Blue Mountains Conservation Society will protest planned council sacking

Blue Mountains Conservation Society members will gather en masse at tomorrow night’s council meeting to protest a State government proposal to sack the council.

In a statement to members the BMCS Society said a notice to sack the council and appoint an administrator would lead to the “rubber stamping” of “whatever the State government wants”.

The council meeting will be held on Friday, December 15  at 7pm at the council chambers in Civic Place in Katoomba and the society urged members to attend.

“We need you to come and help pack the gallery to send a strong message to NSW government hands off this council,” the BMCS statement reads.

“The State government has issued a notice to sack the Blue Mountains Council and  appoint administrators. Make no mistake if this happens it won’t be for the three months they initially propose but it will be for three years until the next election. Once the administrator is appointed they will rubber stamp whatever the State government wants. 

“The supposed reason is over asbestos issues that they haven't even started, let alone finished, investigating. The real reason is up to your imagination, but may include council opposition to the proposed Western Sydney Airport or resistance to the Greater Sydney Commission. Asbestos issues are an easy allegation due to this council area having so many older buildings that contain it.” 

Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton issued the council with a formal notice after a suite of notices had been given by SafeWork NSW. SafeWork launched a full investigation on Monday after inspectors discovered asbestos as a number of council properties, including the Wentworth Falls Pre-School and at the council depots in Katoomba, Lawson and Springwood.

Yesterday NSW Greens MP and local government spokesperson David Shoebridge described State Government moves to suspend Blue Mountains City Council as “yet another attack on local democracy”.

Greens MP David Shoebridge. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Greens MP David Shoebridge. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

“The Greens commend the Blue Mountains Council staff, community and councillors who have campaigned to address serious asbestos safety issues. However we oppose the Liberal government's plans to suspend the council as yet another attack on local democracy,” the MP’s office said in a statement on Wednesday.

“While there are very real concerns with the transparency and thoroughness of council’s response to asbestos contamination, SafeWork NSW is currently conducting its own independent inquiry to address this issue. It is a serious misstep by the Local Government Minister to threaten to sack the council while SafeWork NSW undertakes its inquiry.”

Mr Shoebridge said “the information about asbestos contamination has come to light through brave whistleblowers with the help of a local Greens councillor [Kerry Brown] who have always had community safety as their top priority.

“Asbestos even in minuscule amounts can be lethal, this is why there are very real concerns about the issue. 

“It would be an act of political bastardry to sack the councillors who have been working to keep residents and staff safe.

Cr Brown said concerns about asbestos were valid but it was no reason to sack the council.

"In my view, there is a council culture that has allowed it to stumble along for years without putting the necessary resources into its Work Health and Safety Systems. As far as I know, councillors have been complacent rather than complicit in this. I don't believe that justifies suspending or sacking the elected representatives of the Blue Mountains community. 

"But I think we have received a very serious wake-up call and must show the Minister in the next week that we are stepping up and will be transparent, fair and thorough in establishing WHS systems that keep our workers and community safe. 

"I am pleased that council voted last week to receive a briefing on establishing safety systems that achieve Australian Standards accreditation.  

"I look forward to receiving a copy of our Asbestos Management Plan and to being able to find it, and all our current WHS policies and procedures, on our website." 

Mayor Mark Greenhill has said “issues that have been troubling the council are operational issues, they are not to do with the functioning of the elected councillors.”

The Conservation Society reminded members on Friday of the event:

“We understand that SafeWork NSW announced on Monday 11 December an investigation into asbestos found at Blue Mountains Council properties.  Then on Tuesday 12 December, the NSW Minister for Local Government and Environment issued a notice to Council giving them seven days to show cause why it should not be suspended for three months. 

“The role of the Council in planning and development issues is particularly relevant to the Society’s objectives.  The Society is concerned that suspending the Council will remove any opportunity for the community and the Society to influence planning and development issues affecting the environment of the Blue Mountains.

“Asbestos contamination is a very serious issue but not one the Society would normally get involved in.  The Society believes that the council should be left in place and the SafeWork inquiry completed.”