areas – especially Woodenbong and Bonalbo.

Aged Care: There needs to be more accommodation options for people who want to transition off their farms or larger houses but aren’t ready for an aged care facility. When there is no transitional accommodation, there is an escalation in the number of people going into residential aged care which is not only unnecessary but overburdens the aged care system. There is a need to develop independent living units with the appropriate support by health and home services which will help to ease the burden on the care system and allow people to age in their community of interest where their friends and families are located.

Housing options: Old schools and principal’s houses can be converted into housing and there is interest by private individuals in terms of acquiring these properties for other purposes such as training centres, accommodation. It seems wasteful to allow such assets to fall into disrepair when they could be utilised and re-purposed.

Bells Bay: The contract is out of date, invoices aren’t paid to the volunteers in a timely manner and the State Government is heavily reliant on volunteer labour to keep the area to an acceptable standard who also pay for the privilege through an outdated contract.

Toonumbar Dam Retreat: Council is still waiting for WaterNSW to finalise the MoU to start the work on the funded project. This issue has dragged on for far too long. Toonumbar Dam Retreat has enormous potential in terms of accommodation, a conference or special event facility, attracting water-based sporting clubs, not to mention the opportunities emerging from the Olympic Games in 2032.

Raising the Toonumbar Dam wall: To undertake this work, about $50million is needed. The dam could potentially service Casino, Rous and Lismore, so it is a regional solution with economic opportunities for the agricultural sector for watering stock, crops.

Councillor Tom Cooper said he was confused by Ms Mulholland’s report.

“I can’t see what Councillor Mulholland has done here represents the views of the council,” Mr Cooper said.

“This is just bizarre. I agree with the things asked for but we have not ever discussed the raising of the Toonumbar Dam wall.

What authority does Councillor Mulholland have to go to the Deputy Premier about this?

“This has blown me away. This should not be in council papers.”

Ms Mulholland said it was incumbent on all councillors to put issues on the table re election issues.

“This is to inform everyone about our advocacy,” she said.

The conversation continued.

Mr Cooper: The raising of Toonumbar Dam wall has not been raised in this council room.

Councillor Janet Wilson: This is not the place to discuss this.

Councillor Maggie May: Was any of this discussed with you (Kylie Thomas), prior to Danielle Mulholland taking these issues to the Deputy Premier?

Did Councillor Mulholland raise this with you Madame Mayor?

Ms Thomas: No, I was not. Councillor Mulholland does not discuss her movements with me.

Councillor Robert Cullen: Has council discussed raising Toonumbar Dam?

Ms Thomas: No, we have had discussions about the retreats with Water NSW about taking on that site. We are not in water allotment control.

General manager Graham Kennett said the previous council did raise the issue of raising the Toonumbar Dam wall.

Ms Mulholland responded to her fellow councillors.

“I spoke to staff about these issues before I left,” she said.

“This is the song sheet we should all be singing from.”

There were also discussions about funds for roads, the responsibility of state forests and more.

The main issue for some councillors, though, seemed to be about not consulting with the mayor.

Ms May: It appears this was a planned event and Councillor Mulholland said she discussed it with staff. Some (issues) are relevant, some are novel.

The mayor is the leader of the council. The mayor should be kept apprised of anything councillors are doing in the lobby space.

Ms May put forward an amendment to support her views.

Ms Mulholland said by passing the amendment, people were restricting opportunities.

“Everyone should start communicating with each other.

We do not communicate with each other as well as we can,

“We’re all supposed to be on the same page.”

Councillor James Murray: As a new councillor, speaking to a minister is something I wouldn’t do without speaking to the mayor first.

Mr Cooper: I have no objection to Councillor Mulholland talking to a minister but an organised visit should have gone through the mayor. Council needs to draw a line in the sand between the old council and the new council.

Ms Wilson asked for council to hold a workshop on briefing documents and council issues. “Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, we look at the issues and how to update them,” she said.

Ms May: “I am requesting councillors intending to meet with ministers – that you should run that past the mayor.”

The council meeting continued after the majority voted for Ms May’s amendment to be included with Ms Mulholland’s report.

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