NEWS

October 2019

HVRRA submission concerning the sale of the

Cygnet Medical Centre

Public meeting to be held at 6pm on Monday 14th October in Huonville Town Hall

OUR MOTION TO THE MEETING

The Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association (Inc) moves that HVC rescind its decision to sell the land at 14 George Street and the Cygnet Medical Centre as councillors were given misleading information on which to base their decision.

The Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association (Inc) – HVRRA – has no formal position either for or against the sale of the Cygnet Medical Centre (CMC) despite a poll of our membership indicating a preference for the facility to be retained in public ownership. We acknowledge that there are valid arguments for selling the land and medical centre just as there are valid reasons for retaining it in public ownership.

Our primary concern is the process by which this decision was made, the quality of the information provided and whether the decision was made appropriately during the public meeting or previously arrived at during staff-dominated private meetings using misleading information and without the inclusion of community input.

HVRRA was established in the wake of the council sacking and our primary purpose is to monitor good governance to help ensure that practices that led to the previous council becoming dysfunctional are not repeated. As a ratepayer’s association, we are also very concerned by any and all HVC activities that lead to unnecessary expense. We note and appreciate that council management’s principle argument for the sale of the CMC is to mitigate financial risk into the future.

The issue of the sale of the CMC was initiated at the behest of the lessee during the tenure of Commissioner Taylor but we will not delve into this history but instead consider the decision made by the current elected council in June 2019, how it was arrived at and whether this is an example of poor governance.

Councillors are required to make their decisions based, to a large extent, on the information and recommendations provided to them by staff. Councillors are also required to consider many issues at each meeting and have limited time to consider them between the time the agenda is published and the meeting is held. Thus the importance of the quality of the reports cannot be over-emphasised.

Good governance demands that reports presented to councillors are objective, factually based, do not present conjecture as fact, include all relevant information while remaining concise, and be written in plain English in a type size that is easily legible.

A good report will present all arguments fairly and in a balanced manner and not solely the arguments that favour the outcome preferred by the administration.

We have studied the CMC report for the June 26, 2019 meeting and find that it fails these criteria in many respects.

  • It lacks objectivity and can be fairly described as biased as it only supplies arguments for the sale and no arguments for retention.
  • One significant public submission[1] containing information not included elsewhere was left out of the report which thus deprived councilors of relevant information. This, in itself, raises questions about the legal standing of the council decision.
  • The report contains numerous pages of irrelevant data and complex financial information that could and should have been summarised to that which is relevant.

Examples:

Pages 1 – 4 provide largely irrelevant information about Federal Government grants prior to 2013.

The overly comprehensive statistical data relating to Cygnet again contains a wealth of irrelevancies and gives the impression that the Medical Centre solely serves the township.

Pages 32-42 contain a mass of irrelevant financial information that could have been summarised into less than one page.

Councillors who are relatively unused to interpreting reports of this nature in the extremely limited time frame that they have between publication of the agenda and the meeting may well have been left feeling confused and unsure that they were not missing something of importance. Whether intentional or not these are a clear examples of obfuscation.

  • Misleading statistics: In the agenda (P.34) the reader is told “that it is important to consider the relevant population and demographic information”. The Cygnet population is then given as being 1556. This is misleading as the relevant population statistic is the catchment area of the Cygnet Medical Centre. This is approximately 4200 [2] which is the same population as Huonville and Ranelagh combined or, alternatively, about 25% of the entire population of the municipality. Would it be relevant, for instance, that Port Huon has a population of only 428 if considering HVC ownership of the Sports and Aquatic Centre?
  • Small print. The “Summary of Comments on Redacted Objections” is printed in such small type (approx. 8 font) as to be virtually illegible without the use of a magnifying glass despite there being ample space on the page,
  • In the “Summary of Comments on Redacted Objections” the report’s author dismisses many comments as “not relevant ….. because it raises a question but does not provided evidence”. However elsewhere in the report the author presents arguments in favour of selling without providing evidence. The most relevant example is the assertion of financial risk without providing details of the agreement with the Commonwealth. Without this information it is impossible for councillors (or the public) to assess the actual level of this risk which may, in reality, be negligible.
  • The report contains misleading language (example: agenda P.31 describes this purpose medical centre built in 2012 as “an ageing facility”).
  • The suggestion that “any risk of an appeal is substantially reduced” would appear to indicate some ignorance of the community concerned.

We could point to many other aspects of the report that are far from ideal but these examples are sufficient to clearly demonstrate that the report was significantly flawed.

False and misleading statements (Section 345 of the Act) A person (including an elected member) must not, in giving any information under the Act: make a statement knowing it to be false or misleading; or omit any matter from a statement knowing that without the matter, the statement is misleading. 

Yours sincerely, Pat Synge   (President, HVRRA)  – October 2019

[1] This was a four page submission that raised 27 relevant points (written by the author of this submission).

[2] ABS data: population from Cradoc to Cygnet and further south on the north-eastern side of the Huon River


HVRRA AGM 2019

7pm, Tuesday 24th September

Huon Valley Council Chambers, Huonville

All committee positions will be vacated and nomination forms are available here: Nomination form

After the AGM formalities we have a General Meeting and invite you to share your thoughts about how we can best serve the Huon Valley community in the year to come.


If you want to download our submission as a PDF click here:

HVRRA submission to AFAC review into 2018-19 Tasmanian Bushfires

SUBMISSION TO THE AFAC REVIEW INTO THE 2018-19 TASMANIAN BUSHFIRES

We appreciate the opportunity to make a submission to this review and acknowledge our lack of expertise in firefighting issues but hope we can contribute to the discussion.  As a Huon Valley community group our primary area of concern is on the fires that directly affected our community but some of our comments and questions may well be relevant to the bigger picture.  We would like to acknowledge and thank the many members of the local community who contributed information that is included in this submission.

Timeliness and effectiveness of the fire response and management strategy

The first question that is being asked in our community is: “Why was a relatively small fire, in exceptionally dry bushland near Riveaux Road (less than 4 kilometers from the Tahune Airwalk) during a period of fairly benign weather, not extinguished before it became a widespread conflagration that destroyed forests, plantations, properties and put an entire community at risk without even mentioning the significant cost?”

embryonic fire V2

We have been informed that this photograph was taken on the 16th January, the day after the dry lightning strikes, and that it shows the point of ignition of the fire that was thereafter named the “Riveaux Road Fire”. This appears to show a small fire front in fairly open terrain with little wind behind it.

 From the TFS web site  “Location Riveaux Road, Southwest –

20th of January: Attending resources: TFS resources arrived, 2 x LIGHT TANKER, 1 X MEDIUM TANKER – Size: 6.5 hectares

21st  January: Attending resources: TFS resources arrived, 2 x LIGHT TANKER – Size: 38.6 hectares “

We recognise that this may not give an accurate description of all the resources being deployed during this period but would be very surprised if the areas affected are very inaccurate.  The weather during the period between 16th and 20th was neither extremely hot nor windy and it is difficult to understand why this fire was not extinguished.

It appears that the fire started in a previously logged coupe which would have been tinder dry but should have been easily accessible for fire fighters.

It is incomprehensible that a relatively small fire close to an important tourist attraction and adjacent to and “upwind” of a vast forest and plantation reserve that was clearly identified as being exceptionally dry was not given the highest priority.

Unless there are significant factors that we are unaware of the only conclusion we can draw is that there was serious mismanagement by those responsible for fire control.

Riveaux Road coupe to Tahune Airwalk distance

This satellite image indicates that “ground zero” was ~ 4 km from the Tahune Airwalk

After the 21st of January the fire grew exponentially and despite the significant firefighting resources deployed. Our community might well have been far more severely impacted had it not been for unseasonal rain and cooler weather.

Many rumours have been circulating but there appears to be a consensus that there was some kind of “dispute” between the fire agencies involved in tackling the fire at this early stage. The details around this vary but most relate to “jurisdictional” responsibilities or “land tenure” issues and refusal of access for bulldozers due to environmental concerns.

As TFS Chief Officer, Chris Arnol, has stated that “the classic strategy for remote area firefighting is the use of aircraft for initial attack: the aircraft hold the fire ‘so that we can get the boots on the ground'”. [1]

We recognise that aerial firefighting is extremely expensive and may be of limited value in difficult or extreme conditions. As noted above it can, however, be extremely effective when tackling embryonic fires and especially so in areas that are otherwise difficult of access.

It appears most likely that had the Riveaux Road fire been appropriately attacked from the air within 24 hours it could have been brought under control and extinguished.

Our community needs to have a clear and unequivocal explanation of exactly what happened during this critical period.

Who was responsible?

Who made what decisions, when and why?

And most importantly, we need an assurance that all and any factors that may have contributed to delay in an effective response have been be clearly identified, that recommendations are made to help prevent any repeat of this, and that these recommendations are implemented with immediate effect.

2a

Another lightning strike fire on the 16th January

Community messaging and warnings

  • The TFS and Sentinel websites provided valuable information during the emergency but much of the TFS information was generalised and did not pinpoint specific locations of concern and/or firefighting activity. This led to many people believing themselves to be in imminent danger when they were not. While it is understandable that those responsible for disseminating critical information will, and should, err on the side of caution it is not helpful if residents are kept in a heightened sense of danger over a long period. This may lead to complacency (“the boy who cried wolf syndrome”). It should be noted that later in the emergency period the information on the TFS site became more detailed and useful.
  • In some of the more remote areas of the municipality radio reception is not good. ABC AM radio appears to be broadcast from the mainland over the weekend and so local fire information is not available. FM reception is very patchy and many stations do not broadcast emergency updates. NBN and mobile phone coverage is also patchy and can be interrupted completely when local transmitters are out of action due to the fire. What can be done to improve this?
  • The “live-streamed” Huon Valley Council/TFS information sessions were very much appreciated by the community in general. Live-streaming was particularly valuable as it allowed the many residents who could not attend the events in person to get the information promptly. TFS should avail itself of better audio equipment for use in the future.
  • The dangers of smoke pollution were not clearly explained during the early period of the emergency. Due to the prevailing weather conditions some areas had prolonged and extreme smoke levels with the more dangerous PM2.5 pollutants peaking as high as 1100µg/m3 with 24 hour averages above 350µg/m3. Often, just a few kilometers away the air was relatively clean. The EPA website provides useful and accurate, but extremely localised, information. Perhaps a supplementary method of indicating and communicating air quality could be used during bushfire emergencies. Might webcasting optimised dual polarimetric radar data provide the public with a more useful indication of the distribution of the smoke plume at any given time?

cy_2019_day_av_plot

EPA “24 hour averaged” air quality data for Cygnet

  • We have been informed that some firefighting personnel held lengthy “conversations” over the radio rather than using it solely for important communications and adhering to “on-air” protocols.
  • One resident (whose home and outbuildings were destroyed) mentioned that, before returning to the site, he was not informed of any of the potential dangers (ie damaged asbestos sheeting, “widow maker” branches on nearby trees, damaged chemical containers etc.). He was personally aware that such dangers might be present but was nonetheless surprised not to be formally notified. Should this be standard protocol in such situations?

The use and effectiveness of aerial firefighting resources

It is recognised that early morning is the best time of day to conduct firefighting operations with both the wind and temperature being more favourable.

  • We have received a number of reports that neither spotter aircraft nor TFS ground crew were out and about assessing the situation at first light.

With hotter and drier conditions forecast we can expect more frequent extreme conditions and it is quite probable that other states will be facing similar conditions at the same time: especially Victoria. This may mean that we cannot call on our neighbours for assistance and so should be more self-reliant.

With the “fire season” becoming longer in duration in both hemispheres we may be unable to rely on support from North American aerial firefighting resources.  Time is often of the essence as we have seen when a recent fire just north of Hobart that could have become a major incident was promptly extinguished.

  • We maintain that TFS should have (or be able to call upon) sufficient aerial firefighting to be able to combat potentially dangerous fires within hours of them being identified as such.
  • Local volunteer firefighters have suggested that in some situations it would be valuable if helicopters were used to supply water and pumps to remote crews engaged in “mopping up” operations. Flexible “roll drums” or similar are available. [2]
  • In addition to having better resources available locally we believe that there may be a strong case for the creation of an aerial firefighting capability as an integral part of the Australian Defence Force rather than relying on State agencies and commercial operators to provide these services? We request that the review panel consider recommending that the Federal Government commission an independent cost benefit analysis into how Australia’s aerial firefighting capabilities can best be provided into the future.
  • There has been a suggestion that we should not be so dependent on commercial operators to provided aerial firefighting capability since they inevitably have a vested interest in prolonging the fire. Whether this has ever actually occurred is another matter.

Fire management in the native forest estate and forest plantations: now and into the future.

Many questions have been raised about how well Forestry (STT) and private forest plantations are managed in relation to fire and what can be done to better protect them and the nearby communities.

  • Are fire trails and fire breaks adequate and, where they exist, are they maintained appropriately? Who monitors/enforces compliance?
  • We have been told that many of the forestry fire trails are used extensively by private 4WD vehicles in all weathers and that this sometimes renders them impassable for larger (ie firefighting ) vehicles and that access is sometimes made impossible due to fallen trees and branches. Is track maintenance adequate? Is there a requirement that tree growth be kept well back from the sides of roads?
  • It is recognised that eucalypt and pine plantations, by their very nature, are extremely fire prone due to their structure, the flammable nature of the trees themselves and the fact that they have a drying effect on their environment. Should it be a requirement that all plantations of a certain size (say 50ha +) have a perimeter planting of “fire retardant” trees? [3]
  • Should all native forest and highly flammable plantations in proximity to habitations and urban areas be required to have a significant perimeter planting of “fire retardant” trees to slow the advance of wildfire and “catch” wind-borne embers?

The Ta Ann timber processing facility at Southwood has been the beneficiary of many millions of taxpayer dollars over the years and suffered considerable damage during the fire. Reports from TFS personnel indicate that the facility was very poorly prepared for such an event. There were/are significant stands of highly flammable vegetation adjacent to the buildings and log piles (at less than 40m). We have also been told that on site waste management was poor.  Being located next to a river it seems surprising that extensive sprinkler systems were not in place.

  • Should government funding be conditional on adequate (or even excellent) fire protection?
  • Similar questions might be asked about installed fire protection at the Tahune Airwalk.

General firefighting resources

  • Is Tasmania adequately equipped for fighting major wildfire emergencies in extreme fire weather conditions?
  • Are we too dependent on interstate and international personnel and resources?
  • Are available resources actually used efficiently? We have had numerous independent reports of operators of earth moving equipment being ready to start work at 7am and having to wait, inactive, until late morning for instructions to be relayed from “head office”. This not only means that valuable time is lost but adds considerably to the overall cost of the operation as these sub-contractors have to be paid for standby time.
  • Are briefings held too late in the morning thereby missing the most valuable firefighting times?
  • Many experienced fire fighters were apparently frustrated by a lack of timely instructions and felt that “head office” was sometimes out of touch with the situation on the ground. That by the time decisions were made the situation on the ground had evolved and the instructions received were no longer relevant.
  • We have received a number of reports from volunteer firefighters of contractors and professional firefighters not attacking fires early but waiting until “it was worth their while” with “overtime considerations” sometimes being given as the reason.
  • In the past there was a Huon Valley Fire Emergency Management Committee consisting of a representatives from all local volunteer brigades, Forestry Tasmania (as it was then), PWS, TFS, police and Huon Valley Council. The committee met quarterly to share knowledge and update plans for the season. Since this was disbanded we are informed that the coordination and cooperation between stakeholders has been less effective.
  • It has been noted that the Federal Government is currently spending more than $17 billion on fighter jets while only contributing around $50m a year towards aerial firefighting capabilities. The RAAF has many and varied aircraft and highly skilled pilots. Existing aircraft that are under-deployed could be converted using existing or developing technology [4]
  • Fires are easily lit. In hot windy conditions, a single person, suitably equipped, could create a firestorm without even putting themselves in danger. It should not be ignored that it could be used as a “terrorist weapon” and the Federal Government should be equipped to respond.
  • While we had a fire emergency here in Tasmania the north of Queensland was experiencing severe flooding. In Townsville, the army was quickly mobilised and provided valuable logistical and other support. This kind of action not only provides excellent training in “real life” situations but relieves some of the pressure experienced by other services that are often entirely or partially provided by volunteers. Why was there no assistance from the ADF during our emergency situation? There appears to be no good reason why some ADF personnel should not be trained to the same level as our volunteer firefighters. Even if not trained as firefighters they could provide valuable assistance monitoring for spot fires , carting water, manning road blocks etc.  Perhaps the meaning of “National Defence” should be re-examined?
  • It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect volunteers to work for extended periods. Our volunteers were stretched to the limit and many business owners felt obliged to pay employees while they were away from work even if they could ill afford it. Some volunteers used “paid holiday” time but many are self-employed and simply had to absorb the lost income. When fighting long duration “campaign fires” it would seem reasonable to provide reasonable compensation to volunteers.
  • We have had reliable reports of small ‘spot fires’ being identified by members of the public at first light who say that there was no response when they called them in. We recognise that local volunteer firefighters cannot work 24/7 and this kind of preventative patrolling might be a useful role for ADF personnel.

 Public road closures

Many public roads were closed for extended periods which led to considerable inconvenience for many residents.  The proximity of the fire to Franklin and Geeveston necessitated closure of the Huon Highway which meant that those in the far south found themselves having to make the decision to stay or leave long before there was any immediate danger of fire.

  • Is there perhaps a greater role for on-water public transport which should be relatively safe during periods when the roads are closed? This might allow evacuated residents to visit and maintain their properties, tend stock etc and so reduce the stress experienced in the community.
  • With many residents very publicly “away from home” during this period the perfect opportunity existed for opportunistic burglary and looting. Is there a need for a greater police presence with active patrols during evacuation periods? Again, perhaps ADF personnel could be providing assistance to relieve the work load on police in some areas.

3

This photograph dramatically illustrates the mosaic pattern of burning

 Climate Change

  • It is striking that the Southern Fire Protection Plan 2018 makes no mention whatsoever of Climate Change and that the Bushfire Risk Assessment Model (BRAM) “Ignition Potential” appears to be based on outdated data [lightning caused fires (1966 – 2007) and strike data from one fire season only (2006-07)]. In recent years the incidence of dry lightning strikes and resultant fires has been significantly higher than in the past.[5] If this is the model currently in use it should be reassessed.

lightning

Average number of lightning fires per fire season for five-year periods between 1980/1981, 2014/2015 and 2016

 Given the relevance of climate change to the whole issue of fire management and prevention, both now and into the future, we feel that the fire review panel should formally respond to the recent joint statement issued by 23 former fire and emergency services chiefs (including Mike Blanks and Tony Brown who have a combined 69 years of service here in Tasmania) [6] 

 [1]               https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/TasmanianBushfires45/Report/c04

[2] https://www.turtlepac.com/products/collapsible-water-bladder-tanks/

[3]               http://www.smalltreefarm.com.au/Case-Studies.pdf   https://apsvic.org.au/fire-resistant-and-retardant-plants/

[4]               (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273124144_Aerial_Bushfire_Quencher_C-17_Conversion_for_Fire_Fighting_Operations ) https://helitak.com.au/helitak-fire-tank/

[5] https://www.mdpi.com/2571-6255/1/3/38/pdf

[6]               https://emergencyleadersforclimateaction.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/CC_MVSA0184-Firefighting-and-Emergency-Services-Statement-A4-Version_V4-FA.pdf




Terms of Reference for Independent Review into 2018-19 bushfires

The review will consider the following matters:

  • The causes, chronology and response of the 2018-19 bushfires in Tasmania on and following 28 December 2018.
  • The effectiveness of community messaging and warnings.
  • The timeliness and effectiveness of the fire response and management strategy, including accommodating the priorities of life, property, environmental and cultural values, and timber production and forest asset values by Tasmanian fire agencies.
  • The impact and effectiveness of fuel management programs in the fire affected areas on the management and containment of the fires.
  • The effectiveness of state, regional and local command, control and co-ordination arrangements, to include agency interoperability and the co-ordination of emergency management activities with government and non-government organisations.
  • The effectiveness of the arrangements in place for requesting and managing interstate and international assistance and the significance of interstate and international assistance in managing the fires.
  • The use and effectiveness of aviation firefighting resources, in particular, the suitability of aircraft types for the protection of environmental values, forest assets and the rural/urban interface in Tasmania.
  • Any other matter that the Review team identifies in the course of its activities as warranting discussion.
  • The Review team will provide a means for members of the public and other interested parties to make submissions to the Review and will have regard to any submissions received in compiling its report.

The Review will be chaired by Mal Cronstedt AFSM who will be joined on the Review team by;

  • Guy Thomas – Director of Asset Services with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
  • Paul Considine – Director of Capability and Assurance at Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council.

Public submissions will be called for on 6 April 2019 and there will be a four week consultation period closing on 3 May 2019. Members of the public will be able to lodge formal submissions or make an appointment to talk in person or on the phone to the Review team.

The final review is expected to be delivered to Government by July this year.


190404

huonaqua.com.au/community/grants


HVC Volunteer Service Awards 2019 are OPEN.

Do you know of someone that VOLUNTEERS and gives to our community? Please nominate them for a Volunteer Service Award.         Selection Criteria and Application Form HERE:    2019 Selection Criteria          2019  Nomination Form fill      Please note that the closing date is Wednesday 27 March 5pm. If you would like any further information please contact Lisa Plohl (Community Liaison Officer) on 6264 0343.



UPDATE:

Since posting the article below* HVC has announced that there will a community information session about the sale of the Cygnet Medical Centre on Thursday 14 March 2019 at 2:00pm.

They have also provided this Q&A sheet: 190306 QAs-Cygnet-Medical-Centre

* Proposed sale of Cygnet Medical Centre 

In the Mercury (01/3/2019) Huon Valley Council placed two advertisements regarding the Cygnet Medical Centre:

  1. One was for expressions of interest for the purchase of the Cygnet Medical Centre  with transfer of the council’s contractual obligations to provide medical services at the location until 2032. The call for expressions of interest will close on April 2nd.
  2. The other advertisement was a notice of intention to sell public land (on which the Medical Centre was built).

Objections to the proposed sale, stating the grounds for the objection, may be made to the general manager of the Huon Valley Council no later than 22/03/19

  • What community consultation was undertaken prior to making the decision to sell this community asset in September 2018?

Council is holding the Cygnet community information session on the 28th March  “to allow members of the community to have their say and to let council know what is important to them”  (Mayor Enders).

The closing date for submissions/objections to the sale of the public land is six days before the community information session in Cygnet.

  • Why was the process for the sale of the land initiated by HVC before the Cygnet Community Information Session?

In September 2018 (with Adriana Taylor as Commissioner) HVC stated that, “it is highly desirable for Council to discharge the risk and responsibility of the medical centre through a transfer of obligations under the Funding Agreement”*.

If sold, the new owner would take on this contractual obligation and the sale price would be adjusted in their favour (in consideration of this obligation). Once the obligation was discharged this would result in a significant capital gain for the purchaser.

  • Should HVC be transferring this “risk and responsibility” to a private company which may not be able to fulfil its obligations?
  • What would happen, for example, if the new owner went bankrupt and could not find a purchaser for the property who can provide medical services?

If leased until 2032 HVC would then be in a position to sell the Medical Centre at full market value (if deemed appropriate at the time). The income derived should not only cover all maintenance and costs but also cover the cost of any loans HVC might require in the interim to “compensate” for the sale price of the Medical Centre.


* HVC Agenda, 26 September 2018 (page 28): “The development of the medical centre was an initiative of Council to provide adequate medical services to the community of Cygnet utilising Commonwealth funding under the Hospital and Health Fund programme. The cost and risk for Council to operate the medical centre has been reduced with the involvement of Huon Valley Health Centre Pty Ltd in operating the centre. However, the risk and responsibility of Council will remain until 2032 whilst the Funding Agreement is in operation and applies to Council.

It is highly desirable for Council to discharge the risk and responsibility of the medical centre through a transfer of obligations under the Funding Agreement. As there is currently an operator at the location providing services to the satisfaction of the community, and they have shown a willingness and ability to take over the Funding Agreement obligations, it would be ideal to arrange a transfer of obligations whilst it is currently viable.”


Open letter from HVRRA to Premier Will Hodgman:

20th February 2019

The Honourable Will Hodgman

Dear Premier

The Huon Valley Residents & Ratepayers Association (Inc) calls on you to establish a “Public Inquiry into the 2019 Tasmanian Bushfires”.

As you know these fires could have become a major disaster with even more significant loss of property, and perhaps even lives, had the weather not been kind to us. 

We ‘dodged a bullet’ this time but we must not become complacent. The chances are high that there are more bullets to come: if not this year then not so far down the track.

The economic and environmental damage has been significant and recovery will not be overnight. The community is shaken but a Public Inquiry that is seen to be inclusive, transparent and comprehensive will help build confidence and resilience.

Every major fire event is different and what works well (or not so well) for one may not be the same for another. We must take every opportunity to learn what strategies are most appropriate in any given situation.

First and foremost a Public Inquiry is a learning opportunity. The 2013 and 2016 reports provide valuable foundations on which to build our knowledge and community confidence.

I know you have stated that, ‘all major fire incidents are reviewed, with input from experts, once the fires are safely resolved’ but I respectfully suggest that this does not mean very much unless it is accompanied by unambiguous terms of reference.

I am copying this call for a Public Inquiry to your colleagues in State Parliament, all Tasmanian Federal parliamentarians and Huon Valley Councillors.

Yours sincerely

Patrick Synge

President, Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association (Inc)

 


SUGGESTED TERMS OF REFERENCE

The Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association (Inc) calls upon the Tasmanian State Government to establish a Public Inquiry into the recent fires in the Huon Valley and Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) with a view to learning from this event and building community confidence. We suggest that this Inquiry should be headed up by an eminent member of the judiciary, preferably an individual with experience in such an Inquiry (possibly in Victoria or ACT).
The Inquiry should seek to identify measures that can be implemented by governments, government agencies, industry and the community to minimise the incidence of bushfires and their impacts on life, property and the environment with specific regard to the following.
(a) the extent and impact of the bushfires on the environment, private and public assets and local communities;
(b) the causes of and risk factors contributing to the impacts and severity of the bushfires, including land management practices and policies in the TWWHA, State forests, other Crown land and private property;
(c) the adequacy and economic and environmental impact of hazard reduction and other strategies for bushfire prevention, suppression and control;
(d) any alternative bushfire mitigation and prevention approaches, and the appropriate direction of research into bushfire mitigation;
(e) the adequacy of current response arrangements for firefighting;
(f) the adequacy of deployment of firefighting resources, including an examination of the efficiency and effectiveness of resource sharing between agencies and jurisdictions;
(g) the roles and contributions of volunteers, including current management practices and future trends, taking into account changing social and economic factors;
(h) the adequacy and timeliness of health warnings and general public awareness of smoke dangers.
HVRRA acknowledges the valuable information contained in the 2016 Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Bushfire and Climate Change Research Project Report and the 2013 Dunalley Report.
This ‘2019 Tasmanian Bushfire Public Inquiry’ should build on this knowledge and so help the Huon Valley community, the broader Tasmanian community, firefighting agencies and volunteers be better prepared for future events.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Many thanks to Luke Tscharke for allowing us to publish these images.




November 2018

HVC Election outcome:

The Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association congratulates all the newly elected Huon Valley Councillors and most particularly our new Mayor, Bec Enders and Deputy Mayor, Sally Doyle. We feel confident that they will lead council effectively using their combined skills and knowledge of the local community. We now have a diverse council with a representation of ages, backgrounds and genders from all around the municipality.

This, more accurately than ever before, reflects the makeup of our community.

Bec Enders
HVC Mayor Bec Enders

It will be good to have nine heads around the table exchanging views and contributing their varied knowledge and experience. Commissioner Taylor did excellent work in getting council back on track after its sacking but she is just one person with her own perspective and experience to draw on when decision making. Like all of us she has her strengths and weaknesses and while benevolent dictatorships have a lot to be said for them in the short term they are no substitute for democratically elected governments: as I’m sure she would agree.

sally doyle
Deputy Mayor        Sally Doyle

We also to congratulate all the candidates who put their hands up but weren’t successful. Each candidate has something to offer the community and we hope that they will continue to participate and contribute to keeping this part of the world the very special place that it is while ensuring that future generations also have the opportunity to enjoy the same privileges that we sometimes take for granted.

Finally, we congratulate us the voters. We were confronted with an unprecedented 27 candidates to choose from and managed to elect a balanced, representative council that has every chance of being able to work together cooperatively to do the very best they can for the community. You can’t please all the people all the time and there will be times when they make decisions that, as individuals, we may not be happy with.

councillors
Our new council.
Back: Juarne Bird, Mike Wilson, Mick Newell, Christine Campbell.
Front: Rob Prince, Bec Enders (mayor), Sally Doyle (deputy mayor), Paul Gibson.

The Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association supports good governance and we will do whatever we can to assist the new council in establishing and maintaining standards that become a model for all other councils.

Pat Synge  – Nov 2018



3D Block Red Text Vote 2018 Over White Background.

Who to vote for?

Confused by the number of candidates?

Want to know more about them?

All  candidates have been invited to write a statement and they are posted as we receive them

HERE

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your vote is your vote & every vote counts


Donation Disclosures

moneybag

As you probably know Tasmania has no laws requiring candidates to disclose any donations received.  Candidates can receive any amount, from anyone, and spend as much as they like on self-promotion prior to the declared election campaign period and up to $10K during.

HVRRA maintains that this is unhealthy for democracy

“Transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of good governance”

We have invited all candidates to disclose donations they have accepted.

They are posted

HERE

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PMAT Candidate Survey

In what is likely to be the biggest survey of candidates in the local government elections, the Planning Matters Alliance Tasmania (PMAT) has today revealed strong candidate sentiment for local government planning controls that protect local character, sunlight and privacy for our homes and facilitate public involvement in planning decisions in national parks and reserves.

PMAT sought to survey all 481 candidates in the council elections, reaching 407 candidates, 107 of whom completed and returned their responses to questions. It asked the following three questions and the individual responses to these questions are now available on PMAT’s website here. The results table is presented by Council and then by candidate in alphabetical order.

1. Do you believe that Councils should have greater capacity to protect local character and amenity and places important to local communities?

2. Do you believe that planning rules should protect a neighbour’s right to sunshine and privacy in their own home and garden?

3. Do you believe that major tourist developments proposed for national parks (and other reserves) should be discretionary i.e. the development proposal is released for public comment and the council can either approve or refuse it?

The results are  here and  here .

Vote Responsibly.

 

 

Historical notes from Bob Hawkins

adriana T
Commissioner Adriana Taylor

Former mayor says nay to an old warhorse

Former Huon Valley councillor Mike Wilson, in a November 28 Mercury article, ‘Taylor’s plan spurs questions’, was critical of Adriana Taylor as a result of a Mercury article, published November 27, headed, ‘Taylor-made solution’ with a strapline ‘Huon Valley Commissioner seeks suitable candidates’.

In the November 28 story, Wilson is quoted thus: “It is not the role of the commissioner to state she will identify potential council candidates and encourage them to stand at the next election.” In the same article, it is reported that he said he had written to Premier Will Hodgman and Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein “regarding the [Taylor’s] comments”.

On the basis of the November 27 article, Wilson’s remarks might be viewed as reasonable. But the commissioner didn’t see it that way, arguing that the November 27 article had not accurately reflected the sentiments she had expressed in her interview with the Mercury. (The article also didn’t reflect this writer’s understanding of what the commissioner, for many months, has had in mind about helping potential candidates to understand their responsibilities.)

What Wilson is believed to have said in a media release that Huon News received from him prior to the November 29 council meeting also displeased Taylor. What got her dander up were three observations attributed to Wilson: it seems he had criticised Taylor’s role regarding candidates for next year’s LG elections, and described her as a caretaker; had complained that the general manager at the time of council’s sacking need not have been terminated; and alleged that HVC had “five new ex-Glenorchy Council staff who do not reside in the Huon”.

BEFORE getting around to ticking off Wilson, Commissioner Taylor dealt with the November 27 Mercury article. She said at the November 29 council meeting: “There was an article in the Mercury . . . which was an interview . . . which has been misread and misunderstood by some members of the public. Clarification has been issued of the language used in the article and my role as commissioner and how I see the public being involved in elections next year and potential candidates . . . A media release has been issued today to this effect.”

Inter alia, the November 29 release, ‘Preparing for Huon Valley’s future’, reads:

The Huon Valley Council commissioner, Adriana Taylor, is encouraging potential candidates to prepare for the council elections next October. [She said:] “I will be organising open workshops for any and all candidates . . . These workshops will be open to anyone wanting to learn more about local government but will be aimed particularly at those nominating . . . I have indicated to the minister that it is very important that the community has enough time to get to know and prepare any prospective councillors. I am already encouraging our communities to identify community leaders to consider standing and for those who know the good leaders to support them to do so . . . it is important for residents to get to know as many candidates as they can so they can make an informed decision . . . Councillors need to represent the views, wishes and concerns of the community. I look forward to contributing to this process.”

Nothing much wrong with any of that, though there is perhaps a hint that our politicians today would much prefer us all to accept their “guided democracy” rather than unfettered democracy. But it is nothing that former councillor Wilson should have a problem with.

ADRIANA TAYLOR took over from the sacked nine valley councillors in October 2016 and chaired her first meeting the following month (November 30). Wilson, one of the nine removed councillors, attended that meeting. To my knowledge he did not attend another council meeting until last month (November 29).

At that meeting, Taylor said she was pleased Wilson was present to hear her reaction to his assertions. She bluntly reminded him that her authority as commissioner was no less than that of an elected council: there certainly was no “caretaker” element to her job.

A modified version of her statement at council, issued the following morning, does not contain Taylor’s initial observations about Wilson’s apparent criticism. Inter alia, that statement reads:

Local government is a public service industry that requires specific skills in such areas as planning, health regulations . . . Employees regularly move from one council to another. We have employees who have worked at Kingborough, Hobart, Clarence, Sorell, Tasman and, no doubt, many other Tasmanian councils . . . And they have employees who have worked here [Huon Valley Council] as well. It’s a normal avenue to get more experience and to get promotion.
Huon Valley Council has eight or nine staff who have at some time . . . worked at Glenorchy council . . . Since I have been commissioner, I have been responsible for the employment of one staff member who has worked at Glenorchy . . . that being our GM.

I have no say at all in the employment of any other staff. The employment of all other staff is the prerogative and responsibility of the GM . . . He tells me that . . . he has employed two staff who have previously worked at Glenorchy Council . . .

Innuendos of nepotism and poor governance, apart from being untrue and insulting, do damage to the reputation of this council and the whole community . . .
THOSE WHO read Huon News will recall Mike Wilson as the leader of HVC’s six-councillor majority bloc — known in the valley as the Heart of the Huon (HotH). It was a political grouping that, when it suited, could call the shots on any matter that it liked.

mike wilson
Former councillor – Mike Wilson

In a nutshell, with both council management and the Heart of the Huon quite clearly unwilling to co-operate with the then new mayor, Peter Coad — or even, it appeared, to pay serious respect to the office of mayor — council lapsed into dysfunction soon after the newly elected council first met in November 2014. Not much more than six months later, Coad, acknowledging the dysfunction, advised LG Minister Gutwein, who, in September 2015, appointed a board of inquiry, presumably in the hope of sorting out the mess. When the antagonism continued between Coad on one side and management and HotH councillors on the other, Gutwein, in October 2016 — by then armed with the findings of an inquiry into HVC’s behaviour — sacked the council and appointed Taylor as commissioner.

MIKE WILSON, before the 2014 election and throughout the life of the subsequent elected council, was a carping critic of Mayor Coad, at council meetings and in Huon News. In one brief theatrical outburst in the council chamber, Wilson accused Coad (who had only two informal supporters — independent Liz Smith and Green Ian Mackintosh) of running a dictatorship.

Peter Coad
Former mayor – Peter Coad

Coad — deputy mayor of Port Cygnet Council at the time it was abolished in 1993, HVC’s first deputy mayor the same year and an HVC councillor until 2005 — returned to council in 2014 on a reform platform he intended to promote should he also win the mayor’s job. His hopes got short shrift from the HotH team. For them, it was very much a case of wanting more of the rubber-stamp, visionless dross that former mayor (now MLC) Robert Armstrong’s various majority teams had served up since 2001.

Coad — whose mayoral victory had come as a surprise to his main opponent, Wilson, and probably to the valley’s influential behind-the-scenes old guard —  found he had inherited a council with no investments in, or coherent plan for, the uncertain future facing the, as usual, struggling valley economy.

WITH that brief backgrounding, it’s back to Commissioner Taylor’s words at the beginning of the November 29 meeting. Continuing her pre-agenda statement, Taylor said:

. . . the Huon News has brought to my attention today that there has been further comments made in the public forum, I have not seen them but have been told about them, and I have been asked to clarify and comment on some questions. I would like to do so now and I am very pleased to see Mr Wilson in the gallery tonight as I believe these questions came from him and he might be pleased to hear the responses to them.
The HVC November 29, 2017, draft minutes record Taylor’s responses to Wilson’s apparent criticisms:

  1. It is not the commissioner’s role to identify potential council candidates and encourage them to stand at the next council elections. Her role is that of a caretaker until such time as members of the public who believe they have something to contribute to council are elected.

“Commissioner Taylor read an extract from the Ministerial statement provided upon her reappointment and signed by Mr Peter Gutwein dated 17.07.17: “In her role, the commissioner has the powers to perform the functions of the councillors and has been working with council staff to implement the relevant ministerial directions and board of inquiry recommendations.
While the implementation of many of the directions and recommendations are complete, some that are of significant importance to the governance and operations of the Council are still underway. It may take some time before they are finalised and robust enough to properly support an incoming council.
“The work that is still to be completed includes the development and/or finalisation of statements of expectation to manage key relationships within the council, internal and external communication and consultation plans and processes, and a comprehensive councillor induction program in preparation for a new council.
“For clarification, Commissioner Taylor hopes this makes it clear what her role is, and that it is much more than just ‘caretaker’.”

  1. Simone Watson’s termination was unnecessary and unwarranted. [Watson was HVC general manager until her services were terminated, with a payout of as much as, maybe more than, $200,000, a few weeks after Taylor moved in as commissioner in October last year.]“Commissioner Taylor has no comment on this.”3. Commissioner Taylor was once mayor of Glenorchy City Council and that we now have five new ex-Glenorchy Council staff who do not reside in the Huon working at the Huon Valley Council. [Taylor, an MLC 2010-2016, was a Glenorchy councillor 1999-2011 and mayor 2005-2011.]“Commissioner Taylor would like to clarify that in actual fact there are probably eight or nine staff that have worked at Glenorchy City Council. Local Government is a public service industry which requires specific skills including such areas as planning, health regulations, compliance with the Local Government Act.

“Employees regularly move from one Council to another. We have employees who have worked at Kingborough, Hobart, Clarence, Sorell, Tasman and no doubt many other Tasmanian Councils as well as interstate ones. And they have employees who have worked here as well. It’s a normal avenue to get more experience and to get promotion. When position descriptions are advertised they regularly state ‘desirable to have local government experience’.

“Huon Valley Council has eight or nine staff who have at some time in the past worked at Glenorchy Council as well. Since I have been commissioner I have been responsible for the employment of one staff member who has worked at Glenorchy, Kingborough and previously this council. He was employed through a transparent, well documented process, that being our general manager.

“I have no say at all in the employment of any other staff. The employment of all other staff is the prerogative and responsibility of the general manager as the head of our operational arm. He tells me that since his appointment he has had direct involvement in the employment of two staff who have previously worked at Glenorchy council, the director of infrastructure services and the director environment and development services. Each director gave a brief description of their employment history.

“So the statement that we now have five new ex-Glenorchy City Council staff is incorrect. Whether they reside in the Huon Valley or not is immaterial.

“Innuendos of nepotism and poor governance apart from being untrue and insulting do damage to the reputation of this Council and the whole community. I look forward to members of the public bringing their concerns and questions to us, so that we can provide them with more accurate information in future.”

THE DAY after the November 29 council meeting, Taylor told Tasmanian Times that her reason for issuing a clarification was that the article in the Mercury had provoked emails and “a comment by Leon Compton on the ABC that clearly misunderstood what I was planning to do next year”. Taylor said that Compton had asked GCC commissioner Sue Smith whether “she thought me handpicking councillors for next year was appropriate”.

Taylor said that, after writing the media release re her plans for helping candidates, she had an email from the Huon News asking her to comment on three statements made by Mike Wilson.

“I do not know and have not seen to whom those comments were made, only that the Huon News obviously had received them and asked for comment.”

She said she had met the Huon News journalist, and, because it was council meeting night, “and for the sake of reassurance for the community that I am not overstepping the mark in my role”, she had “decided to share that information with you all at the council meeting”.

Taylor said she was particularly pleased that Mike Wilson was present “so that I could give him more accurate information than he obviously had in the hope that we might work more closely in preparation for next year’s elections”.

A SIDELIGHT to the method of helping candidates understand the role and duties of councillors comes in the form of a request in September from the incorporated Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association for one of HVC’s “community grants”. [The author declares here that he is a paid-up member of HVRAA because he supports its aims to promote competent and honest local government.]

The association was formed last year with, among its aims, the intention “to provide community representation when the elected councillors were dismissed”. It has as its main objective, “helping to ensure that a strong and diverse council is elected at the next elections”.

Its application for a $2500 grant described in detail a project that it still intends to carry out. The application listed its “project aims”: to increase awareness of the wide range and importance of local government services; to foster public participation through awareness-raising activities; and to encourage members of the community to nominate for election at the 2018 LG elections.

The association told council it would do this by hosting public meetings with relevant guest speakers; printing and distributing brochures; creating and disseminating mainstream media content; generating and sustaining social media interest; and updating the HVRRA website — hvrra.weebly.com — to make it more relevant and informative.

The association told council it had “identified a number of issues relevant to the 2018 local government election”. Among them it listed apathy, lack of interest, lack of awareness and an attitude of ‘What does HVC actually do for me?’.

HVC grants, among other criteria, are for “annual funding and in-kind assistance to support community projects and programs that have a clear community benefit”.

HVRRA’s request was not recommended for approval by the assessment panel, consisting of four council staff members, at HVC’s October 25 ordinary meeting (item 19.007/17) on the ground that it was, “Ineligible. The project is for ongoing administration or operational costs”.

After the October 25 meeting, the association wrote to council to say “we find the assessment of the evaluation panel confusing” and requested a meeting “for clarification”. Its approach proved fruitless. At the November 29 HVC meeting, a “2017-18 Community Grants Re-evaluation” (item 19.013/17) was considered. Cygnet Bowls and Community Club, unsuccessful in its initial application, was now on the list, with a grant of $726 to buy a line marker; HVRRA’s application had again failed to make the cut. This left $5,976.55 unspent from council’s community-grants budget of $25,000.

It’s difficult to imagine why council thought the idea of a volunteer community association helping to polish up candidates for next year’s LG elections was not a “clear community benefit”. It’s also difficult to remove from my thoughts the notion that HVC might be determined to keep such a task to itself.

Or it might have been a suspicion that there could be a partisan aspect to HVRRA that disqualifies it from “encourag[ing] members of the community to nominate for election at the 2018 LG elections”. That the association — which is open to the membership of anyone who is a resident of the valley, or is a ratepayer to HVC — is an organisation that declares its role to be totally disinterested, and apolitical in its approach to all matters, is reinforced by reliable gossip that one Mike Wilson has applied for membership.

Now that’s something, if correct, that tickles my curiosity — and adds to the evidence that the association has wide appeal to valley residents who might be attracted to the idea of an association committed to representing their community interests and problems.

As to finding suitable candidates? God forbid that HVRRA should turn up community leaders gifted with brains, honesty, integrity, independence of mind, and imagination. As a general rule, these qualities don’t seem to have been much in demand in the political sphere, especially this past quarter century

A NAGGING THOUGHT. Why is Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein so determined that HVC will not get involved in local government-reform talks with its Kingborough Council neighbour? For some mysterious reason, Gutwein — despite his enthusiastic appeal a couple of years back to councils to get talking about local-government reform among themselves — has segregated HVC from all other councils and virtually barred it from participating in inter-council discussions, especially on the possibility of amalgamations.

Earlier this year, in a letter in a letter to Taylor, Gutwein confirmed this view by stating that he did not support the commissioner having discussions with Kingborough Council. Anything like that, he indicated, should be left to elected representatives.

That may be all high-flown and principled, but why should Commissioner Taylor not check out all the possibilities over the next year (while she continues to collect her $200,000-plus salary), and then assemble a comprehensive backgrounder to the implications of LG reform and possible amalgamation. That would be a mighty helpful document for consideration by what this writer hopes will be a talented new, younger elected council, with each member — impermeable to the wishes of old power brokers — committed to considering every issue on its merits.

One gets the feeling that the Hodgman Liberal Government has something special (but not for airing) in mind — perhaps, for example, the Southwood proposal for a woodchip export pile near Dover — for Tasmania’s southernmost municipality and doesn’t want its plans hindered by any suggestion of significant co-operation, perhaps even some form of merger or boundary realignment, with Kingborough, a much more enlightened organisation than valley people had to put up with in Huonville before it was sensibly sacked in 2016.

It’s most unlikely that the Tasmanian Labor Party would hold a view that differs much from that of the present largely destructive, imagination-poor, muddling Liberal government. One way or another, neither of the big parties seems to have plans to do much about the welfare — environmentally or economically — of the Huon; but they do seem concentrated on ensuring that in the Huon Valley there are as few obstacles as possible in the way of those who would extract millions of dollars from ultimately unviable industries, such as ocean fish-farming, clear-fell logging and woodchipping.

These industries do provide jobs (mostly unskilled). But for how long and at what cost to a lovely valley that should be seeing, and making, its future economy a mix of environmentally sensitive tourism; creative small businesses; and high-tech ventures, especially in renewables such as water, wind and solar and other activities that would make a belated but serious contribution to the ever-more imminent threats of catastrophic global-warming?

* Bob Hawkins, a journalist since the mid-1950s, has been covering the affairs of Huon Valley Council since 2009. 

Thanks to The Mercury for use of photos of Adriana Taylor and Mike Wilson