Public Inquiry Into Blue Mountains City Council Announced By Minister

Public Inquiry Into Blue Mountains City Council Announced By Minister

New South Wales Minister for Local Government Gabrielle Upton

Public Inquiry Into Blue Mountains City Council

Victor P Taffa

Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton has announced a public inquiry into Blue Mountains City Council to investigate serious allegations relating to asbestos management and organisational governance.

A public inquiry will provide an independent, open and transparent process to determine the facts and help address the serious issues impacting on the council.

Barrister Richard Beasley, SC, has been appointed as Commissioner to conduct the inquiry. Mr. Beasley has more than 30 years of experience as a legal practitioner and a comprehensive knowledge of administrative law.

“Blue Mountains residents have had no choice but to stand by as their council continues to be engulfed in serious allegations impacting on its operation and performance.” Minister Upton said.

“A public inquiry will get to the bottom of these matters once and for all in an open and transparent way. It will also help ensure local residents can have faith that their council is in a strong position to represent their best interests.”

Public inquiry will examine:

  • Track record of both the council and the councillors in dealing with asbestos management issues since 2012 including funding and co-operation with State Government agencies;
  • Council’s processes surrounding the employment of certain staff and contractors including those engaged to conduct independent investigations into asbestos management and employment issues;
  • Whether the council and councillors are facilitating a consultative and supportive working environment;
  • Council’s compliance with its statutory responsibilities under the Local Government Act;
  • Council’s organisational structure and allocation of resources.

In November last year, the council ordered independent investigations into asbestos management and staff recruitment practices following serious allegations made against it.

Allegations then emerged of a serious conflict of interest between the person appointed to conduct the independent investigation into the council’s asbestos management practices and a now former senior staff member at the council.

“We are not going to stand by while the council buries the matter in unnecessary and expensive court action. I am appealing to the council to stop wasting its ratepayers’ money and work with the Government to ensure its workers and residents are protected from the dangers of asbestos.”

“SafeWork NSW and the Environment Protection Authority have issued dozens of improvement, prohibition and clean-up notices to the council over asbestos at a range of public facilities including a kindergarten, childcare centre, library, swimming pool and tip.” Minister Upton said.

“Anyone with concerns about the council can now raise them with the Commissioner of the public inquiry and the matters will be appropriately aired and tested.”

“There have been serious allegations regarding asbestos management by the Blue Mountains City Council. I welcome this public inquiry and SafeWork NSW will assist it in any way it can.” Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean said.

Councillors will remain in place during the public inquiry.

At the conclusion of the public inquiry the Commissioner will present a report to the Minister. The Commissioner may make such recommendations as he sees fit having regard to the findings of the public inquiry.

Recommendations could include issuing future performance improvement orders or dismissing the council and appointing an administrator.

 

Public Inquiry Terms of Reference

Local Government Act 1993

Public Inquiry Under Section 438U Of The Local Government Act 1993 Into Blue Mountains City Council

I, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, Minister for Local Government, pursuant to the powers granted to me by section 438U of the Local Government Act 1993 (“LG Act”), hereby appoint Richard Beasley SC to hold a public inquiry and report to the Minister for Local Government in accordance with the terms of reference below:

To inquire and report to the Minister for Local Government with respect to whether:

  1. In exercising its functions pursuant to sections 23 and 24 of the LG Act, the Council and its governing body has since 2012 dealt with, and is dealing with, asbestos management issues at the Council in accordance with the guiding principles in section 8A(1)(a), (c) and (2)(c), (e) and the role of the governing body in section 223(1)(a), (b), (d), (g), (h) and (l) of that Act.
  1. In exercising their functions pursuant to Part 2 of Chapter 9 of the LG Act, the mayor and councillors of the Council have since 2012 exercised, and are exercising, a reasonable degree of care and diligence in dealing with asbestos management issues at the Council in accordance with section 439(1) of the Local Government Act 1993.
  1. In exercising their functions pursuant to Parts 1 and 2 of Chapter 11 of the LG Act, the Council and its governing body has since 2012 determined to employ and/or engage Mr Mark Mulligan, Mr John Hargreaves and other staff or contractors in accordance with the guiding principles in section 8A(1)(a) and (2)(e) and the role of the governing body in section 223(1)(j) and (l), as well as section 349 of that Act.
  1. In exercising its functions pursuant to sections 23 and 24 of the LG Act, the Council’s process of engaging Clyde & Co and McCullough Robertson lawyers (through McPhee Kelshaw solicitors and conveyancers), including with respect to management of any conflicts of interest, to conduct independent investigations into asbestos related incidents and employment issues, respectively, was in accordance with the guiding principles in sections 8A(1)(b), (h), (2)(e) and 8B and the role of the governing body in section 223(1)(c) and (l) of that Act.
  1. In exercising functions pursuant to section 24 and Part 3 of Chapter 13 of the LG Act, the Council and its governing body has since 2012 made funding decisions so as to address asbestos management in accordance with the guiding principles in sections 8A(1)(b) and 8B and the role of the governing body in s. 223(1)(c) and (l) of that Act.
  1. In exercising functions pursuant to Parts 1 and 2 of Chapter 11 of the LG Act, the Council and its governing body since 2012 has facilitated, and is facilitating, a consultative and supportive working environment in accordance with the guiding principle in section 8A(1)(i) and the role of the governing body in section 223(1)(i), (j) and (l) of that Act.
  1. In exercising its functions pursuant to sections 23 and 24 of the LG Act, the Council has co-operated, and is co-operating, effectively with State government agencies in addressing asbestos management issues in accordance with the guiding principle in section 8A(1)(e) and the role of the governing body in section 223(1)(l) of that Act.
  1. In exercising functions pursuant to Parts 1 and 2 of Chapter 11 and Part 2 of Chapter 13 of the LG Act, the governing body and the senior staff of the Council has determined, reviewed and re-determined an appropriate organisational structure and resource allocation in accordance with the guiding principle in section 8A(1)(c), (2)(c) and the role of the governing body in section 223(1)(g), (h) and (l) of that Act.
  1. In exercising its functions pursuant to sections 23 and 24 of the LG Act, the response of Council and the governing body to the asbestos management issues raised in 2017 has been and is in accordance with the guiding principle in section 8A(1)(a) and the role of the governing body in section 223(1)(b), (g), (h), (k) and (l) of that Act.

Commissioner may make recommendations as the Commissioner sees fit having regard to the outcomes of the Inquiry, including whether all civic offices at Blue Mountains City Council should be declared vacant.

Inquiry will be limited to matters relating to the carrying out of provisions of the LG Act, in recognition that the carrying out of certain other legislative provisions is the subject of separate investigation and/or regulatory action by SafeWork NSW and the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

Minister for Local Government 2018