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Clarence Valley News

Council to count cost of YambaCAN contact

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YambaCAN secretary Lynne Cairns and president Col Shephard.

Council to count cost of YambaCAN contact

 

By Tim Howard

A Clarence Valley Council resolution to order an audit of its interactions it has with a local community group is another indication of a split that has established itself in council.

Cr Karen Toms brought a notice of motion to last week’s council meeting calling for the general manager to report on the costs to the council of responding to residents group Yamba Community Action Network.

Cr Toms NOM asked, that the general manager advise, by way of a report the:

  1. allocation of resources required to respond to GIPAs submitted by YambaCan since January 2022.
  2. allocation of resources required to respond to RFI (Request for Information) submitted by YambaCan since January 2022.
  3. any cost implications of delays to delivering the Yamba Community Precinct project since January 2022.

Cr Ian Tiley revealed the fraught relationship that exists between YambaCAN and the council.

He attempted to move a foreshadowed motion.

He sort to move that council:

  1. council formally resolve to withdraw threatened legal action against YambaCAN and,
  2. the council ascertain legal costs incurred by YambaCAN and then consider contributing to those costs.

But the mayor, Cr Peter Johnstone, after consulting the general manager, ruled the motion out of order, as he contended there was no legal action from the council against the group.

This has been a point of contention for months, with YambaCAN revealing it had received a concerns notice from the council alleging the group had defamed the general manager Laura Black.

It has since said Ms Black has taken over payment for the legal action and it was a personal matter between Ms Black and the group and its officials.

But YambaCAN secretary Lynne Cairns, said YambaCAN’s only correspondence on the matter consisted of legal letters from the council’s solicitor Sparke Helmore Lawyers, with Clarence Valley Council as the client, alleging defamation of the general manager by YambaCAN.

The group’s legal adviser said that concerns notice allowed council 12 months from July 2023 to begin defamation proceedings.

In a radio interview on Loving Life FM 103.1 last week the mayor, Cr Peter Johnstone, said there was no legal action and the council had written to the group to reinforce its claim there was no legal action taken against it.

When asked why YambaCAN had a legal letters from the council’s solicitor bearing the council’s name, the mayor said the legal firm may have made a mistake and YambaCAN should contact the firm to resolve the matter.

In the council meeting Cr Toms said her motion was necessary to alert the public to the cost to council in time and money and delays to projects of responding to requests for information from YambaCAN.

In a rambling, disjointed address, Cr Toms also questioned the legitimacy of YambaCAN’s actions, arguing they were working outside the group’s constitution.

She noted the aims and objectives of the group were “to provide a welcoming and respectful forum for a diverse range of community views relating to matters that affect the whole community.”

“That’s part of the aims and objectives and also, I think their constitution is also I think they’re not staying within the constitution,” Cr Toms said.

The councillor continued her attack on the group, claiming it was a small organisation that may represent “less than 2%” of the Yamba population.

She claimed this group had orchestrated a campaign outside the usual council processes to influence council decisions.

“There’s a proper way of if they think that there’s criminal activity, which is what they’re saying,” Cr Toms said.

“If they think there’s wrongdoing, then there’s a proper process to go through.

“Not continual emails, not continual Facebook posts, that slander councillors that threaten intimidate.”

Cr Day described the NOM as “disgraceful”.

“This motion strikes at the very heart of transparency and accountability in this council, It should be offensive to every councillor sitting in this room,” he said.

Cr Day said he had benefited from YambaCAN’s work in gaining access to information the council had been reluctant to make public or provide to councillors.

“YambaCAN have provided to me that I never received as a councillor,” he said.

“It has certainly helped me to perform my duties as an elected councillor.”

He said the group had possibly saved the council money.

“Can any of you sitting here, imagine what the cost would be if every single member of YambaCAN individually sought support sought information from this council, rather than act as a single body and do it in one fell swoop?” he said.

“Be under no illusion, this motion is just the first step in restricting public access to this council’s information.

“This motion is based on conflict and it’s based on revenge.

“Let us support transparency and accountability and lodge this motion where it belongs, in the trash can.”

YambaCAN secretary Lynne Cairns and president Col Shephard.

YambaCAN secretary Lynne Cairns and president Col Shephard.

Cr Pickering said he supported the NOM because Ms Cairns had been on local radio saying she would welcome Cr Toms’ NOM

“She welcomed this motion being supported by council,” she said.

“Because when their report does come back, it’ll give her the ability to respond to it.

“And that’s great. That’s openness and transparency.”

After the meeting  Ms Cairns said councillors had deliberately misinterpreted her words.

“What I said was I would be happy to see the NOM include all the times the Information Privacy Commission had supported our requests for GIPAs and requests for information, how many times they had requested the council to review its processes, how long it had taken to supply information, how many times the council had not complied fully with requests, how many searches it took for council staff to find basic information,” she said.

She was also puzzled why the council would need to go back to January 2022 to audit these requests when YambaCAN formed in October 2022, nine months later.

Cr Greg Clancy took issue with the council picking on a single community group when the evidence was scant that it was inordinately taking up council’s time.

He said this NOM would also add significantly to council staff workload.

“From when YambaCAN formed on October 2 2022 to December 22, 2023.

“As seen in the listing of GIPA applications on councils website, there are 22 GIPA applications and only six of these refer to YambaCAN.

“The information and privacy Commission have supported YambaCAN on a number of times when council has refused to provide documents or only partially provided documents.”

He said council staff were handling 290 requests for information. Just two were from YambaCAN.

The debate also touched on a matter that went to the NSW Administrative Appeals Tribunal after last week’s meeting.

The tribunal sat last Wednesday and heard arguments from YambaCAN and the council on the matter. It has reserved its judgment for two to three weeks.

Cr Clancy said YambaCAN was attempting to gain access to exit surveys of council staff to attempt to uncover why so many staff were leaving council’s employment.

Cr Clancy said council records reveal that in two years from May 2021 175 staff had left council employment.

He said they had completed exit surveys answering questions including why they had chosen to resign.

Cr Tiley was scathing of the motivation for the NOM.

“This NOM is clearly a consequence of the councillor spectacular falling out with a community organisation,” he said.

Cr Toms called a point of order arguing this description of her motives was unacceptable, but the mayor rule against her.

“I haven’t heard anything Cr Tiley said that I would object to,” Cr Johnstone said.

Cr Tiley said he was convinced of this by ”a number of the mover’s, regular, highly stressful and disturbing emails.”

“It’s a great shame that this community group last week felt the need to make a public appeal in the Clarence Valley independent titled Appeal to cease legal action against YambaCAN.

“Hence my disallowed motion.

“Fairness is vital, as is transparency. Attempts to get square are abhorrent. Disgraceful.”

In her right of reply Cr Toms rejected Cr Tiley’s description of her motives.

“The problem I have is it’s an organisation that is going out of their out of their aims and objectives and constitution and heading into an area that is with staff, not only its staff and employing staff and exit interviews,” she said.

The council voted 5-4 for the report to come to council. The dissenting votes came from Crs Clancy, Day, Tiley and Jeff Smith.

 

For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Our Seniors Are Tops!

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Seniors Achievement Award

Our Seniors Are Tops!

 

State Member for Clarence Richie Williamson has shown his appreciation for the invaluable contributions of seniors in our community by presenting the inaugural Seniors Achievement Award in Lawrence today.

During this year’s Senior’s Week celebrations, Mr. Williamson called upon the community to nominate individuals and groups who exemplify dedication and commitment to enhancing the Richmond and Clarence valleys.

“I was thrilled to receive numerous nominations showcasing the remarkable efforts of seniors and senior’s groups,” Mr. Williamson said. “These individuals and organisations consistently go above and beyond, supporting various aspects of community life, from maintaining community halls to providing essential transport services.”

The first Seniors Achievement Award was awarded to Connect You Too, a not-for-profit community-based organisation dedicated to enhancing the lives of residents in the Clarence Valley. Connect You Too offers a vital range of services, including transportation for people of all ages, meal delivery in Iluka, Maclean, and Yamba, non-emergency medical transport, shopping excursions, and social outings. With a team of 60 volunteers and staff, Connect You Too plays a pivotal role in fostering community well-being.

“I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the board, volunteers, and staff of Connect You Too,” remarked Mr. Williamson. “Their outstanding commitment to serving seniors and the broader community is truly commendable, making them deserving recipients of this prestigious achievement award.”

Mr. Williamson anticipates presenting additional achievement awards across the Richmond and Clarence Valleys in the forthcoming weeks, further acknowledging the exceptional contributions of seniors and senior’s groups.

 

For more seniors news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Mayor to “eyeball” AG over courthouse hours cut

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Attorney General

Mayor to “eyeball” AG over courthouse hours cut

 

By Tim Howard

Clarence Valley mayor Peter Johnstone is brushing up on his diplomatic kung fu, after his fellow councillors voted to have him “eyeball” the NSW Attorney General over a state government decision to cut service hours at Maclean Courthouse.

At its March meeting, the council indicated it was not satisfied with the government’s response to a letter to the Attorney General, Michael Daley, in December 2023, advocating that face to face services at Maclean Courthouse, remain the same.

Instead the parliamentary secretary to the Attorney General, Hugh McDermott’s reply, indicated the cuts to services would remain.

“The Attorney General has asked me to respond on his behalf, Mr McDermott wrote.

“I’m informed that in May 2023, court services in the Department of Communities and justice initiated a change in the level of face to face service delivery at Maclean based on the low level of demand for this service.

“The service was reduced from five days per week to five days per month.”

Crs Debrah Novak and Ian Tiley combined to provide a motion to stiffen the council’s opposition to the decision.

After fine tuning of the wording, the council settled on the motion: That council:

  1. notes the report.
  2. makes direct representations to the NSW Attorney General, seeking support of the Member for

Clarence, Hon Richie Williamson, objecting most strongly to the service hours reductions at Maclean Court House, and the mayor seek to meet the minister to convey these concerns.

Cr Novak said the decision was clearly not in the interests of Clarence Valley people.

“We have the key issues here in front of us in black and white,” she said.

“So this motion now is to go back to the NSW Attorney General and the minister with Richie on one side, the mayor on the other side to the minister saying we’re not happy with what you’ve determined.

“What you think is in our best interest because at the end of the day, it is not in our LGAs best interest to have this service downgraded.

“It’s in the state government’s best interest because it’s a cost saving measure.”

Cr Tiley said the council had little to lose and a lot to gain.

“It’s a matter of great concern, especially to the people of the Lower Clarence, as Cr Novak has well articulated that yet another important service will be lost,” he said.

“Perhaps the next one’s Ulmarra Ferry if we meekly acquiesce on this. What next will we lose?”

The approach was not to the liking of all councillors, including unlikely allies on this matter, Crs Karen Toms and Greg Clancy.

Attorney General

Cr Debrah Novak is leading the charge to keep Maclean Courthouse open five days a week, moving that the council confronts the NSW Attorney General Michael Daley over plans to cut hours of service.

Cr Toms worried the motion made it seem the council was throwing a “tanty” when a ruling didn’t go its way.

“I find this a little interesting that we’ve actually been there done this,” she said.

“We’ve got a letter back which tells us the reasons, but we as the local government council have decided we don’t like the reasons and we’re going to have another go and we’re going to get up face to face with the Attorney General.”

Cr Clancy said he was more concerned that continued opposition was “pushing a snowball uphill”.

“Are we  just putting our finger in the dyke?” he said. “Because unfortunately, the modern world is moving in the direction of less face to face, more phone or internet connection.

“The response is fairly straightforward.

“And it’s to do with the demand and the cost of keeping it open when there’s no demand.

“It would be nice to keep everything opened forever. But I really think that we’ve taken this far enough.”

Other councillors showed more fight.

Cr Steve Pickering said cutting courthouse hours was just a start to further cuts.

“It’s to cut to cut the courthouse hours from five days a week to five days a month is the start,’ he said.

“Obviously, the next step will be zero days per month and then everybody in Yamba and Maclean will be traveling to Grafton to use the courthouse there, while it’s still open.

“Who knows? In two years time will we still going to have a courthouse in Grafton?

“Maybe we’ll be traveling to Coffs Harbour, but as a council we need to stand up for our community it’s not about having a tantrum.

“It’s about it’s about doing what our community would expect us to do.

“And when we receive a response that we’re not happy with, we need we need to challenge it.”

But Cr Alison Whaites disputed that Grafton could lose its courthouse, because of the presence of the new jail at near South Grafton.

“Because we’ve got Serco here and it’s busy every day I drive past and it’s packed,” she said.

‘So anyway, so I want to vote against his motion and I really don’t see the point of moving forward with this and the mayor going down and speaking to that person.”

Deputy mayor Jeff Smith said he supported the motion because he believe the community expected its leaders to fight for them.

“I was I was voted in to be an advocate for the community,” he said. “And  there’s often complaints around the LGA that are were very Grafton centric.

“Well, in this case, we’re fighting for something that’s in Maclean.

“And I’m sick of this valley losing out all the time. It loses out to Coffs and it loses out to Lismore and seems to lose out to Byron Bay constantly.

“Let’s just fight it. Let’s have another go.”

The mayor made a rare foray into debate, arguing the council needed to stand up for the region.

“I think we should go for it, shouldn’t we? he said. “I need to brush up on my martial arts skills.

“We should be fighting for our community and we need to fight for our community because otherwise we’ll be seen as a soft touch.”

Summing up, Cr Novak said in the past decade the region had lost many services to Coffs Harbour and Lismore.

“What that actually means to those people because we’ve lost those services, is people now have to travel,” she said.

“So there is a cost imposed to those people who need to access those services.

“We have a high rate of people who don’t have access to computers, who don’t have access or the skills to access computers. All that sort of stuff.

“That just pays puts the onus back on to the potential clients and I think that’s unfair.

“And and we just need to be out there fighting for what we believe is a service that should remain here in the Lower Clarence Valley.”

Council voted for the motion 6-3 with Crs Toms, Clancy and Whaites against.

 

For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Alstonville News

Seniors encouraged to get moving this April Falls Month

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April Falls Month

Seniors encouraged to get moving this April Falls Month

 

Older Australians in Northern New South Wales are being encouraged to get physically active this April, to help build their strength and maintain their independence.

Better Balance for Fall Prevention is the theme of this year’s April Falls Month, an annual event held throughout April supported by the NSW Fall Prevention and Healthy Ageing Network to encourage older adults to become more active and reduce falls.

Locally, exercise and dance classes for people aged over 50 are underway in Alstonville, Casino, Grafton, Lismore, Tweed Heads, Wardell, Yamba and across the Northern Rivers.

Health Promotion Manager, Elayne Mitchell said staying physically active is the single most important thing we can do to stay independent as we age.

“As we get older, our bodies lose muscle strength and coordination, so the more active we remain, the better chance we have of maintaining our physical function,” Ms Mitchell said.

“Improving strength and balance in our legs allows us to complete regular daily activities more easily, including getting up and down stairs, in and out of cars, negotiating uneven surfaces and reducing the risk of falling.

“Older people benefit from regular tai chi, group exercise programs, gym sessions, community-based falls prevention programs such as Stepping On, or simple exercises at home to improve muscle strength and balance.

“Research has also shown that regular exercise can reduce falls in older people by 23 per cent, but slowly building up high-challenge balance exercises can increase the effects of exercise by up to 40 per cent.”

NNSWLHD is partnering with Rotary Clubs across the District to provide pop-up Falls Prevention Awareness information stalls, where you can find out about falls prevention and healthy ageing.

Locations

  • Friday 5 April, 10am-4pm, Lismore Square, Uralba and Brewster St, Lismore
  • Sunday 7 April, 8am-midday, Iluka-Woombah Community Markets, Middle Street, Woombah
  • Thursday 11 April, 9am-2pm, Alstonville Plaza, 93 Main St, Alstonville
  • Friday 12 April – Sunday 14 April, 9am – 3pm, Bunnings, 2 Bruxner Hwy, Lismore
  • Friday 12 April – Sunday 14 April, 9am – 3pm, Bunnings, River Street and Horizon Dr, West Ballina
  • Friday 19 April, 10am-4pm, Lismore Square, Uralba and Brewster St, Lismore

The Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC) has collaborated with the NSW Fall Prevention and Healthy Ageing Network to produce a range of April Falls resources for patients, families, carers and health staff.

Fall Prevention information is also available on the CEC website.

To find local physical activity and healthy lifestyle programs, including fall prevention programs, visit the Active and Healthy exercise directory. Information and advice to support older adults to be more active is also available on the Active and Healthy website. This includes home-based exercise circuits designed for beginners to follow along at your own pace from the comfort of your own home.

 

For more seniors news, click here.

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