I refer to MidCoast Council's plan for a new centralised office at Biripi Way, Taree, a contentious issue that was the subject of a petition to NSW Parliament last year. You will recall that the community petition attracted almost 11,000 signatures against this office centralisation project and particularly the cost of it estimated as $40 million* in the long term.
I was in the public gallery at NSW Parliament when you spoke on this petition saying "the community will hold their elected representatives to account for the decisions that have been made".
Minister, holding the councillors to account at the next council elections may be too late if you now postpone the council elections (due September this year) to sometime next year under the COVID-19 emergency amendment arrangements. I do not, for a moment, query the need for emergency measures in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic but, rather, emphasise that a council, which blatantly disregards the community, should be held to account in a more timely manner.
Therefore I beg you to seriously consider launching a public inquiry into this council, under section 438U of the Local Government Act 1993, and exercising your related power to temporarily suspend the council during the period of any public inquiry.
Only a public inquiry headed by an independent commissioner, as required by section 438U, will obtain community confidence in any scrutiny of the local council's accountability and transparency in relation to the Biripi Way office centralisation project.
* Editor's note: MidCoast Council has stated the project will be completed under the original budget of $20 million.
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