Allegations fly over quarry
Jeff Champion launched a scathing attack on several councillors and the Mayor at Tuesday night's Council meeting, claiming there had been leaks of confidential information, misconduct and preferential treatment of objectors to the Champions Quarry expansion.
Mr Champion said three councillors - David Yarnall, Ray Houston and Isaac Smith - had a conflict of interest in the matter, having written letters objecting to the quarry expansion prior to being elected to Council. He claimed Mayor Jenny Dowell and a senior Council staff member had also misused confidential information sent to Council solicitors by making it available to objectors of the development.
Mr Champion said he tried to discuss the perceived conflict of interest with the general manager, Gary Murphy, but had been stonewalled. He said he will lodge an official complaint with ICAC and the Department of Local Government in the next seven to 10 days.
"The general manager did not respond (to correspondence). I've been told he's not interested in things that happened prior to him coming here," Mr Champion said during public access. "Anyone who wants to report someone to the Department of Local Government or ICAC has to go through certain steps first… I've given Council the opportunity to talk, to sit down and avoid this sort of thing."
Mayor Jenny Dowell told The Echo she would follow up Mr Champion's claim he had not had a response from the general manager to a letter he sent late last year
"With regard to the accusations of a conflict of interest, any councillor who has had any dealings with either side of the Champions Quarry matter has always made those dealings public and to my knowledge no one has grounds for concern with regard to an ICAC investigation," Mayor Dowell said.
Cr Simon Clough asked Mr Champion to specify exactly where he saw a conflict of interest, but Mr Champion would not elaborate on his allegations, saying he had to "follow proper process" and the Council Chamber was not the place to discuss such issues.
Mr Champion was speaking against a notice of motion put forward by Cr Simon Clough that the GM be given authority to make a submission in response to the exhibition of the 'preferred project' for the expansion of Champions Quarry currently being assessed by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.
The expansion of Champions Quarry in Tucki Tucki was rejected by Lismore City Council on 11 separate grounds and the Land and Environment Court later upheld Council's decision. The project is now being assessed by the Planning Assessment Commission as a project of "regional significance" and a preferred project report is on exhibition.
The notice of motion put forward by Cr Clough also stated the submission should take into account evidence and outcomes of the Land and Environment Court judgement; that councillors should be able to comment on the submission; and that Council formally request the Planning Assessment Commission hold a public meeting before determining the application.
Cr Graham Meineke said the notice of motion was "a waste of time" and a public meeting was already assured as more than 25 objections to the project had been received. He said 6.2 million tonnes would be extracted over the 25-year life of the project (5 million is the threshold for state significant status) so "that takes it out of our hands altogether".
"For some time on this development Council has taken its eye off the ball, and we're playing the man not the ball," Cr Meineke said. "Let's not waste staff time going through and extracting evidence already give to the Land and Environment Court and that has already been addressed in the report. Let's just get on with it."
"There are a lot of balls here and a lot of them deserved to be played," Cr Clough countered.
He questioned why the report was on public exhibition if it was out of Council's hands and his motion was successfully carried 6/4 (Graham Meineke, Gianpiero Battista, John Chant and Peter Graham against, Cr Neil Marks absent).
"The matter is not over, it is not concluded, it is not finalised… There are a lot of people concerned about this issue," Cr Clough said. "There are around 90 people in the Tucki (Community Against Mega Quarry) group… There is significant feeling in Council and in the community that we don't want this development, state significant or otherwise."