By Michael Giles
THEY don’t like it!
The problems at the South Gippsland Shire Council are becoming an acute embarrassment for the Andrews Government ahead of the November 24 state election.
It was bad enough that one, then two South Gippsland Shire Councillors resigned, citing bullying, abuse and poor governance.
But now Gippsland South MLA, the National Party’s Danny O’Brien, has weighed in, calling on the
“Andrews Labor Government to
expedite those inquiries and make a decision on the future of the council as quickly as possible”.
Speaking about the appointment of a municipal monitor and expressing his regret that “two excellent community contributors”, former Cr Maxine Kiel and soon-to-depart Cr Meg Edwards, felt they could no longer work “in a dysfunctional” council, he has virtually called on the Minister to sack the council immediately.
But the government is apparently unhappy that Mr O’Brien has “made it political” and wants the council to pull its head in (see stories inside).
There is however, a potentially more embarrassing situation brewing for the State Government at the South Gippsland Shire Council, which is set to make a decision on noise complaints by neighours of the Bald Hills Wind Farm.
And a spokesperson for the South Gippsland Action Group, Gus Blaauw, is sniffing a conspiracy.
“They are trying to hold off on making a decision about the Smith Report (which found “the rumbling drone” of the giant turbine blades was “detrimental to personal comfort and enjoyment” especially at night) until after the State Election,” claimed Mr Blaauw.
In fact, he says that if the shire puts off a decision on the Smith Report until the scheduled November 28 council meeting, four days after the election, his concerns will be justified.
“Why have they given the report to the operators of the wind farm? They are only going to say they are operating within the permit conditions,” said Mr Blaauw.
“It doesn’t resolve the issue. It’s just a delaying tactic. The council’s still got to make a decision and then decide what to do about it.
“There isn’t even any night time testing, it says so in the report by Broner Consulting Pty Ltd which the shire also commissioned.”
Mr Blaauw said he suspected the councillors didn’t even know there was another noise report, by a firm with 30 years’ experience in acoustic, noise and vibration consultancy, reviewing the noise data, and recommending the responsible authority “explain why no night time listening tests for Special Audible Characteristics were conducted”.
“How much did that report cost? Do the councillors even know about it? While all this trouble is happening, are the councillors even paying attention to this stuff?” Mr Blaauw said, while also criticising the CEO Mr Tamlin for delaying a decision and poor governance of the wind farm issue in particular.
But shire CEO Tim Tamlin dismissed the conspiracy theory claiming the report and a recommendation on what the council might do could be brought to a Special Meeting of Council in mid-November.
He did however confirm details in a Supreme Court affidavit, provided to the Sentinel-Times by Dominica Tannock of DST Legal for the Bald Hill’s complainants, that they would be given an opportunity to review the response from the operators before it went up to council for a decision in November.
“It’s more likely to go to a Special Meeting earlier in November. We need to demonstrate to the courts that we are dealing with this in a timely manner. We don’t want it to be delayed,” Mr Tamlin said.
He said a decision by council in February 2018 directed him to advise James C Smith and Associations that “particular attention and consideration be given to noise monitoring by a suitably qualified acoustician as part of the investigation”.
“Mr Smith said he wanted the available data reviewed and we agreed, through our lawyers, for them to have a peer review conducted.
“Yes, certainly, the cost is additional to the $33,600 council authorised for the Smith investigation, but I couldn’t tell you how much it was.”
Mr Blaauw believes they shire is between a rock and a hard place with the wind farm noise complaints, unable to force the operator to make changes because it is operating within its planning permit and licence but facing a potentially huge payout on health and wellbeing grounds.
He has even claimed the Municipal Monitor Peter Stephenson is in place to watch how the shire manages the wind farm complaints, rather than the councillors’ squabbles
How long the State Government will allow the South Gippsland Shire to go on being an embarrassment is anyone’s guess but the latest suggestion is that they will be suspended at the end of October and dismissed by the new government early in the New Year.
Of course, that would leave the government appointed administrators to make a decision on the wind farm complaints.