Council debates venue for public inquiry

Council has accepted that the first sitting of the public inquiry into various of its activities will be held in Sydney.

The commissioner, Richard Beasley SC, recently announced that the first hearings will take place at the NSW Bar Association Dispute Resolution Centre in Phillip Street in the city. They are scheduled for April 8 and 9, with a possible third date of April 12.

This part of the inquiry relates only to the fourth term of reference - the appointment of Michael Tooma to conduct the investigation into asbestos incidents and concerns about employment practices.

All asbestos-related matters have been deferred until the completion of separate inquiries by WorkSafe NSW and the Environmental Protection Authority.

Blue Mountains council held an extraordinary meeting last night to consider a motion from Cr Kerry Brown that they write to Mr Beasley and ask him to sit instead in the Mountains.

The motion, moved by Cr Brown and seconded by Cr Brendan Christie, noted that having the hearing in the city might mean up to five hours travel for residents, particularly those in the Upper Mountains, who wish to attend.

The motion suggested that council write to the commissioner "and request that in the best interest of the community and the council, all public hearings of the Inquiry are held in the Blue Mountains at Katoomba or Springwood where local residents can more easily attend as observers and witnesses without limitations due to their working, family and other commitments".

The motion was lost. It was supported by Crs Brown, Christie, Schreiber and Hoare. It was opposed by Crs Greenhill, Fell, Myles, Hollywood, Van der Kley, Foenander and McGregor.

Cr Darryl Bowling, who is now enrolled to vote in Braddon in Tasmania and divides his time between the island state and Blaxland, was not at the meeting.

A subsequent motion, moved by Crs Hollywood and Myles, was successful.

The motion in full was:

  1. That the council notes and supports the position that the timing and location of public hearings must be a matter for the commissioner;
  2. That the council notes the very defined nature of term of reference number 4 and the fact that the hearing in relation to TOR 4 may require the attendance of witnesses based in the City of Sydney CBD; 
  3. That the council understands that the commissioner may see fit to hold other hearings, relating to other terms of reference, in or near the Blue Mountains local government area; and 
  4. That the council writes, under the letterhead of the general manager, to the commissioner thanking him for commencing the public hearings and noting resolutions 1. to 3. above.

It was passed 8-3, with Crs Brown, Christie and Schreiber voting against.