CR JEREMY Rich may have contravened the ‘Conflict of Interest’ provisions of the Local Government Act (1989).
If proved to be the case, he could be liable for a fine “not exceeding 120 penalty units” or up to $19,000.
His breach is alleged to have occurred when he failed to declare a conflict of interest at the South Gippsland Shire Council’s Public Presentation Day last Wednesday, April 18.
Despite clear notification in the days leading up to the meeting, that there would be several public presentations lobbying council on aspects of its crucial Planning Amendment C90 – Housing and Settlement Strategy – Cr Rich not only failed to declare a conflict of interest, and leave the council chamber while those matters were addressed, he stayed in his place at the council table and participated.
He even went so far as to question three presenters from Walkerville; Joan Liley, Merran Wilde and Margaret Robertson, about their attitude to promoting coastal growth after they’d made verbal submissions to council in support of retaining the existing settlement boundaries at Walkerville, as proposed by Amendment C90.
It is specifically the issue about which his family’s company, Ansevata Nominees P/L, the owners of farming land adjoining the Promontory Views Estate (PVE) at Walkerville, petitioned the council as part of the amendment process.
Cr Rich has since told the Sentinel-Times that there was no conflict of interest for him on April 18 because “in the submission from the local holiday house owners there was no mention of any companies I represent.”
A total of 50 submissions were received on the Walkerville Framework Plans alone, 49 of which support retaining the existing town boundaries and one, the submission from Ansevata Nominees, raising the potential for expansion at Walkerville.
“As you know we have put to the shire a proposal to subdivide about 40hc of our land adjoining the Estate (PVE) into large residential lots which will increase tourism. Included in the proposal is to develop a small area to enable local produce to be sold,” quote from Ansevata’s submission.
The submission, addressed to the shire’s planning manager Paul Stampton on December 4, 2017, seeks to highlight the benefits of such an expansion of the town boundary, particularly in dealing with an alleged sewerage and stormwater run-off problem from the existing settlement.
“Any development will require water and sewerage facilities to which the shire could join to adequately attend the problems of the Estate (PVE).”
The submission is signed by Cr Rich’s father, Jacques Rich.
Cr Rich has previously declared a conflict of interest in Planning Scheme Amendment C90, as recently as March 7 this year when he exempted himself from a councillors’ briefing meeting, a fact that is confirmed in the Agenda for the council meeting on Thursday, April 26, 2018 – ‘Assembly Of Councillors 22 February 2018 To 21 March 2018 report’ as follows:
“Planning Scheme Amendment C90 Housing and Settlement – Update on Exhibition and Submissions. Councillors attending: Councillors McEwen, Argento, Skinner, Kiel and Brown. Conflict of Interest: Cr Rich left the assembly with a direct COI item Planning Briefing – Planning Scheme Amendment C90 Housing Settlement Strategy, as he is a director of a company that made a submission to the matter.”
Cr Rich didn’t return for the later briefings.
But last Wednesday, Cr Rich made no mention of the conflict of interest he has previously declared.
At the end of the presentations by Joan Liley, Merran Wilde and Margaret Robertson, Cr Rich queried their level of support, in light of the increasing pressure on beaches in the Walkerville area, for “opening more beaches” in the Walkerville area. He also put it to them that they would be in support of policies which promoted growth in coastal areas.
“We have come here today to support the 49 people who have put in submissions,” Mrs Liley answered on behalf of the group.
The Mayor Cr Lorraine Brunt then concluded the 15-minute presentation so the council could move on to its 3pm appointment with another public presenter, also making a submission on Amendment C90 as it applied to a planning anomaly at Outtrim.
Cr Ray Argento earlier asked a question about the impact of AirBnB stays on Walkerville, Cr Meg Edwards had asked about alternative beach access and Cr Alyson Skinner offered some assurances about the proposed coastal strategy review not being at odds with the lengthy Amendment C90 process.
Section 79 of the Local Government Act (1989) makes it clear that if a councillor “has a conflict of interest in a matter which is to be considered or discussed at a meeting of the Council” he must leave the room “while the matter is being considered or any vote is taken”.
The content of the community presentations as well as questions from councillors, and their answers, all go towards informing councillors ahead of their vote on whether to refer the amendment to the Minister for Planning this Wednesday.
Has Cr Rich crossed the line?